Print and Go Back ESPN.com: Snowboarding [Print without images]

Tuesday, October 23, 2012
Burton 'restructures'

By Colin Whyte
ESPN.com

"I take full responsibility for the decisions..." said Jake Burton in Tuesday's prepared release.
Burton Snowboards announced in a statement Tuesday it is restructuring its company by closing several notable brands and scaling back others to more focused markets.

Most notably, Burton will transition out of its Program brands -- a group Burton purchased in 2004 with the "intent to keep snowboard companies in the hands of snowboarders," according to the statement. The Program includes Forum Snowboards, Special Blend and Foursquare.

Though snowboarder John Jackson's contract appears to be secure, having moved from Forum to the Burton team last October, the fate of other Forum riders, including Pat Moore, Nic Sauve and Andreas Wiig, is less certain.

The move has reverberations outside of the snowboarding world as well, as Analog, which is reverting to a "winter-only" brand, has built up an impressive team of surfers, including Nathan Fletcher and Chippa Wilson, and Gravis footwear, which sponsors skateboarders Dylan Rieder and Arto Saari, is moving its headquarters to Tokyo and becoming an Asia-only line.

Of the athletes soon to be displaced, Burton says only that it will be "working with each team rider on an individual exit plan to transition them out."

"Clearly, the most difficult aspect of this decision and transition is the people affected," stated Jake Burton in a press release. "The employees and team riders associated with these brands have poured their guts into making it happen."

Burton spokespeople declined comment when asked by ESPN.com if the company has plans to sell the Program brands rather than shutter them. But in an interview with TransWorld Business on Tuesday shortly after the news broke, Jake Burton said, "We'll probably ... put them to bed. I don't see us selling them. I think we will retain the trademarks should anything ever develop in the future."

Though the brand has become diluted in the last decade, Forum's roots go deep in snowboarding. Co-founder Peter Line's desire to create the "greatest pro team ever" in 1996 led to "The Forum 8" -- one of snowboarding's definitive teams that dominated core editorial coverage for years, put out some of the most memorable ads ever produced and made cult-classic team movies in tandem with Mack Dawg that included "The Resistance" and "True Life."

When Burton purchased the brand in 2004, however, it was mired in financial troubles. Former ESPN.com contributor Brad Farmer, who chronicled the financial ups and downs of the Forum and Four Star brands from their inception to eventual sale, in a feature titled "The Untold Story of Forum and Four Star Distribution" , said, "(When I published) the story (in 2004) it was left a little bit open: Burton buying the brand essentially rescued it from a demise ... Four Star Distribution was bankrupt and was basically going down in flames and Burton came in and paid off the debt. You'd think, at that point in the story, that it would be all good news, that Burton would come in and rebuild the brands and make them powerful again and that they would go on to be important features in the industry forever, or at least for a long time to come."

"After eight years, the (Forum, Foursquare and Special Blend) businesses have failed to be viable. Consequently, Burton has realized it's time to exit out of them, in order to better focus and invest in the Burton brand," Tuesday's statement read.

Original Forum 8 team rider JP Walker told ESPN, "At first I was not too surprised to hear about it. Then, after letting it marinate for a minute and thinking about back when we all started it, it kinda seems crazy that it's all just suddenly over and done with. It comes at a tough time for all those guys to find new gigs. Hopefully it works out for everyone in the end."