As many success stories begin in the world of action sports, Sue Izzo’s started on the sales floor. While dating pro snow shred, Randy Gaetano back in 1992, Izzo took a job selling snowboards at Burton’s retail store in Vermont. An aspiring collegiate tennis star at the time, Izzo’s plans to play professionally were thwarted by several knee injuries. However, her interests in snowboarding were just beginning to develop. With the encouragement of her fellow colleagues as her inspiration, Izzo decided to combine her talents, putting all the pieces together to form her aptly named agency-Mosaic Sports Management. Twelve years later Mosaic has an impressive stable of athletes from surf, skate, and snow, which includes a solid roster of both men and women.
What’s your background in the action sports industry and how did you get involved in talent representation and mgmt?
To be completely honest I was introduced to the world of Action Sports in 1992 when I began dating a snowboarder by the name of Randy Gaetano. Randy introduced me to the world of Burton Snowboards, where I soon got a job selling snowboards in the Burton Store. I knew nothing about snowboarding, as my sports background was set in tennis for the most part, until multiple knee injuries forced me to put down the racket and forgo my opportunity to play on a pro level.
While working at Burton I developed a strong affinity towards the marketing and sales departments. I would get in trouble for leaving the store to hang out in the marketing department. I worked for Burton through out my college career and the year after I graduated college.
In 1998 I landed a job doing youth market research, where myself and one other colleague were sent out on the road in a 35 foot RV, visiting 42 states, talking to kids ages 10-24 about trends; what did they spend their money on, what sports did they play, what music they liked etc. We had to report back to the companies that hired us, (Jones Soda, Quiksilver, BMG music, Vans) every two months to report to the companies that hired us and tell them what the kids were in to. It all came back to the culture of extreme sports (that is what it was called at that time).
When the youth market research job ended after a year, there was a gentleman in the firm, attorney John Flanagan who represented skateboarder Andy McDonald. John indentified my passion for extreme sports, specifically snowboarding, and had me work with him on behalf of Andy. That is when I learned about what a sports agents job role was. Within 6 months of working with John, he encouraged me to start representing athletes. There was only one other company out there representing action sports athletes, one year ahead of me, The Familie, started by Steve Astephen so it truly was the beginning of agents in action sports.
Where did the idea for Mosaic come from and who were the key players?
The idea for Mosaic is two-fold. I had all these “talents” but did not fit certain job descriptions. So I decided to put all of my talents together, like putting pieces of different shaped and colored glass together to create a picture, and created Mosaic.
I have to give John Flanagan and attorney Tim Bishop from Connecticut (where I am from) the credit for pushing me to try representing athletes. I also have to credit Dave Schriber and Dennis Jenson formerly from Burton Snowboards who encouraged me to ignore the nay sayers, believe me there were a lot of them, and pursue my career path.
So one day, sitting in my childhood bedroom I pulled out the rolodex I had built while working at Burton and decided to call some snowboarders to see if they would let me try to get them some deals. I called Abe Teter first but he did not answer. The second phone call I made was to Keir Dillon, he answered the phone, and became my first client in 1999. I still represent Keir to this day. Without Keir and Anne Molin Kongsgaard, the second athlete I picked up, there would not be a Mosaic. They gave me a chance….and today I am the proud God Mother of both of their children.
I am a bit of dork, so when I decided to pursue being a sports agent, I studied everything I could find on the profession. I also spoke to as many sports agents as I could. I wanted to be as knowledgeable and informed as possible, if this was going to be my future, I wanted to know everything there was to know about it. To this day I still study various sports agents, their methods and read as much as possible. I am always striving to be better at my profession.
How long has the business been operational?
Mosaic has been operational for 12 years.
What are some of the most important lessons you’ve learned in our evolving industry?
The most important lessons I have learned do not just relate to the action sports industry, rather they apply to business in general.
Ask questions first, speak second.
I have no idea what the word No or Can’t means…it does not exist in my mind.
Create your own path, and ignore anyone who tells you you can’t.
Pick your battles accordingly.
Has being a woman affected your career in action sports? If so how?
I can tell you that if I was a man things would have been a lot easier over the past 12 years. There is no question in my mind about that. Dealing with mainly men in negotiations is a bit of chess match. I have had very interesting negotiations through out my career; some where I enter with facts and strategy but find myself dealing with ego over reason. At the end of the day, I put my head down and focus on doing good work. Because in the end, the work I do for my clients will be my legacy, not whether someone liked me or not.
Over the years, how have you seen the market change?
I have seen the market expand and diversify over the past 5-10 years. Endemic companies now have larger offerings, where they were once strictly focused on watches, or sunglasses or softgoods, the endemic brands are now offering various categories, from home goods to electronics. Bottom line, everyone makes everything these days.
We have also seen the emergence of the non-endemic companies coming into our space. It has been interesting to see how these companies are activating in the action sports realm, whether it is sponsoring an athlete, running ad campaigns in the endemic publications or even sponsoring events. To see who is doing it in a authentic and legitimate manner and those who are just come and go in one years time.
Television has also played a large part in the growth of our sports. Ron Semiao of ESPN was the fore father of bringing our sports to national television. X Games paved the way for entities such as Dew Tour and Street League to pursue televised events. The Olympics has also helped shape the current state of affairs. In 1998 snowboarding was a highlight, where in 2010 Vancouver was all about snowboarding, as it was one of the top rated events.
Athletes such as Tony Hawk and Shaun White have helped establish action sports athletes as legitimate sports stars. Transcending far beyond the endemic realm, athletes of this caliber have helped educate people all over the world about action sports.
Watching companies go public such as Ride Snowboards, one of the first, Quiksilver and most recently Volcom; it is fascinating to see how companies stay true to their core essence and balance the demands of wall street.
How would you describe current market conditions, both from your perspective and from a broader, high altitude perspective?
We are in an interesting time right now. Though companies like Burton and Quiksilver have been in the game for over 30 years, it seems like we are just beginning to hit our stride. Snowboarding and Action Sports in general are not only on the main stage now, but they are the headliners. Global expansion is on the rise for many endemic brands with a focus on countries such as China and Brasil. Also riding the wave of category popularity, we had quite the hit the past 3 years with a declining economic landscape. This has effected retailers, which in turn effects the units sold by action sports brands, many companies are still rebounding from the decline in sales.
Business has been cyclical, it is riding out the highs and lows, staying the course and being prepared to attack as the market rebounds. The popularity of action sports and interest in action sports stars is on an upward trajectory, I feel we will continue to see positive growth over the next 5 years.
What advice would you give young females interested in a career in the action sports market?
Come on in, the water is warm. There are so many different jobs in action sports that I say go for it. The other night Circe Wallace and I were having dinner, (yes we are good friends) and we were talking about where are the next female sports agents? Circe and I (and I believe Jane Kachmer) single handedly paved the way for women to be sports agents in action sports. We would like to see more women stepping up into that role. But do not bother unless you have some thick skin.
If there’s one thing you’d go back and do differently in your career so far, what is it and why?
I probably would have shut my mouth on a couple different occasions and have tried to tone down the emotions/passion, as both have been my blessing and my curse. But other than those few occasions I would not have changed a thing, because with out my past I would not be who I am today.
Looking ahead, where do you see your career taking you and what’s in the future for Mosaic?
I will always want to work with athletes, that is where my heart lies. I have a degree psychology and education, so I have entertained the idea of becoming a sports psychologist or professor in the future. Right now though, it is an exciting time at Mosaic. We have an incredible roster of not only athletes, but really great human beings with stories to be told. Mosaic will be growing a bit the next two years, but always remaining a boutique agency focused on top tier representation, brand building and client service.