Executive Suite: Tony Hawk leaps to top of financial empire

Skateboarding legend Tony Hawk moves with the power and grace of a jungle cat. As heavy metal rock blasts in an industrial office building here, he swoops down a steep, two-story-high skateboarding ramp that would spook most people.

Other skateboarders hanging with Hawk whoop at his high-flying moves. For two decades, Hawk dominated the ESPN X Games and other competitions. Now 40, he's retired from competing.

But the tall, lean Hawk can still bring it during extreme sports shows around the world — or in these daily afternoon practices with his pals, who also are top skateboarders. They say Hawk nails tricks in 10 to 15 minutes that take them days to master.

"I put a lot of pressure on myself," Hawk says recently at his corporate offices here. "I always try to perform at my best."

Hawk, like Tiger Woods and Michael Jordan, belongs to that rare breed of athlete-entrepreneurs whose names and brands have transcended their sports and become mainstream icons in the popular culture.

With his marketing savvy and wholesome looks, family man Hawk introduced an outlaw street sport to the suburbs and shopping malls, helping to turn skateboarding into a multibillion-dollar industry. In the past decade, Hawk has made many millions of dollars from licensing and marketing deals with his popular Activision video games, with skateboard gear and clothing, and with corporate sponsors, including Jeep and McDonald's mcd.

Now, Hawk is gliding into the next stage of his career. He hopes to keep growing his brand as a force in the media, entertainment and retail fields with fresh products and endorsements, from new video games to roller coasters at Six Flags six amusement parks.

Hawk's moves come as his name recognition among young consumers ranks No. 1 of all U.S. athletes, surpassing NBA basketball greats Shaquille O'Neal and LeBron James, according to Research International USA's TRU.

"It's not uncommon today for skaters and snowboarders to rank higher in recognition than top basketball, baseball and football players," says Senior Vice President Kathleen Gasperiniat the Label Networks market research firm.

Hawk is poised to take advantage of the U.S. and global markets for skateboarding, snowboarding and surfing, which are merging into one large "active sports" market popular among suburban and urban consumers.

Among Hawk's recent and ongoing business endeavors:

•Video gaming. At Activision atvi, the Los Angeles firm that has licensed Hawk's video games since the late 1990s, software developers are working with Hawk to reinvent and bring new thrills to his upcoming games.

It's the "Tony Hawk Innovation Plan," says Activision Senior Vice President Will Kassoy, who won't disclose details yet.

•Amusement parks. In a big entertainment deal with Six Flags, giant roller coasters called "Tony Hawk's Big Spin" — simulating aerial skateboarding tricks at 40 miles per hour — are opening at Six Flags amusement parks around the USA.

•Sports events management. Hawk's Boom Boom HuckJam show — a 30-city tour featuring Hawk and daredevil skateboarders, bicyclists and motocross riders performing stunts to rock and rap music — continues to sell out each summer in sports arenas, fairgrounds and amusement parks.

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