But while the sport’s always maintained a strong following in Britain – research points to over 250,000 active skaters – and benefits from product related sponsorship and marketing campaigns (check out Oxelo Skateboard's stunning video, left) it’s still ripe for wider brand involvement.
Tapping into the free sports market to reach the youth of today (and tomorrow’s loyal consumer) can be lucrative for brands if it’s approached in the right way. By leveraging the free sports’ aspirational lifestyle espoused by its participants and evangelisers, brands can inspire and engage the broader audience. But the trick is to ensure they do it in a way that doesn’t alienate the very people who make it aspirational in the first place.
For teens, being authentic is largely defined by their attitude towards something and not necessarily by the authenticity of what they do. As such, corporations can appeal to their 'authenticitude' with free sport inspired campaigns that are rather light on substance or long-term commitment. However, this superficial approach doesn’t work for the older audience; even if they no longer practice the sport they preach, older evangelisers expect brands to do so authentically. When a brand hauls a sport into their world to help boost sales, they need to back their activity up with a strategic commitment to it.
In skateboarding’s case, the opportunity is for a brand to get involved at grass-roots level, working closely with those who practice and promote the sport. “Investing in skateboarding is as much about time, effort and authenticity as it is a financial investment”, comments Nic Powley, of the UK Skateboarding Association. “Skateboarding is alive and well in the UK but is often overlooked. With a relatively small investment and by working collaboratively, a more mainstream brand not traditionally associated with the sport could make a big difference. In free sports, you can make your money go a long way if you’re credible.”