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Kaspar van Lierop about being a business consultant in skateboarding

The older guys will remember the name Kaspar van Lierop from back in the days when he was a sponsored skater in the Netherlands. Then he began working at Nike and pretty much started the SB program in Europe. He was able to do that because he combines the mindset of a core skater with a good sense for marketing. Nowadays he’s having his own consutling agency and is helping brands like Asics getting into skateboarding in a credible way. Because you normally don’t get too much insight into the business side of skateboarding, we were interested in what Kaspar had to tell.


Photo: Quentin De Briey

Let’s start with a promo video of you from 1998. You were already kind of professional in the way you were looking for sponsors. How did you see the industry back then and what did you think about a career in skateboarding?

I think I had a little bit of talent, but I also knew I was not that good. And being sponsored for me at that time was just free stuff. I never had the ambition to be a pro skater. I got free shoes from Vans and I rode for Carhartt WIP that paid me like 200 a month. That’s the most I ever made from skateboarding. I had my name on a deck for Colorblind. I had a pro board, so to speak. But man, I got €1 a board, and they made 200 a year. So I have never considered skateboarding itself as my job, neither would I ever see myself as a “pro”. The promo video you saw was made by a friend of mine, because I wanted to get on Lordz wheels and they asked me to make one. On a side note, one of the biggest benefits building up a professional career in the skateboarding industry is your network. The team manager from Lordz for example nowadays has a marketing agency in Paris. For example: now Asics wants to do an event in Paris and I call Benoit to hire his agency. So the person that I sent that tape, 25 years later, I’m calling him for help. That has nothing to do with the school I went to, it’s just a network of skateboarding. I think if you’re somewhat social, nice to people and they know you have something to offer, you can get anything done.

Did you have an alternative career plan when you were in school?

Skateboarding was all I was thinking about. So when I graduated high school I was like: “Now what?” Last minute I decided to study marketing communication and then I got into Nike because of an internship. I wrote them a letter, got hired and at the end of the internship you had to create a business / marketing plan. Nike asked me to do it about soccer, but I was like: “How about skateboarding?” This was 2003 and in 2002 Nike SB started in the US, but not yet in Europe. So I was like, I can make a marketing plan for you guys about skateboarding. I had to do zero research and actually got the best grade in class. Then someone at the European office wanted to start the skate division in Europe and heard about me. I got a phone call, saying he wants to talk about skateboarding. I had no idea who this guy was, but he offered me a job. So I became the first person in the European office and basically executed the marketing plan I had made. There wasn’t a department yet, so I had to find out how everything works. Like, where are the samples? You have to order them. How do I order samples? And so on. Slowly but surely, I figured things out. Initially shops weren’t very interested in Nike, but once the Dunks started selling, the shops wanted them. We made skate teams, magazines would cover the trips and it started to work. I was doing marketing and sales for eleven countries. I would fly to Helsinki, google skate shops, walk in and sell shoes. Then I would come back and do a team trip with the Belgium team to Tampa, and then I would come back, and I’d take the Dutch team to Hong Kong for a Fluff magazine article. It was crazy.

"I think skateboarders are totally fine if you’re a bigger brand coming into skateboarding, as long as you respect the culture and show you understand it."

What was your last job at Nike?

In 2011 I moved to the U.S. as a sports marketing manager and then I worked my way up. Still only SB but ultimately the last role I had there was overseeing everything Skate Sports Marketing. I would do a three-year strategy and oversee the complete global budget. Like how much do we plan to pay who? All the contract negotiations and then integrating everything we do within Nike. A lot of decisions are made as a team, for example signature shoes. I can have an opinion but also the footwear team needs to be down and the marketing team needs to think it’s valuable. Once you give somebody the signature shoe, is the royalty on top of the deal or is there only royalty once that exceeds the deal? Or do you give no money, only royalties? All part of what I would work on.

That’s a lot of responsibility.

Yeah, but again, it was always a team not me just doing it. And then also I have to report to higher up. I had some bosses at Nike that were fantastic and amazing. They didn’t know skate but understood what I was trying to do. Sometimes they also would show me a bigger perspective from a corporate world, and you would find the medium. You’re like: “Oh, this is way smarter than how skateboarding does it”. But I’ve also had bosses, that cared less about skateboarding.

