As part of ASC Action Sports + Culture, Oli Russell-Cowan spoke to action sports agent to the stars Lowell Taub. After a 24-year career representing some of the biggest athletes in the industry Taub returned to his entrepreneurial roots and launched Stoked Management Group in August 2020. Taub represents Olympic, Action Sports, and Iconic athletes and sports personalities, including the best skateboarder (Nyjah Huston), snowboarder (Chloe Kim), and surfer (John John Florence) in the world.
They go in-depth about the formation of Stoked Management, the upcoming Summer Olympics, and how his athletes are preparing. Also his thoughts about the current action sports environment, ways brands and athletes can work together and more.
Oli Russell-Cowan: How would you say over the past 23 years athlete management has changed from when you started?
Lowell Taub: Good question. I’d say a couple things first.
We kind of scoffed at equity deals 20 years ago, but now that these guys are making so much money, you know, 50, 100, 200, 300, 400, $500 million dollars and then you still make your Gatorade money and your Red Bull money and your Adidas money. You can now have a kind of a raffle ticket. You can scratch an entrepreneurial itch.
My big win in that space was Shaun White with GoPro cameras. So Shawn had a multi-year Red Bull deal and at the finish line the deal fell apart. We were all very disappointed. We met the CEO of GoPro cameras Nick Woodman, and he told us an amazing story about how big the company was about to be overnight and that Shaun could help be an accelerant to that.
Truly, that was one of those lightning in a bottle moments where the timing was perfect. Shaun helped authenticate the coolness of the brand and get them better shelf space. When you walked into Best Buy, there was a big Shaun White display of GoPro up front and the company went public, and we had a $30 million win by owning a piece of the company.
There were a couple of other of those sprinkled around. LeBron James owned a piece of GoPro cameras. David Ortiz owned a piece of Vitamin Water and Kobe Bryant owned a piece of Body Armor.
‘So that’s one big thing that’s changed athletes saying, rather than just being a hired gun, and getting my big check from this brand, is there an opportunity to own a piece of something and have a big exit.’
Phil Mickelson is doing it with Mizzen+Main currently in the golf space, these performance button down shirts, where he’s an owner in it. He wore that at a practice round of the Masters and he changed the company’s fortunes overnight.
In addition to that, obviously, social media, I would say is the other biggest change in 20 years. You’re looking at two point guards, and they’re both African American and they’re both in the prime of their career, and they’re both marketable, you can say, Okay, great, who’s got better social media.
So we have to try to inspire our athletes to being consistent and giving their audience great content, because again, it comes down, you know, apples to apples, where all things are equal, social media could be the difference maker. And, look, it’s also a great tool for me to follow my 22 clients, and know what they’re doing on a day to day basis, and be able to drop into their lives and tell them something was cool, or congratulate them on something. See where they are traveling in the world. And it keeps me more connected to my clients.
Those are the two biggest things that jumped to mind Oli. Now NFT’s, you know, we’ll see how sustainable that is. I think equity deals and social media are the two that immediately jumped to my head as the biggest changes in the industry.
Oli Russell-Cowan: When picking or scouting for new athletes when they were younger does social media now then play a massive role in finding talent?
Taub: Yeah, it’s definitely part of the mix. And it definitely makes every agents job a little bit easier. Right now, you don’t have to get on a plane to watch a 15 year old skateboarder. Or you don’t have to get on a plane to get a sense for their charisma, you know, in their brand, for lack of a better word, but it’s still all part of the mix.
Is their sport, high profile, medium profile or low profile. Social media does give a window into what their vibe is, and the way that they carry themselves. It’s definitely changed the face of recruiting and almost given every agent taken away two or three plane rides, and given a six month head start on getting to know Sky Brown before even getting on the phone with her dad Stu to start recruiting and give you a sense of, you know, who you think she is and what you think she’s capable of.
Russell-Cowan: Now looking at those athletes, and I guess, in particular, looking at the Summer Olympics, and skateboarding and surfing, What do you think that means to action sports as a whole?
Taub: I do liken it to kind of the explosion of a popularity that snowboard experienced after it went into the Olympics in 98, and kind of crescendoed with the flying tomato in 2006. He hates that name.I’m just saying that in terms of the hype so I actually do think it’s a little bit separate on skateboarding and surfing. I represent John John Florence who made it and Courtney Conlogue who didn’t.
