The Brave Ones

Tony Hawk turned down a $500,000 royalty check in his 20s — here's why

Key Points
  • Skateboarder Tony Hawk was offered a $500,000 buy-out to put his name to an Activision video game
  • Hawk's instinct told him to hold out for a longer-term deal with the gaming company
  • The franchise went on to generate more than $1 billion in sales
Legendary skateboarder Tony Hawk at an event at Bondi Beach, Sydney, on February 15, 2018
Don Arnold | Getty Images

When professional skateboarder Tony Hawk was approached by video gaming company Activision in the late 1990s, he was offered a $500,000 buy-out to put his name to one of its games.

But he turned it down.

"As Activision started getting closer to release, they felt like they had a hit on their hands just in terms of the feedback they were getting from game magazines," Hawk told "The Brave Ones." "And so they offered me a flat buy-out of $500,000 for future royalties … I had never heard anyone speak the words 'Half a million dollars' to me."

Hawk's instinct told him not to take the pay out. "It seemed unreal that anyone would offer that for the future of something that they don't even know how it's going to turn out," he said.

"I think my saving grace of that was I had just bought a new house and it was almost paid for and I felt pretty comfortable with all my other income and other endorsements happening, that I thought, I could take a gamble on this piece."

Tony Hawk at a gaming preview event hosted by Activision on June 14, 2010, at the Staples Center in Los Angeles
Gregg DeGuire | Getty Images

And right after he turned down the check, Activision mentioned a sequel, meaning Hawk's earnings would continue. His instinct paid off: The licensing deal ran for 16 years until 2015 and the Tony Hawk series generated an estimated $1.4 billion in sales worldwide.

Hawk had been skateboarding since the 1970s and by the age of 16 in the mid-1980s, he was widely regarded as the best skateboarder in the world. But it wasn't until the publication of his video game that he became seriously famous.

"Some people just thought of me as a video game. And I think that was the tipping point, in terms of fame, where it was like this is way beyond anything I'd ever wanted or expected or known or had seen, honestly," he said.

Corporate speaking engagements followed, although Hawk felt like an outsider. "And it's still weird because I do feel like I'm thrown into these scenarios where it's like, well, this guy's curing cancer. You know, this guy has a billion-dollar start-up, and hey, I learned how to do (a) McTwist (trick) when I was 14."