The Subtle Art Of Shoe Sponsorship

Tony Hawk takes bids, settles with Adio.

Tony Hawk and Chris Miller are laughing. They’re seated at Ruby’s, a 50s-style restaurant with two miniature trains circling overhead on suspended tracks and giant Lego sculptures of clowns, elephants, and lions decorating the place. Miller has just finished telling the story of how he snagged (snagged is the wrong word – stumbled over is a more appropriate term) the most famous name in skateboarding for his new shoe company, Adio. Friends from the age of eleven, when they both began entering amateur skateboard contests, Miller and Hawk have been rendezvousing more recently because their sons play on the same soccer team. Every Saturday morning, they’d see each other and shoot the breeze as their kids ran back and forth across the field. Hawk, burned out on Airwalk for various reasons, would constantly ask Miller how the shoes were doing. “Are they doing good? Do you have all the designs done? What kind of features … ” etc. This went on for a month straight.

“I thought it was just ‘How is your day?’ talk,” Miller says, and that starts the laughing. He claims the thought that Hawk wanted to discuss sponsorship never crossed his mind. “Hey, I always thought it would be great for Tony to ride for us, but I never really thought about it. I never went after him or anything.”

“Chris isn’t good at subtle hints,” Hawk, ever the straight man, says indifferently as he peels off some wax paper the cook left on his hamburger. This makes Miller laugh even more. “He thought I was genuinely interested in the shoe rather than wearing it.”

Hawk finally had to straight-out ask Miller if he could ride for Adio. Miller was surprised, but the more he thought about it, the less plausible it seemed. He told Hawk he wanted him, but wasn’t sure if he could afford him. While not disclosing the amount, Miller says the guarantee Hawk wanted wasn’t outlandish (“I was sort of surprised,” he says), and that solved that problem.

Hawk says he was more concerned with the direction of the company than money, and before he even inked the contract they were on their way to Tony’s ramp, Birdland, to shoot an Adio ad. “I would have been satisfied with a handshake, but we just put everything on paper so we had it, and made sure it was clear,” Miller says, still laughing at Tony’s cooked wax paper.

From the outside looking in, it would seem like an odd decision for Hawk to ride for a company that hasn’t even been market-tested. He received a fifteen-page proposal from another major skate-shoe company, talked with a few major athletic manufacturers, says he was offered a lot more lucrative contracts, but zeroed in on Adio. He knew exactly what he wanted from a company and the people running it. “With Chris, I don’t have to justify or explain any new idea. I can call him up and get it done. I know that I don’t have to see anything through. Anyone who doesn’t have their finger on the pulse of skating doesn’t ‘get it.'”

Another concern of Hawk’s was where he would fit in on a team. Other more established shoe companies already had a fixed image and defined key players. “If there is anybody in skateboarding who could skate for a mainstream company and sell his shoes at Foot Locker, it’s Tony. No one else has the opportunity or the ability,” Miller says.

He even discussed this with him, but Hawk had made up his mind. “I know Adio’s priority is skating, and it’s going to be more exciting to be there from the concept.”

Even so, Miller had to talk with his team to make sure they approved the idea, which they did. “It’s an exciting opportunity and everyone on the team thought it would be great,” he says.

When Jamie Thomas was asked about Hawk’s addition to the team he said, “I can’t picture any other vert skater being involved in Adio. Tony fits in perfectly.”

Adio had already budgeted their shoe expenses and marketing, so a new rider and model (Hawk’s shoe will be available in October) obviiously put a wrench in these plans. “It definitely did,” Miller says, “but in the best possible way.” With the backing of parent-company K2, Miller was able to adjust his budget to accommodate Hawk.

The waitress drops off the check as a kid asks Hawk if he really is Tony Hawk. When he replies yes, the kid whips out a skate mag to be autographed.

Meanwhile, Miller pulls out his Velcro wallet and sarcastically whispers to me, “Look at this … ” as he peels off a few crisp 100-dollar bills, one after the other. By the third bill he starts laughing again. “I had to buy a lady a bunch of computer software and she only had hundreds to pay me back with.”

The juxtaposition of the large bills and Miller seemed awkward. He still drives the same old VW camper van he’s had for years, is dressed in jeans and a T-shirt, and appears exactly the same as he did when Planet Earth was new and operating on a shoestring budget. But, that’s probably why Hawk, still talking to the kid, wanted to ride for Adio in the first place.