After a long stretch with Skatepark of Tampa, Ryan Clements recently joined forces with Heath Brinkley to open Excel, an athlete business management company, that handles all of the paper pushing and financial details for pros so that they can focus on growing their careers and their nest egg for when the riding winds down.
“I’ve been doing business management for some pro skateboarders on the side for a couple of years now,” explains Clements, who is working with athletes like P-Rod, Torey Pudwill, and Austyn Gillette to name a few. “We basically run each individual skateboarder like they're a small business.”
We caught up with Clements and Brinkley to get their insights on what every pro should know to ensure a long, healthy career; and an even longer financial cushion.
What are some common pitfalls that skaters fall into or might not consider?
RC: For the younger guys it's that they don't realize how all the money they're getting isn't theirs. They still have to pay Uncle Sam and they don't necessarily realize that or how it works. Explaining the difference between being an employee and a contractor is important. For the older, more established guys it's more about making them aware of how much money they're blowing on eating, drinking, and other purchases that leave them absolutely nothing to show. I have one client that didn't file tax returns for eight years. I don't know what he was thinking, but it eventually caught up to him via a levy on his checks from his sponsors. That's when he called me. We cleaned that mess up with the assistance of a tax attorney.
At what point in their career should a skater/surfer/snowboarder, etc. start thinking about financial planning?
RC: Well, traditional financial planning with a financial advisor can be done as soon as there's an excess of income. When we get a new client, the first thing we do is try to first understand, and then ultimately get their spending under control. Once the spending is under control, there is generally money left over that we can start saving in a wise manner.
Five things every pro should do to better establish themselves as a brand:
- First and foremost, skaters need to see themselves as brands.
- Maintain a personal website with exclusive content, which means being their own outlet. Every pro has some type of fan base and those fans would like to see what their favorite pro is doing on a daily basis, what new products they're riding, where they are traveling to next, etc.
- Have active social networks that are constantly being updated with relevant content. Sure, post your party pics, but it's important to post things your audience can relate to. Not too many 13-year-old kids can relate to Max Fish at closing time.
- Treat sponsors more as support to their personal brand, instead of the other way around. Think about your favorite brand. It's probably your favorite because of the skaters that ride for it. Pros should realize that they actually make the brands what they are.
- This one is simple, but act like a professional both on and off the skateboard.
What else should the be thinking about on the business side and what kind of services are out there to help make this easier and let them focus on their riding?
RC: We do the majority of that thinking for them by providing these sorts of services...
- Collect all checks
- Pay all bills
- Obtain health insurance
- Hire/work with the CPA to handle tax returns
- Hire/work with the financial advisor
- Get them a mortgage if they need it
- And the list goes on and on...including career advice simply by talking to them about skateboarding, where they sit in the industry, etc.
Got any good stats on where pro skaters are at these days? Average length of a career, salary, etc?
RC: Just like traditional team sports, there are some guys that are at the low end and some guys that are at the high end. Granted, the low end in professional skateboarding is living in an apartment with three friends and drinking cheap beer. The high end in skateboarding is in the seven digits, which sounds good, but it's still significantly less than traditional sports.
What can a skater do to extend their career and how can proper planning help that?
RC: There comes a point in a pro skater's career that they are "established." Once who you are and what you do off a skateboard means about the same as the tricks you're doing, you're in a damn good spot. That is a special place that's very difficult to achieve, but can add a decade onto a career. The way to plan that is to be everywhere you can be and get as much coverage as possible. Go to events and contests. With the right mindset, contests are cool, fun, you get to be around your friends, and you get to see the level everyone is skating. Don't forget to please your sponsors. I'm not saying sacrifice your integrity, but just be a pleasure to work with.
What are a couple pieces of advice you’d give every skater?
RC: Most importantly I would want to reiterate to be a pleasure to work with and don't kook it. Take a look around you...there are a lot of skaters that are really talented and work hard and have basically nothing for their efforts--that's because they're not marketable, don't get it, etc. Never compromise who you are and always be yourself, but be kind to others, build relationships, and smile.
For more information, you can reach Clements at firstname.lastname@example.org.