Globally renowned – and, by some, reviled – snowboarder Shaun White entered an unfamiliar phase of his career yesterday; being associated with failure.
The two-time Olympic gold medalist was unable to add a third consecutive win to his tally on the halfpipe at Sochi 2014, leaving him to face down critics and the next steps of a career that has previously reflected only success.
White has more riding on this failure than most. With brand endorsements from Burton to Red Bull and Oakley to Target, the snowboarding icon has wide-ranging associations estimated at an annual value of more than $10 million. That’s before he even sets foot on a board and into a competition, which means he can take some time to decide what comes next. How long he can take is another question entirely.
At the age of 27, White is by no means in the twilight of his career. He can continue to enter high-profile annual competitions like the Winter X-Games to fuel his associations with high energy, alternative sports brands.
But the big one will be the next Winter Olympics, at which he will be 31 and a certified elder statesman of this youthful sport. Only another medal would convince sponsors if he follows that path, as rising U.S. stars like Danny Davis snap at his heels.
White has, of course, built a brand that will endure beyond any one failure. Over the last decade he’s put his sport on the map and, in many ways, become the face of snowboarding.That will have to transition to retirement some time soon, at which point he’ll have any number of fashion, video game and movie opportunities to pursue.
In many ways Shaun White represents a microcosm of the personal sports brand: high value, a limited window of opportunity, and the inevitable highs and lows based on the success and failure of any given performance. What sets him apart from many in the snowboarding community is his ruthless desire to win, which is exactly the quality that should see him through these tough times in Sochi.