Lessons from Street League: Thinking outside the Copper Box
Over the weekend, London hosted the first stop of the 2019 World Street Skateboarding Tour at the Copper Box Arena. The first Olympic skateboarding qualifying points event, ever.
It was a big deal.
When the International Olympic Committee approved five new contemporary sports to be showcased at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, it welcomed in a whole new generation of sports fans. The greatest global sporting competition has chosen skateboarding as a vehicle through which to modernise so naturally there are exciting commercial opportunities to pin down.
Skateboarding is one of few sports which which moves beyond boundaries and encompasses an entire lifestyle.
The subculture sport carved along urban rails and empty swimming pools in the days of Dogtown and Z-boys could appear as untamable. But skateboarding isn’t a newly professionalised sport. Founded by pro skateboarder Rob Dyrdek in 2010, Street League Skateboarding (SLS) now forms the premium global qualification system that spans from amateur events to the World Championships.
Part of its commercial value lies in what makes it different; tap skateboarding and you reach a global community’s passion-point. It provides arguably one of the freshest opportunities for potential pioneering partners to embrace a rebellious character and ride the success of a sport about to hit the mainstream.
So, where are all the ‘commercial game-changers?
The 7,500 seat Copper Box Arena was the former home of handball, modern pentathlon, fencing and goalball during London 2012. It is one of London’s most flexible venues, offering all the traditional advertising opportunities for brands to promote their involvement.
Although seven industry sectors were represented within the event’s 15 partners, half were skate-specific brands. This is understandable as they have an established link to skateboarding fans and consumers. But it demonstrates the cluttered dominance of competing brands within one sector.
This also highlights a huge opportunity for skateboarding to appeal to brands beyond the usual industries. For example, athletes from all over the world traveled to compete in London, fans will have done the same to watch, yet HotelPlanner.com is the only online travel booking site as a partner. Therefore, rights holders could start looking at online travel bookers for potential partnerships.
City-specific tourism partners make up the second highest percentage. Originally US-centric, street league skateboarding has become increasingly global with events visiting Brazil, Spain, Germany and the UK since 2010. The move reflects the growing global popularity of professional skateboarding and the opportunity for tourism sites to capitalise from the diversity skateboarding has to offer when events visit. Visit London, Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and Mayor Of London likely benefited from the brand familiarity built within skateboarding’s audience.
Skateboarding has the capacity to add character and edge to traditional industries looking to connect with contemporaries, industries not yet associated with skateboarding, or even sport in general, but also those simply looking to broaden its audience.
“For me, it’s nostalgic,” said one fan at the Copper Box. “I’m in my mid 30’s and used to skateboard when I was much younger. It brings back a lot of good memories. Events like this are the perfect medium through which to interact with the culture.”
But it also fits well with challenger brands rising through originality, creativity rallying against the norm.
Ramping up street style
As the profile of skateboarding rises, so will its exposure. This weekend’s championships were streamed live by BBC Sport, the highlights of which will remain on BBC iPlayer for another month. SLS also has commercial opportunities through the dedicated OTT streaming platform, Live ETN, which like skateboarding, holds authenticity at its core.
Perhaps the best form of advertising are the skaters themselves, some of whom will become Olympic athletes. Winner of the men’s competition Nyjah Huston boasts three million followers on Instagram.
The skills-focused and visual aspects of skating naturally lend it well to digital platforms. Skaters are often adept at making their own edits and short films, independently capturing the street and park nature of the sport. In a cluttered media climate, collaborating with creative athletes could be the way to stand out and capture shortening attention spans. The door is well and truly open for brands to capitalise on the social followings of stars to create some killer content marketing.
Also at its core, skateboarding has the ability to inspire. “Being able to see this level of skaters in person is surreal,” another spectator told caytoo. “Even the furthest away seats have a good view. There’s a difference to seeing this on Instagram and then live.
“Events like this definitely show how much potential skateboarding has and that it can stand its ground as a strong sport in the 2020 Olympics.”
With skateboarding adapting into the formulaic format of an ‘Olympic Sport’, partners can reap the traditional-investment rewards of sponsorship activations but garner more contemporary opportunities to stand out. There is also the promise of an impending audience explosion. So get creative. Be authentic. Commercialise with partnerships based on shared ‘challenger’ values. Because skateboarding is ramping up and now is the time to get ahead of the charge.