Nike wants you to believe they’re Never Not Snowboarding; but the truth is there was a time they weren’t snowboarding between the last time they went snowboarding. In the late 90’s and early 2000’s they entered the snowboard market and tried to gain some clout and market share. They failed and left. Sure they’ve come back learning from their past mistakes, but what if they were to repeat this exit from snowboarding again for a second time?
Rumors are always swirling around the toilet bowl of the snowboard industry. It honestly keeps things interesting as they range from the ‘this is probably happening’ to the ‘this won’t ever happen.’ The latest round of rumors is that Nike is pulling out or at least cutting back from their snow division. Parts of this rumor range from certain reps suddenly leaving, how Scotty Lago is off the team, that they’re ditching boots, going to only have six SKU’s for outerwear, the goggle division will stay, and that their return on investment (ROI) hadn’t given them the margins and market share they wanted. But over all the rumor seems to be consistent that this is Nike’s last big year in snowboarding. Which seems weird as they just dropped Emergence their new webisode series that builds off what Never, Not did last season. Although the other side of that argument is that they dropped this to push the last of their product on the hype of the series coupled with the opening for sales Vans left by not producing boots this year. Which could theoretically improve their market share, although the margins would likely not change that rapidly.
Rather than beat on the metaphorical dead horse that represents Nike’s lack of core stature as well as buying its way into snowboarding, lets look at the potential void this will leave inside the marketplace as well as the culture.
The first hit is going to be to the consumers that actually praised and bought their boots. As many have said Nike’s boots actually fit their foot shape and worked for them. So those consumers that have what can be referred to as the ‘Nike foot’ are now going to have to hunt for a boot that fits their shape and needs. This goes back to the best boot is the one that fits your foot. I suspect the Nike outlets will have a huge run on boots in the spring as they mark the inline product that didn’t sell through their core retailers down upwards of 50% possibly even over 70% as they have done in the past.
The second hit will come to the riders that Nike hired as a way to establish credibility. The team is stacked from their super pros like Gigi Ruf and Nicholas Mueller to Jed Anderson and Justin Bennee. Some of these guys will have no problems either transitioning back to their old boot sponsors (Nico to Burton?) or finding new ones. Others will probably suffer the financial support loss and concentrate on other endeavors like Danny Kass continuing to sell $20 Grenade stickers and Laura Hadar working at her store FICE in SLC. The guys in the middle like Justin Bennee, Jed Anderson, Sage Kotsenburg, and Halldor Helgason will be the ones to watch and see where they end up. With the loss of Nike’s funding we probably won’t be seeing any insane online parts like Jed’s In Full any time soon.
Which goes into the third hit that will happen inside the industry. Nike tried to legitimize itself by hiring pillars of the snowboarding community. Former pros like Bobby Meeks were able to move on and have a career that kept them in snowboarding instead of being forced out, which has been the norm for years. It added some authenticity to Nike from some of their harsher critics. Joe Carlino’s work on their video projects set a new standard that can only be attributed to his cinematic genius as well as the budgets Nike let him work with.
This goes into the fourth hit. Everyone praised Never, Not as well as the other visual offerings that Nike sponsored or created. That hit will effect those in the community that were stoked to ride from watching these projects. Granted Nike in recent years wasn’t offering money to film crews like Absinthe, but when they were that was a huge chunk of their budget. Perhaps not that big of a hit currently in terms of those outside Nike, but for the none core of snowboarding that lives off watching productions that are on the same level as Brain Farm there will be a loss there. Then there’s the loss of advertising revenue to multiple publications as well as Nike funding riders for trips for articles. While the core of snowboarding will thrive those outside it that just ride and don’t think about the industry more than likely will be impacted.
Snowboarding is a tough market and what most people don’t realize is that the margins just aren’t that great. Everyone outside the industry thinks it’s making a ton of money for everyone involved, but the truth is it’s not. Then why be in it? That’s a question without a definitive answer, but for some it’s love and for others it’s because they don’t know anything else.
Nike thought that they could re-enter it as they had grown as a company and learned from their past mistakes, but as I speculated back in 2008 they wouldn’t last. One thing is for certain if or when Nike finally pulls out it will prove the point that they never cared about snowboarding other than potential dollars they could make. Brands will come and go, but snowboarding will always remain.