What's a sticker worth?
Ken Chitester, Director of Communications at the Appraisal Institute in Chicago, says that "prime real estate" is not only lay terminology, it's also kind of a chimera.
"Most appraisers are uncomfortable dealing in generalities," he explains. "Every time I've ever asked a real estate appraiser a question about valuation, the answer inevitably is some version of 'It depends.' And it does. Each situation is unique."
Chitester answers hypothetical question: What determines a prime location for a retail store? He says off the top of his head, traffic, parking, proximity to other retail stores (and the type and quality of those other stores), the competition's location, freeway access, the local population's demographics, local economic market factors, potential for and history of revenue, cost of leases, vacancy rates, "and other issues" could affect my hypothetical property's value.
Real estate on a surfboard is similarly complex, but industry professionals frequently offer summaries that are as imprecise as the scenario I posed to Chitester. I hear again and again that the top-third is the most valuable area on a surfboard. Period.
"Different sponsors have different values," says Fox Australia team rider Sam Lendrum. "[Sticker placement] depends on how much a particular sponsor pays you. For instance, the sponsor that pays you the most money will be the main sponsor. [A surfer's 'major' sponsor is usually their 'head-to-toe' or clothing sponsor] and is put the highest up towards the nose. A major sponsor will normally dictate where they want their logo. Minor sponsors, like an eyewear or shoe brand, will get run through the middle of the board, and hardware sponsors will be found down towards the tail."
California pro Noah Erickson says essentially the same thing, but with one key distinction: "Your main sponsor takes care of you the most, so [their logo] goes [on] the most exposed part of your surfboard."
For Erickson, O'Neill's always on the nose. "No other option." But I'm still stuck on "most exposed."
The reason why the stickers have to be seen is exactly the reason you think: Money. Anthony Sedgwick, a media producer and athlete manager who has worked with Red Bull North America and Fuel TV, points out that while other action sports athletes actually wear their sponsors' gear (helmets, sneakers, goggles, t-shirts) surfers frequently don only their swimwear (or wetsuit) of choice. The board is the only place where brands may mark their territories."Think of them as billboards," Sedgwick says.
"I'm kind of lucky with Rhythm in that they are very lifestyle-driven, so my focus isn't necessarily product-based. However, I do know that when I'm trying to sell images to companies, logos have to be visible," says Chris Proud, an Australian photographer who works with brands like Rhythm.
But what if the sponsors themselves are choosing the wrong real estate? Sedgwick had to re-negotiate one of his snowboarding clients' contracts because the sticker placement simply didn't make sense.
"His contract stated that he had to have stickers on the top of his board, because certain companies pay more money to have the tip and the tail," Sedgwick says. "But the way he snowboards and the way he's filmed -- he rides rails and street -- you never see the top of his board. So he may have had a double-page spread, but because there was no logo, he didn't get any money. So the way I re-negotiated his contract says that there are three rates: big logo, small logo, and no logo (or wearing the product), so that he [always] gets something for it."
According to Australian surf magazine Stab, Kolohe Andino's sponsors collectively pay him about $2 million each year. The Californian sports a Red Bull sticker on his tip, and as one Red Bull North America employee confirms, "The nose is the No. 1 position and is occupied by the surfer's top sponsor." That same employee also says that contracts dictate the placement of "every sticker in surfing," which means that the company required Andino to put their logo on the nose of his board.
Aerial surfing was polarizing at its inception 30-something years ago, and it still is. Now, instead of asking whether above-the-lip surfing should even be considered surfing (it should), we ask whether one 10-foot boost should be worthy of a 10-point score (it should not). And as much as surfing loathes the predictable, the punt has become surfing's version of the forward pass. For some reason, few people consider this when riders sign away board space. And it's not just that surfing is ever evolving, but shouldn't an individual athlete's style factor into sticker placement?
Luis Eyre is one surfer who believes that it should. I noticed Eyre's unusual sticker layout after he won the UK Pro Surf Tour Scottish Open. He says he is "super OCD" when it comes to his stickers and, interestingly, he says his sponsors don't tell him where to affix their logos. Regardless, he places Oakley and Sanuk at the top of his uniquely linear arrangement.
"They are my biggest sponsors at the moment," he explains. Still, Oakley is in the middle of Eyre's board, hugging the frontside rail. "I think it's more important [that they're] on the bottom, because when it comes to airs, you see them more."
"Going for a grab, that middle of the board is generally going to be out of the water," Sedgwick says, "whereas for an air reverse [or other tricks], the tail or the nose will either still be in the wave or covered by spray. The middle of the board is the hot property."
"I haven't heard any example of [surfers] changing their contracts for the sticker placement," Sedgwick continues. "I don't think the surfers really pay too much attention. But they should, really. Because that's how they get paid."
Visibility is like a prerequisite at the school of pay-to-play surfing, where getting a degree demands rigorous study. Once surfers have managed to capture their sponsors' insignia, they must then ensure that it is seen by as many eyeballs as humanly possible in order to maximize their sponsors' (and, in turn, their own) profit.
"Within these contracts there is a breakdown of payments," Sedgwick explains. "[The way most contracts work], you get a retainer, which is probably 50 percent of the total amount budgeted for the athlete. So say, for example, that the athlete's worth $20,000. She'll get $8,000 to $10,000 budgeted in her retainer, to give her a monthly paycheck. Then the rest is her 'earning potential.' So, if she gets 15 seconds of footage, say it's $500. If she gets under a minute, it's $1,000. A minute-plus, that's $1,500. It's staggered, and it's the same with [magazine pages]." Sedgwick says a cover could be worth upwards of $5,000, and the values scale down from there.
As if the complexity of stickers wasn't already blowing your mind, waves are not skate ramps and no two lines are ever exactly the same. It's not easy for photographers to nail the perfect shot with a Red Bull sticker front and center. Which makes smart placement critical.
It turns out that "prime real estate" really does exist. There are just a thousand factors to consider when shopping.