I’m more glass half full on skateboarding and glass half empty on surfing. And I’ll tell you why. Everyone’s nervous about the waves in Japan, you know in July and and is that going to be the right introduction to the world about the beauty and the artistry and the athleticism of surf? Or is it going to be these four foot little breaks and there’ll be cute airs, and nobody can kind of differentiate themselves. And it’s a mellow contest. So everyone’s nervous about that.
I think the other thing is that if you don’t live near an ocean, you can’t have the follow through of what you’ve seen in the Olympics to then go out and surf. Right? If you’re in Oklahoma, or anywhere landlocked around the world, you might think it’s great. And then you’re gonna go back to your basketball court or your soccer field or your golf course.
Whereas skateboarding of those three of surf, snowboarding and skateboarding is the most democratized. I just think that skateboarding the fact that for 80 bucks you know, 100 bucks, you can buy a complete skateboard and do it almost anywhere in the world. Now the fact that Nyjah Huston’s a rock star and he’s gonna make it cool and Sky Brown’s a rock star, and she’s gonna make it cool, you know Zion is going to do great at Park. Jordan, I hope busts there on that podium in the women’s Park as well.
I just think that unique individual styles of these athletes and a coolness and the accessibility and the affordability. Skateboarding already apparently during the pandemic had a huge uptick last spring and summer again, because it was socially distance, it was affordable. So I do think that skate is going to come out of this in a very strong position for our industry and our sport of popularity viewership. And therefore merchandise sales and deck and wood and complete sales.
So I’m bullish on skate, I’m bullish on surf as well. But again, I just think surf as always had 30 or 40 years of limitations of translating to TV to non super fans of like, what is even going on? There’s how priority work. And there’s weather holds and, and you can’t like look at it and know exactly what’s the difference.
Or you can look at a Nyjah Huston street run that he is clearly the best and Yuto is obviously right there with them. Or you can look at the Sky Brown run and be like, Oh, she goes bigger, you know, and can spin 360 and can spin 540, and it just kind of immediately recognizable, it’s 40 seconds, and it’s scored, and it’s not head to head.
So that was a long winded answer saying I’m bullish about both.
Russell-Cowan: The opportunity of Sky Brown and Nyjah becoming household names what are the ways that brands will then look to become involved with that?
Taub: It’s a little bit sports marketing 101 Oli. For anyone who hasn’t studied it. The whole Olympic paradigm has kind of shifted in the last 30 years, whereas a generation ago Carl Louis would pop up win gold become famous.
Now the brands are so astute and adept at exploiting the Olympic window. And I don’t mean exploit as a negative there as much as just a fact of leveraging that window of 45 days, 30 days, 15 days running up to the Olympics, and during the day. That’s when you see your Nyjah Houstons.
So Nyjah and Sky already have 6,7,8 partners each of them heading into the Olympics who are going to exploit the moment at various levels coming out of the Olympics. Knock on wood, if they can both win hardware, I think that’s when more even non endemic brands are gonna come and say oh,
‘Nyjah is the goat of his sport.’
And you know, he’s inked up and he’s multicultural and he’s cool without trying. So I want to attach whatever it is and we’ll have to sift through those to make sure they’re authentic.
And Sky again like how often like I think she’s gonna capture the world’s attention because she will be 13 by the time she gets to the Olympics, and I think it’s gonna be a holy shit moment for people.
This girl is the best in the world at something at 13 years old. She’s at the tip of the iceberg. I’m sure the Olympic, NBC and others want to tell the story that in addition to professional skating, she’s a professional surfer, she won Dancing with the Stars Junior edition in 2018, she dropped a song last fall, she plays the guitar. So this is literally, you know, a Gen Z multi hyphenate, athlete, singer, dancer, actor. So I do think that hopefully, they both have really, really strong opportunities. And that it’s nice also that because of COVID they’re going to be back in a more condensed window. It would usually be four years, but this time, it’ll be three years. So Nyjah will only be 29. And Sky will only be 16, which is crazy to be at your second Olympics.
I’m very excited and bullish for what they’re offering and John John Florence as well. John goes up there and wins a gold in the first ever surfing gold medalist, again, that sport shows up gorgeously. You know, there have been to ns of brands that have used surf imagery, generic actors in their marketing materials. I think that those three have really high ceiling opportunities, you know, coming out of the Olympics if they perform.
Russell-Cowan: Thanks so much for your time. It’s been amazing talking to you and hearing all your stories. It’s gonna be exciting times looking to see what Stoked are up to.