Nike had already tried to work in skateboarding before SB and both attempts failed. What was different the third time?

I think the first time, the product and the distribution was off. And the timing maybe, too. What I tell companies nowadays is, I think skateboarders are totally fine if you’re a bigger brand coming into skateboarding, as long as you respect the culture and show you understand it. It’s a nuance that for us skateboarders is honestly very simple. That’s why I think my job is not that tough. Oh, he’s holding the truck or they crop the photo wrong. It’s simple for us, but they don’t know. Anyway, when Nike initially had their “If all athletes were treated like skateboarders” campaign – that thing was awesome. But from what I understood, the shoe quality was not that great, they looked bad and they were not sold in skate shops but in mainstream stores. So skaters didn’t want to buy them. They were like: „They don’t get it”. The Savier thing, I don’t know much about it. I think it was someone higher up at Nike that heard about that project and liked it and funded it, provided access to factories / technology, gave them a warehouse – fun fact: that’s where the Nike SB skate park still is today. Savier had an amazing team. They had very progressive designs, almost indestructible shoes, but I don’t think it fully hit the trend at that time. Then at some point Sandy Bodecker came into play, he was a Nike veteran. He passed away a couple years ago but he had been at Nike for a very long time and he was reporting directly to the top. He got very familiar with skateboarding. Perfect example of someone that didn’t skate, but read every Thrasher magazine from the front to the back, to the point he understood the culture completely. And he was also like, we shouldn’t do Savier, we should just do Nike. So once he came in, which I think was like 2002, he got one or two people on board from the skate community, like Kevin Imamura and Hunter Muraira. They did what people didn’t expect and had this approach that now a lot of brands copy: Start with more underground skaters on the team and small distribution. It worked, although there’s been a lot of mistakes along the way. What was key was that as long as Sandy was there, you had someone very high up at Nike that understood it and protected it internally from either risky short term grow targets or being inauthentic. Since he passed away, a lot changed. I’m not saying it is bad today, but Sandy could protect us when, for example, people said we have to sell more. He could be like: “No, we have to think long term”. In Nikes 2020 reorganization, they let go the General Manager and the Vice President of Nike SB, and they’ve never been replaced. Yes, there are still skaters working there, but they’re not reporting to a CEO. We used to have someone at that top.

"You can either talk shit on it or you can change things and make it better for everybody. Help brands with their skateboard efforts, be authentic, and have the money go to the right people."

How does a marketing plan for a big brand look like and how far do they normally plan ahead?

I would say a business plan is probably about 2-3 years. We had this thing at Nike that was called Corporate Strategic Review. And that’s for every sport: basketball, running, tennis, football, etc. You create a three year plan. Like, It would include expected revenue for the next few years. Then you click down, what’s the marketing plan? And then what’s the sports marketing plan? What’s the product plan? Footwear would have a three year line plan and in sports marketing you would have a budget plan for three years. But marketing is probably a year in advance. No one knows which video you’re doing in three years but you know which shoe you’re releasing. The Nyjah 4 is probably on a roadmap somewhere with an estimated business number allocated to it.

And when something starts, like with Asics now, I guess there’s a more precise plan about how to do it?

Yes, I have spent a lot of time with Jake Gascoyne on the creative direction of Asics Skateboarding. How to position and launch the brand and what would be the look and feel. My last job at Nike was just sports marketing. I had Scuba as the team manager, Mike Sinclair as a talent scout and Colin [Kennedy] in Europe and so on. I had 10-15 people working for me. But my only responsibility was Sports Marketing. Now at Asics I do so much more. I have been running the IG account, I design the stickers…

You’re posting on Instagram?

Yep. I am the team manager, but then I also do the three year strategic planning. If the company I work with treats me with respect, I don’t mind going to the post office etc. But for Europe, I have a 60 page keynote I made with the whole rollout on what I think we should be doing in the next two, three years, and which are the stores and who could we potentially hire as a sales rep and what are the magazines we should support. So I do very senior strategic jobs, but also the most junior thing.

What made you start your own business after Nike?

