CEO Mike Porra and Travis Pastrana Discuss the Exclusive Sponsorship Agreement and What Else They Have Up Their Sleeves for 2016
Back in 2003 Travis Pastrana and his buddies Gregg Godfrey and Jeremy Rawle started producing DVDs of their backyard stunts and selling them out of their garage. The videos became a hit as the riders uniquely displayed their world-class skills and creatively performing their inconceivable stunts. Nitro Circus was born and they never looked back.
Fast forward thirteen years, and Nitro Circus has evolved from a backyard side-project to a multi-million dollar action sports media company. The brand has strategically capitalized on every media outlet and distribution model imaginable; from television shows and box offices movies, to a world tour dedicated to performing the stunts that put the brand on the map.
We have enjoyed a long relationship with Travis Pastrana and an astonishing list of accomplishments together. As a co-founder of Nitro Circus this was something Travis wanted to do to further his career, not only as an athlete, but as a businessman and we fully support his decision in this next phase of his life. Travis will always be a member of the Red Bull family.” -Sean Eggert, Red Bull Head of Sports Marketing
Nitro Circus Timeline
–Nitro Circus DVD series (Early 2000s)
–Nitro Circus TV Miniseries on Fuel TV (2006)
–Nitro Circus Reality Television Show on MTV (2008)
–Nitro Circus Live World Tour begins (2010)
–Nitro Circus: The Movie 3D (2012)
–Nitro Circus Live TV Series on MTV2 (2012)
–Nitro Circus: Crazy Train on NBC Sports Network (2015)
–Nitro World Games (2016)
But from the beginning, the man himself, Travis Pastrana, has always been at the helm of Nitro Circus. Regardless of the seamless association the name “Travis Pastrana” had with Nitro Circus, Travis himself still remained a Red Bull athlete. The energy drink brand had exclusive rights to his headwear (hat and helmet) at all appearances, including Nitro Circus.
As Nitro Circus transformed into a media company, however, the brand began making a push to sign exclusive sponsorship agreements with all its athletes. This sponsorship model obviously added immense value to its corporate assets, helping generate the sponsorship revenue necessary to continue fueling the growth of Nitro Circus.
By the beginning of 2016, Nitro had signed most of its athlete lineup exclusively, but had yet to sign the ringleader himself, Travis Pastrana.
But all changed in early February when Nitro Circus and Travis Pastrana announced a multiyear agreement to exclusively wear Nitro Circus apparel from head to toe, ending his ten years with Red Bull. Now Travis’s one and only sponsor is Nitro Circus, deemed fitting after a career spent helping to build the brand with his own two hands.
Nitro Circus CEO Mike Porra and Travis Pastrana met up with TransWorld Business to share the story behind the monumental sponsorship and reveal what’s to come for Nitro Circus in 2016.
What does this sponsorship agreement mean for you as an athlete and Nitro Circus?
Travis: As a company that started how it did, I never really expected Nitro Circus to be in a position to give out the opportunities that you can get through other sponsors. For instance, a company like Red Bull can open doorways to pretty much any event, coaching, people, etc. Anything that you want they can do. If you want to go to the moon, talk to Red Bull. If you want a hovercraft, talk to Red Bull. It is pretty wild what some sponsors are able to do.
The idea of Nitro Circus sponsoring me was never really thought about until Nitro Circus really started growing and transforming into a media company. The Nitro Circus brand was growing so quickly but the biggest holdback was that everything had to go through sponsors. For example, if Sony Action Cam comes on board as a sponsor and says "look we'd love to be a part of Nitro Circus but everyone on tour is riding for GoPro” then there is no point for them to become a sponsor. So really for us to grow, we needed rider exclusivity to give Nitro Circus sponsors exclusivity and added value.
For me personally it was a great opportunity because not only was Nitro Circus in a position to sponsor me, but they can still provide everything that my other sponsors did. Nitro Circus has become one of the largest companies in action sports right now. That is a pretty cool feeling.
When did talks initially begin for this sponsorship agreement?
Mike: The talks actually began 18 months ago, maybe longer. To give a background to the sponsorship discussions, Red Bull had made Travis an offer to renew his sponsorship deal back in 2014. They offered him a longer-term deal with much, much, much, much less money. Like ridiculously less money. So we came in and offered him a deal.
The terms of the deal are obviously confidential but what I can say is that we offered him a deal that was at least as good as the best sponsorship contract he had ever been on with Red Bull. I'm just speaking for myself but I was pretty angry about that Red Bull offer. However, it wasn't the reason we made Travis a sponsorship offer. We have always wanted him to be exclusively Nitro Circus.
Travis has four contracts with us now: He is a shareholder so he has a stakeholder's agreement with us, he has a services agreement with us, and he has an apparel deal with us that we were able to close about a year ago. We were happy to pick up his apparel deal as soon as his previous deal with DC fell over. At that point, the only deal left was his Red Bull headwear sponsorship agreement.
