Credits and withdrawals
Over the next several weeks, the Money in Action series on XGames.com will explore the economics of action sports from the perspective of the athletes, filmmakers, companies and those working in and outside the industry. This infographic explores the revenue sources and spending habits of today's top action sports athletes.
Money, as it turns out, is a mostly taboo topic in action sports.
"Nobody wants anybody to know how much they're getting paid," said 14-time X Games BMX Vert gold medalist Jamie Bestwick.
But you don't have to look far to discover that Peyton Manning is on a five-year, $96 million contract with the Broncos or that Cleveland got LeBron James back for two years for just over $42 million. Their contracts make headlines.
"If that information were more available [in action sports], you'd have a better sense of what you could be making instead of having to haggle all the time over what you think you're worth," Bestwick continued.
To that end, we surveyed a cross-section of top action sports athletes to decipher how they make and spend their money.
All the athletes and agents we talked to said the game has changed in recent years. There are now fewer opportunities to win contest money, and sponsorship dollars come from increasingly out-of-the-box sources.
"There's a lot of money on the table, and the biggest growth has been on the corporate sponsorship side," said Steve Astephen, a power agent and principal at Wasserman Media Group who counts Ryan Sheckler among his high-profile action sports clients. "There are a lot more opportunities for action sports athletes now."
Four-time X Games BMX gold medalist Chad Kagy agreed. "It used to be 50-50, [split between] competition-based income and salaries from sponsors, with a lot of those sponsors being inside the action sports industry," he said. "Now my top sponsor is condiments! It's Texas Pete's Hot Sauce."
Many athletes say their energy drink sponsor is now their single biggest source of income and direct support. "I see it as a positive," said three-time X Games skateboarding gold medalist Chris Cole. "Having that kind of income is what makes you able to keep skating full time."
Along with the shift to more corporate backers, Olympic snowboarder Elena Hight noted how her pay structure has taken a decidedly 21st-century turn.
"Social media presence is very much tied to value nowadays," said Hight, whose contracts with GoPro and other sponsors come with specific expectations for sharing and tagging photos and videos. "It's not just coverage in magazines and on TV at high-profile contests that matter anymore."
When it comes to saving, many of the athletes we talked to are at the top of their game. They prioritize buying houses, supporting their families and saving for the future over flashy cars and other toys.
"I could always buy another guitar," Cole said. "But then I find I don't have time to play it or even to put it on display. What's the point of collecting a stack of guitars in cases?"
Most recognize that, as pro athletes, they have a limited window of opportunity to maximize their earning power.
"The financial advice I give when people ask," Bestwick said, "is to start looking further down the road. Maybe you'll be in this sport for the next 20 years, and maybe you won't. Either way, make sure you're not in a jam because you just wrecked a Lamborghini you bought off the lot. It's so easy to go out there and just blow all your money."
Below is a snapshot of what else we learned.