After I got let go at Nike after a big reorganization, I could’ve gone to another footwear brand. But I didn’t want to do the same thing again. A lot of riders were calling me, asking to be their agent. I started to do the math. There’s not a lot of money to be made, or you have a lot of people and it’s a tough job. Or you need a Nyjah or Leticia. They already have agents that I know very well, and I don’t want to battle with them. I was really trying to be open to anything. Maybe I become a real estate agent or a forest ranger? Once I did an Instagram post, like, “Hey, I’m no longer at Nike” and I got hundreds of messages where everyone was so supportive, I decided to stay in skateboarding. I realized there’s a lot of brands coming into skateboarding, and I think I’m pretty good at explaining how skateboarding works to someone that doesn’t skate. So I thought I could be a consultant. I called two, three brands to kind of test the thought, and they all offered me a job immediately.

How is it now? How can I imagine your consulting company?

I have different clients and it depends who it is and what they want. Asics has a skate shoe that they want to sell in shops and make money with it. But StockX didn’t have a product, its an online resell platform. They just wanted skateboarding in their marketing. So sometimes it’s a business opportunity, sometimes it’s a marketing opportunity. I do ‘sub-contract’ people a lot for help, but my agency is just me. I like it that I have no one working for me fulltime. I love it that I don’t have a boss. With my latest boss at Nike, I felt like my opinion wasn’t appreciated. I have been told I’m not willing to cooperate. But I understood what was being said, I just disagreed. I have experience in skateboarding and know that if you make a certain move, this is the response you’re going to get from the consumer, and it may affect sales and the brand. For example, we have seen phases where the sporting goods brands feel like they need to have huge logos everywhere in skateboarding. Same for energy drinks. They may think the more visible branding the better. But to a skate kid, this often looks lame. Kids don’t want to look like that. It’s not inspirational. It may actually take away from the skaters image and the brand, too. And where I’m going with this is, now I have all these brands and they ask me how they can do better to be more respected in skateboarding. Now people pay me to tell them how they can do better, and when I do, they are thankful.

"Why all the brands want to be in – even if they don’t sell product? It’s the cool factor. Skating is cool as fuck."

Why do brands from outside of skateboarding want to get into skateboarding in the first place? Sure there’s money to make but is it enough that it is relevant for the really big brands? And you have to spend money before you can earn it and you have the risk of losing it plus you can even lose credibility.

First of all, yes, skateboarding is huge. And, yes, there’s a business opportunity, depending on what the product is. The latest stats I had, there’s like 90 million skateboarders across the world. There’s 9 million in the US, there’s 8 million in Brazil. And think about what you can sell to the skate inspired consumer, too. It can add up to a shit ton of money.

But compared to basketball or soccer, it’s not much.

Yes, so why do they do it in the end? It’s a marketing opportunity. Why all the brands want to be in – even if they don’t sell product? It’s the cool factor. Skating is cool as fuck. Skateboarding has always had some sort of fashion influence and now you see Robert Neal and Ishod Wair doing runway shows. Virgil Abloh (who was my first client) had a heavy hand in opening those doors. And now everyone’s following. Every brand wants a piece of it. I think skateboarding is big, there’s a business opportunity and a marketing opportunity. But also, skateboarding influences all these other kids. It’s just part of youth culture. And if you’re a brand, you want to be relevant in youth culture because that’s your current or future consumer. I think ultimately, in very short, it’s just cool, it’s influential. But why it’s so crazy right now? I don’t know. All these companies want something in skateboarding and they need help. I’ll help. I think a lot of skaters will just see how they do it, try to find anything that’s not cool and talk shit on it. I’m rather like: “Let me help you make it better”. I get money out of that, they get better stuff and we can have more money go to skaters and skateboarding. The other day, this guy reached out to me. He’s working on a charity project in Ghana. He wants to build a skate park and get them boards. I was like, Ghana? That’s where Virgil Abloh is from. We should reach out to Off-White and maybe they can chip in significant money. I set up a call and now we are working on it. In this case the skaters would be stoked, the homie can make his dream come true and it would look awesome for OW, so everybody wins. So you can either talk shit on it or you can change things and make it better for everybody. Help brands with their skateboard efforts, be authentic, and have the money go to the right people.

