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The Economic Impacts of Skateboarding Culture on Philadelphia

Note: Footnotes are marked with ×n. Click to pop up window. Footnotes also appear at the bottom of this article.

By Joshua H. Nims, J.D.
Franklin's Paine Skatepark Fund

The short-term positive economic effects of Philadelphia hosting the 2001/2002 X-Games are without question — tens of thousands of hotel room stays, international media coverage, and millions of dollars worth of retail and food sales to 250,000 people visiting the city for one or more days.×1 Skateboarding-related tourism will continue to be a draw for the City long after the X-Games.

But aside from the obvious tourism potential of a worldwide media event like ESPN's X-Games, there are three important long-term benefits associated with fostering Philadelphia's reputation as the international center of an interconnected skateboarding and arts culture:

  1. Increased enrollment in local colleges and universities,
  2. new businesses catering to a growing population of artists and skateboarders, and
  3. the ability to draw into the City the big businesses and new media enterprises that are banking on the continued profitability of skateboarding culture as part of the American cultural mainstream.

  1. Positive Effects on Enrollment in Local Schools

    An informal survey of students between classes at Art Institute of Philadelphia, University of the Arts, or Temple's Tyler School of Art quickly confirms that for many students, the choice of where they went to school was definitely influenced by the school's proximity to LOVE park and the Philadelphia skateboarding scene generally. There are also large populations of skateboarders at Drexel and the University of Pennsylvania — students with younger friends about to go to college whose decisions will be molded by their older freshman and sophomore friends. That Philadelphia is a "skateboarding town" is not that unusual; so many universities are "football schools" or "basketball schools," or reputed as "party schools" and thereby draw some students for non-academic reasons. As skateboarding supplants other traditional sports in the consciousness of the 12-34 male demographic, those in the middle of that demographic are starting the most productive and creative times in their lives.×2 Skateboarding brings them to Philadelphia to chase their dreams and use their talents in the local economy. Local colleges and universities, especially art and design schools, could certainly boost enrollment by mentioning the famed Philadelphia skateboarding environment in recruitment videos the same way they may mention the proximity to American historical relics or local professional sports venues. The growing political focus on the creation and support of "student retention" programs will benefit greatly from an awareness of the importance of skateboarding and skateboarding culture to the 21st Century undergraduate living in Philadelphia.

  2. New Small Businesses

    Perhaps partly due to the focus on individual creativity in skateboarding, it has become an important part of international arts culture in the past 10 years. As a result of this interrelationship, several of the most popular galleries in Old City during "First Fridays" held each month in the gallery district around 2nd and 3rd Streets North of Market are owned or managed by skateboarders. 222 gallery (Otto Design Group) on Vine Street, and the gallery at Space 1026 on Arch Street are all operated by skateboarders and are consistently on the cutting edge of the arts and expression in Philadelphia. The SkateNerd store and website is a physical and virtual portal to art, politics, and culture within Philadelphia's diverse skateboarding scene.

    Skateboarders have also spawned tech and graphic design business in Philadelphia. Weblinc, LLC, one of the City's largest web design firms and creative home of such innovative websites as half.com and crayola.com, was co-founded by a skateboarder and has many past and present employees that are skateboarders. The operators of the SkateNerd store also freelance corporate identity creation and pre-production of printed materials, coupled with website design capabilities. All three owners of SkateNerd, like so many others, came from outside of the City to go to school and work in Philadelphia because of the unparalleled skateboarding environment. SkateNerd has design clients such as Drexel University, and the Office of Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell. A tech and design co-op, The CoLab, does freelance technical work for web development and is wholly owned by skateboarders who attended Philadelphia colleges and universities.

    Of course, there are many businesses around Philadelphia that cater directly to skateboarders and to skateboarding culture. Nocturnal Skateshop, Subzero Skateshop, and Elite Skateshop are all successful businesses selling skateboarding equipment and apparel around the South Street area. In the Northeast part of Philadelphia, PACT Skateshop and Final Boarding Skateboards and Snowboards, and Exit Skateshop have each been very successful. Old School Skateboards is a successful small skateboard company located in Philadelphia that features several professional skateboarders from the Philadelphia area. Resort magnates Burroughs and Chapin have built the Xgames skatepark in Franklin Mills shopping center in the Northeast, complete with yet another skateshop selling skateboarding equipment and apparel.

