Snowboarding is close to, if not, the most expensive accessible sport in the world. A weekend on the slopes costs more than most people’s kidney’s on the black market. If you have kids in ski camps or ski school, you may realise it requires second and/ or third mortgages to fulfill their sporting dreams and heaven forbid they are good at it and require coaching and transport around the country, or even the world, to compete. I can barely afford to scrape in one week on the slopes a year if I share with friends sleeping in the back of a hatchback and fighting over the crust in a pizza box!
But surely with so much money in the industry and so many brands out there making more money than most small countries professional snowboarding should be as lucrative as it is for professional tennis players? formula one racers? basketball players? Hells no – you don’t get into snowboarding or skiing for the money! You get into it assist with costs so you can keep doing what you love.
THE BIG THREE EARNING EXAMPLES
Unless you become a “Shaun White” or are from incredibly wealthy parents you have a hard slog ahead. White’s wealth is estimated at close on $45US Million with abundant cash regularly coming in. His investments and fingers in all the pies are next level. The more he wins the more he earns. He is a sponsor’s dream child and with every win there is TV exposure and this equals more sponsorship money. The now three-time gold medalist reportedly earns $10US Million a year thanks to his many tournament winnings and endorsement deals that include mega-brands Burton, Kraft, and Red Bull. PyeongChang was White’s fourth Olympics and his win solidifies his position as not only the greatest competitive snowboarder in history but also the most bankable.
Besides White’s competition wins and his sponsorship earnings his investments are far spread. He is part owner of Mammoth Resorts and also the founder of Shaun White’s AIR + STYLE Festival and could be considered a somewhat real estate mogul. But wait, there is more. To become a high earning professional snowboarder you have to become a brand – and The Flying Tomato brand is HUGE. He has signature series items in nearly every brand he is sponsored by, and deservedly so, he is a boarding phenomenon.
Seventeen year old Chloe Kim is one of the luckier (and very talented) young boarders out there. Her parents must have some money in the bank. Her father gave up his full time career about a decade ago and dedicated his life to making Chloe as good as she can be. He drove her for six hour trips early in the mornings to get her to the mountains and boarded by her side without much knowledge of snowboarding.
Kim’s net worth is estimated at about $400,000US and her boarding trajectory is likened to Shaun White. She won gold last week at her first Olympics as the favourite. Her sponsors include the likes of NIKE and TOYOTA. Kim has also competed in five different X Games and has earned gold at three of them. First place finishers win a reported $50,000, according to HowStuffWorks. She is also such a fun loving bubbly teenager – basically another sponsor’s dream and she claims to love working with and finding sponsors that match her viewpoints on life.
McMorris’s wealth is nowhere even close to Shaun White but his 2018 estimated net worth is $1.9MIL with $400,000 in earnings for the 2017/2018 season. He is on the same arc as White and Kim and his prowess on the mountain has gotten him to the stage where big labels are releasing Mark McMorris gear. Hell, I want that cammo gear he wears and those Oakley goggles – they’re awesome! Everything McMorris branded earns him a percentage, when that branded gear is Burton (and the like) the percentages are high.
McMorris also wins big and that comes with a lot of money from awards and sponsorship matching. And to top it off McMorris is in a lot of snowboarding movies and (along with Shaun White) has his own Console Game, all of which comes with further endorsements and ongoing royalties.
HOW MUCH DO PRIZE WINNERS EARN:
Based on the above clip from HBO “most” Olympic athletes are earning about $1500 as a stipend (the video doesn’t explain whether monthly or annually) plus health insurance. One YouTube comment on the above video explains that USOC, a “non-profit,” annual had revenue in 2015 at $142M, with the USOC CEO earning $930K. Seems a little imbalanced to me.
As of this year, in the U.S. if you win a gold medal, you get a bonus payout of $37,500- from the USOC, quite a few sponsors will match that dollar for dollar as incentive. First place positions in most events are between $20 and $40K. That would definitely make you happier as a pro boarder, Mark McMorris recently claimed $40K in the Banana Open. But you need to be making podiums to make money. Cruising as an average boarder isn’t of much financial benefit. And so goes a cycle – the more you win the more you can spend on training, travel and more to benefit your sport. If you continue to do better and better you are offered much more on an escalating scale.
In Singapore, gold medalists take $1,000,000 for Gold, $500,000 for Silver and $250,000 for Bronze. Although this year they only had one athlete who could capitalize on the bonus, Speed Skater Cheyenne Goh. She finished 5th. So while the incentive is there it is basically unattainable.
THE GENERALISED LIFE CYCLE OPTIONS FOR A PRO BOARDER:
To be a pro boarder you need to be on the snow as much as possible, the more runs, the more comp wins the better. You can start out as an instructor on the mountain and earn approximately $25-30k for the season. Deduct accommodation, food, drink plus boarding and travel expenses – you will have no money.
You can also start out as a junior in a ski/snowboard store on minimum wage and get yourselves to races, training and events with a somewhat heavy support from the family and occasionally from some minor sponsors. Those who start out with a board shop or a manufacturer’s team, receive free equipment until they prove they can get some podiums and attract fans (ie have a large following on social media). More equipment and paid entrance fees to competitions are the next level of compensation, and good performance brings a small salary of up to $1,000 monthly, according to Scott Birke, editor of Snowboard Canada.
Snowboard team and promotion contracts also include pay for the use of the boarder’s image in ads for magazines and TV. This is called “photo incentive,” which is an agreed-upon rate of pay for the boarder to wear the company’s logo prominently for photos. This is why you see sport people on TV generally whack on a Red Bull Hat immediately following a win and have a big gulp of Red Bull, or Mountain Dew and so on – it equals MORE MONEY!!
Other types of pay contracts include matched-winnings clauses in which the sponsor agrees to match the prize winnings a boarder generates from contests. When a boarder obtains enough of a fan following and shows potential as a promotional asset, a board company will manufacture special boards under that star’s signature, and the boarder will receive a cut of the profits generated on the line of boards, clothing and accessories. But if your podium finishes decline or you get an injury, in what is one injury prone industry, they will drop you quicker than a hot potato.
THE TRUTH OF IT ALL:
Every single snowboarder has different deals and they don’t really like to share due to such varying contracts. Boarders appear to be paid on some kind of unknown formula. Something along the lines of Talent Vs Snowboarding Discipline Vs Wins Vs Looks Vs Social Media Following. Why do you think Marcus Kleveland and Mark McMorris get a lot of endorsements and social media time? Sure they are EPIC on-snow but they are also pin-up material with huge social media following and marketing is key! You won’t be selling boards if you look like a dropped elephant’s poop, manufacturers want to use your name and your face as a marketing image.
If you want to earn money and do what you love just follow the simple advice of SEND IT AS HARD AS YOU CAN, and try and look hot haha. Shred on kids!!
Title image Courtesy of Whitelines.com