Brook Kaspar 1

Photo: Joe Brook

I’d say there’s a high demand for people like you at the moment but I don’t know many doing it. Maybe Ryan Clements with the Boardr a little bit.

Clements definitely does some consulting but I believe he’s normally coming from the perspective of the rider. Whereas I go to a brand with a more holistic and long-term approach, that could include the positioning of the brand, the look and feel, what a skate team could look like, how you could market it and what that all may cost. For example last year I got approached by Pharrel. His Ice Cream brand wanted to be more relevant in skateboarding. I went and did a month-long project to re-create their strategy. One of my recommendations was not to do their own events or videos, but instead potentially support this Genesis crew from Seattle. They do cool full length videos, they get 100k views. I don’t think any of their riders has an apparel sponsor. I suggested to give them a shit ton of apparel, tell them to wear some in their video, put the logo on the video and give them say $15,000 for the production and the premiere. They’re going to be so thankful and you have to do nothing, because they produce it. They do the premiere, they do the editing. And your stuff will look cool in there and you’ll be known as a brand that’s supportive to the community and gets it because they’re cool.

Are there companies you wouldn’t work with?

I want the project to be fun. Recently a brand reached out to set up their whole skate thing and I was like: “Fuck, yes!” But I started to dislike the atmosphere. So I called them and told them that I’m out. I feed of positive vibes. Ideally, I like the brand. But ultimately, I don’t want it to harm my reputation. If a company is too far away from making it cool, I may pass on it. If it’s too much work, I don’t have the capacity and I don’t want to give it priority over what I already have going, I’ll pass. As mentioned, many skaters including Rayssa Leal asked me to be their agent, but I eventually declined.

"If you arrange hardware deals, you typically get 10% or less as an agent. For a truck or wheels sponsor, sometimes that can be a 150€ deal, so you get 15€ a month. There is literally just a handful of skaters where it would be worth it"

I would’ve thought managing Rayssa would bring some dollars.

Yes, for sure. However, she has a manager in Brazil that I would co-work with and more importantly, I felt I should choose a lane. As an example: There was this company Oura ring I was in contact with. They do these rings that track your sleep & motion, and they wanted to have a skater and I suggested Rayssa. Say they pay me to get Rayssa, but Rayssa pays me also to get the deal, I’m double dipping. How trustworthy would I be in this situation? I just feel weird about that. If you arrange hardware deals, you typically get 10% or less as an agent. For a truck or wheels sponsor, sometimes that can be a 150€ deal, so you get 15€ a month. There is literally just a handful of skaters where it would be worth it where you may get 20% on non-endemic brand deals. Or you need 20 skaters, but I feel then you can never do everybody justice.

Working for Asics I heard you had to learn a lot about Japanese corporate culture and on the other side you had to educate the company about the do’s and don’ts in skating.

I feel like skateboarding is perceived in Japan very similar as maybe graffiti in other places. It’s kind of cool, you probably have friends doing it, some people make a living out of it, but when somebody starts to spray on your house, you’re like: “What the fuck!” That’s skateboarding in Japan. It is big there, they’re good at it, there’s parks everywhere, they love it, they’re supportive – but it’s all in skate parks. If you go skate in the streets, they’re offended. Why I’m bringing all this up? If I shoot a skate campaign for Asics and it has to be approved by the Asics legal team, it’s different then presenting it to someone at Nike legal who lives in Portland. They’re not surprised to see skateboarding in the streets. But at Asics they were at first like: “You can’t do that, that’s someone’s house.” They were tripping that we’re street skating, because they’re not used to that. And it’s probably the first time they’ve ever seen that. So everything was denied initially. I had to really explain skateboarding, which is part of my job. If you want to be part of this community, you have to respect it. If you would launch Asics in the U.S., with a shot in a skate park, all padded up and with a helmet on, that would not work.

Is there something that comes up regularly that companies don’t get or don’t understand about skateboarding?

The typical thing they get 100% wrong is the photography. The photo is the wrong angle, the wrong timing and the wrong cropping – it’s just terrible. I did a shoot where I chose a photographer and a filmer. I had the right skaters, I had control of everything, so it was the right angle and timing of the photo. The skater kickflipped over a bench but then they cropped out the bench, so the dude’s just hanging in the air. You couldn’t see what’s happening and they were just like: “This is a beautiful photo”. And I’m like: “You can’t crop it like this”. This insta account @asphaltposerclub is full with all those examples.