So in 2014, we made an offer for the following year and thought it was going to happen. At the very last minute, Red Bull exercised an option in the agreement that, at the time, we were unaware of–they chose to retain Travis for 2015. It sort of surprised us all after the previous deal that they had offered to him.
I think they realized the terrible mistake that they had made. This guy is still massively growing in popularity around the world because of what we are doing with him. In our research, he is now the second highest known athlete behind Tony Hawk in action sports and is bridging the gap every day.
I'm just speaking for myself but I was pretty angry about that Red Bull offer. However, it wasn't the reason we made Travis a sponsorship offer. We have always wanted him to be exclusively Nitro Circus – Nitro Circus CEO Mike Porra
He is getting huge exposure through Nitro Circus and Red Bull didn't recognize that. They like to do their own thing and run their own events. Since Travis was mainly doing Nitro Circus events they didn't see the value in that for some reason. It was a silly mistake because his value is huge and growing every day.
So Red Bull took up that option and then we went through 2015 with him still being a Red Bull athlete. However, there were no options available after 2015 so we were in a position to be able to legally sign him after the end of the year. We signed him immediately and locked him up for the 2016 year.
After deciding to sign with us, he obviously has so much invested in Nitro Circus now being a fully exclusive athlete. Across the four contracts, it is an absolutely massive deal for us but we couldn't be happier. We think he is the greatest extreme sports star in the world. Even though there is a huge amount of money involved, we think he is worth every cent.
I'm sure heads rolled over there when they woke up one day and saw Travis not in a Red Bull hat at the start of 2016. The guys over in Austria had to have been asking themselves how the hell they let that happen.
Well, it happened… now he is 100% Nitro Circus
*Editors Note: When asked to comment on Travis Pastrana’s new sponsorship agreement, Sean Eggert, Head of Sports Marketing at Red Bull made the following statement: “We have enjoyed a long relationship with Travis Pastrana and an astonishing list of accomplishments together. As a co-founder of Nitro Circus this was something Travis wanted to do to further his career, not only as an athlete, but as a businessman and we fully support his decision in this next phase of his life. Travis will always be a member of the Red Bull family.”
Can we expect Travis Pastrana to be a Nitro Circus athlete for life?
Travis: That is the goal. Even looking at Red Bull, they have done a really good job at keeping their athletes. In action sports, most companies come in and the riders are kind of expendable. For me, those riders aren't just riders. They are my friends and my family. They are people just like you and I, trying to make a living.
I feel like we are in a position where if the passion stays and everyone loves it even half as much as they do right now, this company will continue to grow and the riders will be able to be Nitro Circus riders for life. That means me having a Nitro helmet for life. At the same time, you never know where the market goes and what will happen.
Travis loves Nitro and Nitro loves Travis. In fact, Travis is Nitro and Nitro is Travis. The two words are interchangeable. There is not a person in the world that hears the word Nitro Circus and doesn't think Travis Pastrana – CEO Mike Porra on the relationship between Travis Pastrana and Nitro Circus
Mike: Yes, if I have my way there is no question about it that Travis will be a Nitro Circus athlete for life.
We want him more than anyone else and we are a better resource for him than anyone else. You put those two things together and it is a perfect relationship. Travis loves Nitro and Nitro loves Travis. In fact, Travis is Nitro and Nitro is Travis. The two words are interchangeable. There is not a person in the world that hears the word Nitro Circus and doesn't think Travis Pastrana. He created the brand. This is his baby.
I can't speak for Travis but we are going to make it very, very difficult for him to try to ever leave.
What was it like putting on the Nitro Circus helmet for the first time?
Travis: It was kind of surreal. It is amazing to have the opportunity for me to put on that helmet and realize this has come so far. This started off as just a group of my friends and my cousin Greg. It started off as all of us just out in my backyard having fun filming some stuff and now it has become a multi-million dollar corporation where I am the dumbest person at the table. I think that is the model of success. Put the smartest people you can find around you that can help grow it while I can still focus on what I love to do, that is ride my dirt bike.
It started off as all of us just out in my backyard having fun filming some stuff and now it has become a multi-million dollar corporation where I am the dumbest person at the table. – Travis Pastrana on the transformation of Nitro Circus
What was it like seeing Travis in Nitro Circus gear from head to toe for the first time?
Mike: The day we made the announcement in front of our riders was an emotional day for all of us because he is Nitro. We all felt like it was him coming home. Seeing him with the hat on and holding the helmet was truly special.
If you see the clip, all the riders are going out of their minds cheering for him. Then we show him riding his first show. We are obviously super excited. Travis brings so much more than just his name. He brings so much in terms of his leadership and ability to positively influence those around him. He is the most extraordinary team player and I think he is the most polite young man I've ever met in my life. He calls everyone sir. He never refuses a photo or an autograph. I just don't know how he does it. What Travis brings is so much more than his riding and what he has accomplished. He contributes to the Nitro Circus team in so many other ways.
I feel like most things I've tried to make work in my life haven't. But almost everything that I was super passionate about and did because that is what I loved to do ended up working out for me- Travis Pastrana
You started Nitro Circus 13 years ago. What is it like seeing how much it has grown and evolved?
