How Tony Hawk Created A Billion Dollar Business

Here’s a theory: when you ask people to

name a skateboarder, almost everyone will

say the same name.

Tony Hawk.

Tony Hawk.

Tony Hawk.

Tony Hawk.

Tony Hawk.

Tony Hawk.

Tony Hawk is almost synonymous to skateboarding.

How did he achieve this?

Besides being an outstanding skateboarder,

Hawk has always been ahead of his time.

He bet on video games and viral videos when

most other brands were still printing flyers

to reach their fans.

Welcome to Athletic Interest.

In this video, we break down the business

of Tony Hawk and how he became one of the

most famous athletes on the planet.

Before we deep dive into his strategies, let’s

take a quick look at his beginnings to understand

his rise.

This is Tony Hawk’s first board ever.

He got it from his brother when he was nine.

It is now on display at the National Museum

of American History.

“It wasn’t like he stepped on it, and suddenly

angels were singing.

He just kind of slowly got good at it.

But he loved it right away.”

(Tony’s brother Steve Hawk)

In one failed trick attempt, he knocked himself

out, lost his front teeth, and suffered a


Hawk was 10 years old at the time.

A genuine love for the sport got him through,

and by age 12, Hawk was winning California

state competitions.

He turned pro two years later, and at 16,

was considered the best skateboarder on the


Hawk was suddenly earning over 100,000 dollars

a year and purchased his first house at 17.

But in the early 90s, the reputation of Skateboarding

took a massive hit.

Young Skaters were being seen as ‘nuisance

slackers’ and skate parks started to close

under the weight of sky-high insurance premiums.

As participation and sponsorship fell, Hawk’s

income was being cut in half every month.

He was eventually forced to sell his house

and travel the country performing skate demos

for 100 dollars a day.

So, how did Tony Hawk, a homeless and broke

Skateboarding champion, become one of the

most famous athletes of all time?

In the mid-90s, ESPN created the X-Games.

An extreme sports event where the best athletes

compete for gold, silver, and bronze as well

as prize money.

Basically the Olympics but made for gen X.

Tony Hawk advocated to include Skateboarding

and luckily, ESPN agreed – making skateboarding

an adrenaline filled action sport again.

Soon, Hawk and his fellow competitors started

drawing huge crowds, and at its peak in ‘99,

over 260,000 people attended the event.

It was one trick at this event that would

change Tony Hawk’s life forever.

The contest had just finished and the announcer

asked Hawk if he would be willing to attempt

the notorious 900 trick for the waiting crowd.

This was one of the most memorable and raw

moments in action sport history.

It was the first time a skater had mastered

the 900.

Hawk had been trying and failing for almost

10 years!

And also on this day, he failed a couple of

times but just kept going – which made his

final success even more special.

ESPN had kept showing the entire thing although

the original event was already over, resulting

in major screentime for Tony Hawk and Skateboarding.

“It was a really rare moment where the world

got to see what actually happens on a day-to-day

basis with skateboarders.”

The determination and collective spirit of

the skateboarding community hit a chord with

the watching public.

Skateboarding had entered mainstream popularity

and Tony Hawk was the face of the sport.

This achievement coincided with the release

of the video game Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater.

Hawk was a big video game fan himself and

– after talking to a couple of game developers

– Activision approached him and turned out

to be the perfect partner.

But Hawk added much more than just his name

to the game.

While developing, Hawk played every new version

from start to finish and gave his feedback.

He made sure that the virtual world was populated

with real-life pros, wearing real skate apparel,

performing tricks at real venues.

He even chose the background music.

He also worked closely with the engineers

to ensure that the tricks performed in the

game were legitimate and accurate.

Activision offered Hawk a 500 thousand dollar

buy-out to use his name and image.

In a risky move and against the advice of

his then manager, Hawk refused – and decided

to opt for a percentage of the future sales.

It turned out to be the best business decision

he ever made.

After a year of development, Tony Hawk Pro

Skater was released and went on to sell over

7 million copies.

Within two years, Hawk had made ten times

their initial offer.

As of 2022, there have been 20 games released

in the series.

Almost every single game has been a commercial

success, earning Activision around 1.5 billion


Thanks to its authenticity, Tony Hawk’s

Pro Skater created a whole new video game


It is the best-selling action sports franchise

of all time.

The game’s success also helped Hawk reach

a global audience.

His face, name, and apparel company logo were

all featured prominently, giving him millions

of free impressions every year.

Hawk is often ahead of his time – when coming

up with creative marketing strategies.

We’ll give some entertaining examples in

a minute, after understanding the magnitude

of his brand.

A study – conducted in 2002 – named Hawk ‘the

coolest big-time athlete’ ahead of Tiger

Woods and Michael Jordan.

“I mean everyone knows Tony Hawk.

it’d be kind of embarrassing if you didn’t.”

“I think everyone knows Tony Hawk.”

“He’s basically become a household name,

especially in the US.”

Hawk has managed to remain one of the most

influential action sports stars, despite retiring

from professional skateboarding in 2003.

There is one secret to Hawk’s incredible

longevity…going viral.

In ‘84, Hawk’s sponsor, Powell Peralta,

decided to film him and his fellow skaters

performing tricks across L.A.

The video, titled ‘The Bones Brigade Video

Show’ was one of the first action sports

videos to be released and became an instant

viral hit.

In 2009, President Obama invited Tony Hawk

to the White House.

While being given a tour, Hawk was allowed

to perform a simple trick down one of the


The images became iconic, but what helped

them go viral was the fact that some right-wing

commentators were deeply offended.

They accused Hawk of desecrating a national


No pun intended.

Hawk has also mastered social media.

In 2008, he decided to hide a skateboard in

a random bush and tweeted the location.

20 minutes later and someone had found the


The stunt created a massive hype, so Hawk

decided to scale it up and now hosts a yearly

treasure hunt where he hides over 100 gifts

across multiple countries.

Within one year of the initial tweet, Hawk’s

Twitter following grew from a few thousand

to over 2 million.

If we had to summarize everything he does

with one word it would be: authenticity.

The 900 at the X-Games, the video game, and

his viral marketing stunts – Tony Hawk always

kept it real.

He inspired millions of skaters around the

world and paved the way for the best to turn

pro and make a living with what they love

the most.

Hawk is likely to go down in history as one

of the most influential athletes of all time.

Or can you think of any other athletes who

single-handedly pushed their sport to new


This video is part of our Business Athletes

series presented by Shopify.

In each video, we explore the story of athletes

who apply their winning strategies from the

track, field and pitch to succeed in the world

of business.

And create something beyond their sporting


Shopify is the perfect partner for this!

Because all the athletes we talk about are

actually using Shopify to build their businesses.

Like Tony Hawk’s skateboard brand birdhouse.

With Shopify, it’s super easy to set up

a store and just start selling whatever you’re

passionate about.

And just like they enable the best athletes

in the world to build their brands, they empower

small athletes and creators as well.

Shopify has helped millions of people in 175

countries around the world start a business.

And with Shopify it’s never been easier

to start from scratch.

We hope this got you inspired and if it did:

make sure to check

or the link in the description for a free

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