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Photos: Matt Price

It’s not easy to understand all the rules in skateboarding, so you can’t just apply your marketing plan from outside of skateboarding. What are the differences to a “normal” industry?

Again it depends if it’s a marketing thing or business. If, for example, Uniqlo would approach me to be credible in skateboarding, I may suggest that they wouldn’t need a skate team or ads in Thrasher. Just get some riders, a skate photographer and a skate filmer and produce authentic content. Or if Apple wanted to get into skateboarding, they wouldn’t need Tony Hawk or Nyjah to make the brand famous. Everybody already knows Apple. But if they would do something with Nick Matthews from Antihero, skaters would be like: “Oh shit, he’s cool! Apple knows what’s up.” On the other hand, when I started working with SKF, most skaters never had heard of the brand. So if you put five unknown skateboarders on an Instagram account with 100 followers of a brand no one knows, it’s not going to move. When you have Ishod, Kader, Louis Lopez and Oski, everyone’s like: “Wait, what’s this?” Here we had to create brand awareness. On a side note: I think I’m maybe a little bit different than a lot of skaters. If you work as a very core skater and you only want to do it your way in a big corporation, you’re going to be frustrated. They will have certain needs and have to do things a certain way. So you have to educate them, convince them, but in the end be comfortable with landing in the middle and make it as cool as possible. If you only want to do it your way, it’s not going to work. They’re just going to fire you and hire someone else.

Were there projects that you started, that didn’t go as planned?

Yes, for sure. The first person I called when I started was Heron Preston. He’s a pretty well known designer but also a skateboarder and he used to DJ together with Virgil Abloh. Heron set up a group chat with him, Virgil and me and Virgil then hired me to work on Off-White. He wanted to make a skate shoe, he wanted to give back to the community, make a video, all this shit. We built a whole plan, we designed a shoe, he approved everything and then three days after, he passed away. So that project had gone on hold. StockX is another client I no longer work for. Their whole brand is built on: Everything we sell is legit. We have someone that’s checking the sneakers, so you’ll never buy a fake shoe. But they got so big that they needed so many shoes to be checked, plus, the fakes are so good nowadays, it’s literally almost impossible to tell the difference. I believe they gotten some consumer backlash on (unbeknown) selling fake product, that may have hit their sales numbers. So what’s the first thing you cut? Skateboarding. And then the other one is Monarch. Initially, Sky [Brown] and Leticia reached out to me but I didn’t want to work for board companies, so I said no. But they kept asking and at some point I was like: I like Sky and Leticia. Their image and what they’re into is not my cup of tea but let me try to help. It’s a job, and I have the capacity, so I will make it different and better than what I think it is today. So I got five, six riders on the team and we did an Am video with some fucking good skating. I tried to push it as far in a direction as I could, and the graphics got a whole lot better. A lot of them never came out. But I felt like it was going somewhere. Did that brand really have the potential to become something? Maybe not, but initially, that’s not why it went away. What happened is at Dwindle, like a lot of others, after the first COVID boom, they lost money and had inventory issues. And the investment company owning Dwindle didn’t care about skating at all. For them it’s just a money pit. I guess if you are owning your own business like Paul Rodriguez does with Primitive, you can perhaps wait and figure it out. Maybe one or two riders go, two people in the warehouse, you’ll skip a season or so, but you get through it. When you’re a private investor, you’re like: “I’m going to pay no one”. So they didn’t pay me several months, riders didn’t get paid, so we basically all quit. I think they’re filing for bankruptcy. They still owe so many people (and me) money.

"There’s also skater owned companies who are not nice. I know people that left board companies recently because they haven’t been paid in six months."

Companies coming into skateboarding just to make money and leaving when they can’t get any more out of it is one argument why skaters are hesitant against big companies. What is your argument why skateboarding should open up?

