Nike sells Hurley to Blue Star Alliance : is it the biggest surf industry sales of all times ?

Hurley, originaly a Core surf brand founded by Bob Hurley was bought by Nike in 2002, and sold at the dawn of a new decade to a international textile firm called Blue Star Alliance.

The surfing world woke up in a panic after John John took off his Hurley stickers from his board. What are we going to do with all the best surfers, now without main sponsor? You might think it is a joke, but this is what everybody including the surf industry is now wondering about. But even if John’s contract was the biggest ever signed in surf history, that is not only about him, Carissa, Michel, Eli and others pro surfers. This matter is going to affect all the industry, and it already is.

Of course we are not worrying about wealthiness of those champs, they will get a new sponsor very soon. Those top athletes choices in the next few month are going to set the new rules of contracts for all professional surfers. But the question is : “In wich way is it going to affect the market and the whole industry, when the rules are going to be dictated by a handful of international textile firms?

But first let’s talk a little bit about history, how could this happen when the whole industry was into surfers hands? Well, it is a lot about strategy and marketing, and when it is time to play Nike incorporation just do it. Some explanations here about things that you probably have noticed already but maybe not payed attention in this way. “Nike has been trying for years to break into the burgeoning market for surf, skate and snowboard clothes, is picking up one of the industry’s hottest brand {…} but word of the deal stunned industry insiders, who have fiercely guarded the tight-knit community of hundreds of small companies that have thrived in an anti-establishment culture.” Los Angeles Times, about Hurley sales to Nike in 2002. It looks like those fifteen years after Nike succeed its integration in board sports market, with Nike 6.0, Hurley International and Nike sb, has been a perfect transition between core, self made surf brands to globalized multinational textile industry :”The success of Hurley by Nike determined the success or failure of other brands own by non-core owners”.

Passing threw Nike a firm still specialised in sports gears, it served for the sale to such a non-core firm. This is what happens when real passionates lets international firms invest in the flourishing business they’ve been growing with their heart: It is eating it or ripping it appart.

At this time A-list surfers became Stars Athletes almost like soccer players in Europe or basketball players in the U.S, always getting bigger contracts. Nike and other brands invested a lot of money in their teams. They did kind of the same thing with skateboarding, building a legendary team and putting undecent prize money at the Street League and dropping it when all skaters competing were equiped with Nike’s. “hurley maintained the most expensive surf team the world’s ever seen”.

Now 2020 has came and almost all the main surfing brands have been purchased by investment funds made to expend business’.We can say it is a whole new type of game «The firm’s investment mandate is to identify and purchase consumer brand companies where it can leverage the brand equity and expand its current categories to a broader consumer base» From blue star alliance website.

From this angle it looks like a big part of the industry have been definitly taken away from the core of the surfing community from employees and pro surfers passing by retailers and sales representents.

“Not only is it no cool that they are going to sell to discount retailers, you all of a sudden buy a brand and go in just destroy the livelihoods of sales reps, athletes, and the employees that works to make this company happen.”

As a matter of fact big part of the Hurley Surf team were sacked after receving an email from of the new acquierer’s lawyers.«I surfed for the brand fifteen years. I would have expected a note to come from someone I worked with or cared about me. » Said a normal pro surfer for Hurley.

Surfers contracts such as Carissa Moore, Michel Bourez, Eli Hanneman, Rob Machado and others came to an end with no more explenation. John John did pulled out his stickers by him self, some says he did not want to ride for kooks and rumors said that “he didn’t like the direction of the new entity and decided to walk.”Blue star Alliance head’s version is: it is every time so difficult to say goodbye to employees and collaborators. Nobody wants to do it, this could explain why they let their army of lawyers deal with the mess. It is all about unumanisation of the entire thing, one thing after an other, nobody is responsible, it just the way it should be, the law of the market…

Those broader consummers that the new CEO of Hurley’s talking about, do not have this overall view of what is surfing and its industry. It will not be a problem for them to see Hurley products sold by discount retailers. A complete change of marketing positionning? A brand made by the Kooks for the Kooks? Will they focus all their money in pure textile marketing more than on action sport marketing? I fear it is worst than it looks…

Anyways it seems that all the surf industry is being absorbed by “something” bigger, and this does not stop to board sports, it is actually a part what was still to conquer untill this days. “quiksilver , Billabong, and Rip Curl have all been acquired by larger organisations meaning the founders who had their hands firmly on the wheel invested in culture […] are now gone! [..] The finance people are thinking: This was needed” Slab Magazine, extract of an interview of an anonymous formal employer of Hurley’s.

This is what could (and as already partly happened in skateboarding industry too), if Nike decided to drop it for a lack of financial interest. All the best skaters in the world would lose their principal sponsor and of course their main source of income.

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