Nike and Hurley Pull Sponsorship of US Open

Despite success with event, the brands are moving on

At next year's U.S. Open, who knows whose banners will be waving. Photo: Ellis

After four years of sponsoring the iconic US Open of Surfing in Huntington Beach, Nike and Hurley have said that it’s time to step away from the event. The decision to pull out of the contest came as a shock to many in the surf industry. When asked why they had opted not to renew their sponsorship of the event, Hurley’s Evan Slater stated that they had achieved what they had originally set out to accomplish and are now interested in growing the brand in other ways.

“We sponsored the US Open in 2009 with a goal: to work with the city of Huntington Beach, IMG, and the athletes to make the ultimate action-sports happening of the summer. We wanted to change the way the world sees action sports events and re-establish Huntington Beach as the center of the surfing universe. In a lot of ways we felt we achieved those goals in four years. Close to a million people attended the event in 2012,” said Slater. “Thirty of the top-32 surfers competed and brought surfing to unseen levels at the Pier. We were able to turn the beach into one 14-acre digital connectivity center. So much magic happened during our time at the US Open and we’re confident that magic will continue. But we also strive to constantly innovate and evolve.” Hurley was purchased by Nike in 2002 and remained a co-sponsor with Nike until this year’s event.

In an interview with Shop-Eat-Surf, Bob Hurley, founder of Hurley, said that in the near future, their focus will be on connecting with the youth while strengthening their focus on athletes. “We’ve decided to export what we created at the US Open and invest it into other aspects of our business, like a renewed athlete focus and new and exciting ways of connecting with millions of kids.” In the same interview, Nike’s Sandy Bodecker was quoted as saying, “Over the last four years we’ve worked with IMG to make the US Open one of the most exciting sporting moments of the summer. But we are always looking for new ways to connect with athletes and consumers. In the spirit of evolving, we are exploring new opportunities to help elevate the sport beyond the sand to new audiences around the world.”

The decision to stop sponsoring the event came as a surprise to the ASP, who only found out about the decision yesterday. It should be noted that IMG World, a company that “helps brands reach the elusive youth market through high-impact action sports properties,” actually holds the license to the event and effectively sublet it out to Nike.

“Nike did not inform the ASP of their decision to withdraw from the US Open before today’s announcement, however, their relationship was with the license holder, IMG.,” said the ASP’s Dave Prodan. “ASP deals with IMG on the license for the US Open and IMG, in turn, work with companies like Nike on sponsorship. We are thankful for Nike and Hurley’s contribution to the US Open over the last several years.”

Prodan also stated that IMG does not yet have a sponsorship secured for the 2013 US Open, but he holds full faith they will secure one soon. “At present, IMG has informed us that they are confident in finding a new partner for the US Open in 2013,” he said. “ASP has had a long relationship with IMG and we have the utmost faith in their ability to continue to deliver the US Open to the surfing public.”

When it was announced that Nike and its affiliates were no longer sponsoring the US Open, many in the industry speculated that the brands could be looking to pick up a new World Tour event. But according to Prodan, who was speaking on behalf of the ASP, there are no cemented plans for Hurley or Nike to have a new WT event in the near future. Hurley’s Evan Slater also confirmed that the brand would not be sponsoring a new WT event.

The loss of Nike’s sponsorship could have a direct consequences for women’s professional surfing. As it currently stands, the Women’s US Open was the last of seven events on the women’s tour. Without a major sponsor, the women’s tour would be cut to six event and would only span five months. The ASP has stated that they, along with IMG, would very much like to keep the US Open a WT event for women, but as of press time, they cannot definitively state that the US Open will be a women’s WT event in 2013.