If I go out today and I do a crooked grind and the homies are there, it’s still going to feel good. So there’s times where I’m like, I don’t give a shit. I just want to skate. But yeah, there are certain effects on it. I got laid off at Nike when things got tough. But am I mad at Nike? No, I’ve never been. I’ve been there almost 18 years. My knowledge, experience, my corporate skills is because of them. I owe so much to that company, it’s been fantastic. I’ve traveled with the biggest names in skateboarding all over the world. And even with StockX, I could be pissed that they didn’t renew the skate program after a year and a half, but we had fun, I got paid well and so did the riders. In 2021 StockX sponsored CPH Open. They’ve literally told me that if it wasn’t for StockX, Copenhagen would have not happened that year. So how can you be mad at that? But you got to keep in mind that these companies make certain choices. And they can pull out at any time. You got to be okay with that. Also there’s a bunch of cool skaters working at Nike & Adidas for example, and they do really cool stuff for skating and produce good shoes. I mean, Osiris may be skater owned, but I’m not a fan of that brand. There’s also skater owned companies who are not nice. I know people that left board companies recently because they haven’t been paid in six months. I don’t think there’s a right or wrong and I respect people that are very much not into it, but I always like to look at things from both angles.

As you said, I think the crucial point is that companies respect the culture and try to support it and not just try to take the money and run.

Exactly. But again, it doesn’t mean if you’re a small skater owned company that you’re not doing it for the money. You might start a certain way but you see this cycle. Initially Powell Peralta was the shit back then, but then they got too big and too corporate. Some of the riders left and started World Industries and then, guess what? They got too big and corporate and Girl and Chocolate started. And then same thing, ten years in. Now some riders at FA and Polar are moving which was unthinkable a few years back.

Let’s talk about the Olympics, because I read that you were involved somehow in signing the federations. For me, I always tried my best to advocate against the Olympics and I still don’t like that skateboarding is a part of it now. I know it doesn’t take away the fun I have on a board but that’s impossible anyway. But every country is now forced to have a federation that goes down to a regional structure and all of a sudden there’s people in charge and they are doing cringe stuff and they’re representing skateboarding.

Yeah, that dude used to skate 20 years ago, now he’s the coach.

And also if there’s brands from outside of skateboarding that don’t have a clue but want to get into skating. Who do they call, if they don’t have your number? Probably the official federation. I know there are also some good people involved in this whole Olympic thing, coaches or whatever, but the higher ups, they’re often some random guys that don’t have anything to do with skating. But what is your take on the Olympics?

How different is it from X Games and Street League?

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Photo: Jamie Owens

I think there’s a major difference. X Games, for example, might have been cringe but they didn’t have the power to change the rules in skateboarding. With the Olympics, all of a sudden you have to do drug testing if you want to skate in certain contests, where big money is to be made and as I mentioned, they’re setting up all this structure, trying to represent skateboarding.

I’ll say this, growing up, every time somebody outside of skating was talking to me they were like: “You know Tony Hawk?” I know Tony Hawk, I respect him, I think he’s incredible and he’s so important for skateboarding. But if anyone thinks that I do what he does, it’s like, no. I skate ledges, he skates vert. Because of that misconception, I have always been a little annoyed that he was the face of skateboarding. So if it’s now the Olympics and people see someone skating ledges and hubbas, I feel it’s at least closer to what I do. There’s all these different thoughts I have. I’m not sure if I’m going to come to one collective answer. Me as a skater, I don’t really care. Me as an experienced skate industry person, I think it’s okay. I wish it would be a little bit different, but it’s fine. Me as a marketing consultant going to a brand, I would probably steer most of my clients away from it. I don’t think it’s adding huge value in terms of becoming more respected in skateboarding.

Is there a red line you wouldn’t cross regarding working with brands?

Yes, when it doesn’t strike with my norms, or if its politically tainted, then I probably don’t want to be in touch. Fun fact: I remember Eben at Thrasher hit me up the other day. He told me about this hair coloring brand. They submitted an ad, which the guys at Thrasher thought was the worst ad ever. So they declined to run it but contacted me to maybe help the brand. I mean you have all these guys coloring their hair in skating, you get them shot by say Atiba, it’s so easy. Thrasher will run it, these guys will get paid, but they didn’t want to do it.

It must be crazy for a company to get rejected with an ad cause it’s too shitty. I guess there’s still a lot of work waiting for you out there.