    These existing businesses can all be directly or indirectly linked to Philadelphia's skateboarding culture, which is drawing talent and dollars into the local economy every day. With the right support for skateboarding culture in Philadelphia's near future, these numbers should only increase.

  3. Bringing Big Business and Cameras to Philadelphia

    One of the fastest growing businesses in Minnesota is dependent on skateboarding. Trueride, Inc. is a manufacturer of custom built skateparks that has seen its revenue grow nearly 300% since 2000 to nearly $4,000,000 a year in revenues estimated for the year 2002. ×3 Vans, the maker of skateboarding shoes and builder of indoor skateparks in shopping malls across America, had revenues of $341.2 million for fiscal year 2001.×4 By fostering the skateboarding culture for which the city is already internationally known, there is great potential to draw the big businesses that have roots in skateboarding. The West Coast has always housed the corporate centers of skateboarding, but Philadelphia has the international spotlight and the popular reputation in the skateboarding industry to try to bring some of those large businesses home to Philadelphia.

    In addition, Philadelphia is already one of the most heavily filmed cities in the world for skateboarding videos. Millions of young people from around the world see Philadelphia on video for the first time through a skateboarding video. Some of the most popular videos and DVDs on the market right now feature LOVE park, City Hall, and other Center City skatespots, as do major skateboarding magazines with hundreds of thousands of readers from all over the world.×5 The Greater Philadelphia Film Office exists, according to its mission statement, "to attract film and video production of every kind to the region, including everything from feature films to TV commercials to music videos and industrial films."×6 If Philadelphia has an interest in being viewed as a destination to film movies and television programs, the skateboarding media angle remains untapped by those who seek to put Philadelphia's streets and landscapes in the subconscious vacation thoughts of potential visitors through film and print.

For complex sociological reasons that can probably be linked to a heightened willingness to take risks on the part of today's young people, skateboarding has become both a culture and a recreational activity for many creative and energetic people born after 1965. The City of Philadelphia could not have planned such a windfall of creative and entrepreneurial talent through its surprising incarnation as an international hub of skateboarding culture, but now that good luck must be capitalized upon or a golden opportunity to retain talent and vital creativity in our city could be lost.


Footnotes
1. Bennett, Elizabeth. "Retailers hope to soar with X-Games." Philadelphia Business Journal, Aug.3, 2001. While figures from the 2001 X-Games were not readily available at the time of this report, the estimates from this article of 40 to 50 million dollars in economic impact from the influx of 250,000 spectators is in keeping with the actual attendance estimates from immediately after the 2001 games of approx. 220,000 attendees.

2. Greenfeld, Karl. "A Wider World of Sports." Time Magazine, Nov. 9, 1998. "The traditional sports fear they are losing touch with a whole generation. 'I can't get my 11-year-old son to sit down and watch a whole football game, and he's the target consumer they want,' says Rick Burton, director of the Warsaw Sports Marketing Center at the University of Oregon. 'He'll watch the X Games longer than he'll watch football.' Participation rates, which may indicate which sports people will watch, are booming for pursuits like snowboarding (up 33% in 1997 over 1996) [and] skateboarding (up 22%)."

3. Tellijohn, Andrew. "TrueRide Rides Atop Skatepark Wave." Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal, Sept. 3, 2001.

4. Dukcevich, Davide. "Vans Skates Into Showbiz." Forbes Magazine, March 13, 2002.

5. According to Melissa Veltman, Advertising Manager for Skate and Surf Titles- Transworld Media, Transworld Skate Magazine currently has 75,000 subscribers with a total distribution of 300,000 and is distributed in 35 countries.

6. Greater Philadelphia Film Office, www.film.org

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