Shaun White: Snowboarding as Craft Brewing: Economics

We just watched Shaun White miss out on the apparently not-so-inevitable golden threepeat of men’s snowboarding halfpipe, and to preview the event BBC2 did a full interview with White. I’d read the NY Times Magazine’s profile of him a few months ago, which explains the backstory behind why he’s mostly loathed among snowboarding circles even as he’s an American pop culture darling.

But, what struck me was when the interviewer mentioned how Whtie gets no love from snowboarders, and he answered (to paraphrase) that if you ask other snowboarders how things were at the end of the day, they’d just say something like, “oh man, it’s just great to be out here, and I had a great time, etc.” White then made it clear that he’s there to win and it’s a competition, a zero-sum game, so he’s only having a good time if he wins.

Anyway, it struck me as an allegory for craft brewing in North America (and elsewhere): everyone started out homebrewing, sharing ideas and techniques, with a great sense of comraderie, but as things get more and more institutionalized, you need to be a “winner” in order to succeed, and it follows that there are losers. I doubt the beer industry is quite as much of a zero-sum game as an Olympic event with three medals, but it’s still a competition and everyone’s not going to be super buddy-buddy when your paycheck comes down to customers choosing your product at the expense of others’.

All the more reason to stay a homebrewer, I think.

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