Travis: The best part about it is that was never the plan. I feel like most things I've tried to make work in my life haven't. But almost everything that I was super passionate about and did because that is what I loved to do ended up working out for me. You can always find people that share that passion with you and make things happen. It was a wild thing because it was truly organic how this whole thing came about.
What else does Nitro Circus have up their sleeves for 2016?
Travis: We've had a lot of growing years and this last year was our biggest yet. We went from an office with ten people to a two-floor office packed with people. You name it, Nitro is involved with it and we have a department for that.
This year we are really trying to go and look towards say, Cirque Du Soleil, because that is the only thing that is sort of similar to what we are trying to do. That is growing Nitro Circus beyond me or any one athlete.
To do that we need these three things:
- A world championship to decide who is the best. This allows sponsors to have world champions and to say that they are the best. It puts a value to the athletes.
- We need a lifestyle and an expression. A tour that gives kids the opportunity to travel around the world. Not kids, I mean adults. Whatever… same difference. A tour that gives action sports athletes the ability to travel around the world and make a living.
- We need to create a place that can find and groom the next generation of riders.
We have created the Nitro World Games that will take place July 16th in Salt Lake City. We are trying to put together an event that truly shows what is capable in action sports because you look at some of these top events and, unfortunately, the ramps, designs, and everything else haven't changed (for motorcycles at least) since 2001. The problem with this is you are hitting your head against the wall. You start to run out of ideas.
I feel like if you look at some of these action sports they get really big and then they sort of die down. The main reason for that is that there is no feeder program -Travis Pastrana on the need to groom the next generation of riders
You go to the X Games and the hardest trick for BMX is the double backflip. Well in my backyard they are doing quadruple backflips and triple backflips with double twists. If there is going to be a world championship it should showcase the newest and the best in that sport.
For example, Jolene Van Vugt is doing double backflips on bicycles and front flips on dirt bikes. Those would both pretty much win an X Games competition but it is because the ramps we are using allow that much innovation. So that is the goal. We want to bring that level of innovation to action sports competition.
In order to groom the next generation of riders, we are building the Nitro Academy of Excellence that will hopefully be up and running at full-speed this year. I feel like if you look at some of these action sports they get really big and then they sort of die down. The main reason for that is that there is no feeder program. They build this hype and then get so big that kids look at it and say to themselves "oh I don't have access to the big air ramps, coaching, or whatever else" necessary to become a professional action sports athlete .
What we are trying to do with the Nitro Academy of Excellence is really build up athletes that are passionate about what they do. Take them out there and be like "here is a foam pit, air bag, ramps, and whatever else you need.” Tell us what you need to be the best and we want to try to help you make that happen.
Mike: We are starting a North America tour in April and then heading to Australia. We also have a Europe tour starting at the beginning of June. This will be the first time ever that we will have two tours out at once.
We have been very busy hiring and training riders. We have had to double our cast basically so that has kept us busy. That has been exciting and it is great that we can now give so many more athletes around the world a whole lot of work.
We have the Nitro World Games coming up, which is a massive project for us. Travis and I felt that we've done so well for this industry but that competitions are basically dying in action sports. In our opinion competitions could be run much better. They are repetitive, hard to follow, and scoring is difficult. It has really only been aimed at people who are full on into that sport.
Our goal is to make the Nitro World Games like football or any other sport that anyone can watch and follow it. We are going to shock everyone when they see the formats, live scoring, and all the other things we got planned for the Nitro World Games. All this information will become available online in the next couple weeks and it will blow people's minds.
This event will also be the first time that NBC Universal has ever ran anything like this at primetime. The entire Nitro World Games will be during primetime on a Saturday night at 8:00pm. We are broadcasting it live around the world to all markets as well. That is a really, really big deal to us.
There will also be announcement soon on the Nitro Night of World Records where we will be doing some huge stunts including breaking the 400 ft. barrier on a motorcycle. We are working to determine the venue for that event but that will happen in 2016 as well.
We are continuing to build our digital platform and right now we have about 40 separate, new television and digital series that have been developed. We are transforming pretty quickly from a touring company into a media company. That transition is a big part of our focus in 2016 and beyond.
We are also launching our global consumer products range that will include everything from toys and video games to sporting goods, apparel, and more. We have been working on that solidly now for close to two years now trying to get the creative just perfect to try and match the brand essence of Nitro Circus. That is going to be launched in the next couple months starting with our online store that is going live on April 25th.
I guess another big thing is we are working hard and hope to make an announcement in the next six months that we'll have a permanent show in Las Vegas. We have been working on that now for over two years and are getting very, very close to it becoming a reality. We expect that to open in 2017.
Final question: you should attend a Nitro Circus event if…
Travis: If you like carnage. If you like to see the impossible. There are a couple different ways to go with that.
I'd almost like to say if you are a redneck. I feel like the bigger the city we go to, the fewer amount of people that know what Nitro Circus is. You get a town of 500 people and all 500 people are Nitro Circus fans. Funny how that works.
Mike: If you want to have the greatest night of your life.