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ESPN Picks L.A. to Host the X Games in 2003, '04

The annual competition in extreme sports will be held at Staples Center and other local venues.

November 22, 2002|Ralph Frammolino | Times Staff Writer

The X Games are coming home, all grown up.

Cable sports network ESPN announced Thursday that the annual competition, featuring athletes in offbeat events such as aggressive in-line skating and skateboarding, will be held at Staples Center and other Los Angeles venues in 2003 and 2004.

Network President George Bodenheimer said Los Angeles got the nod over Miami, the other finalist city, because its sheer market size would accelerate the already growing popularity of what many regard as the Olympics of action sports. The network also felt a sentimental tug to bring the X Games back to its Southern California roots.

"It's the birthplace of action sports," Bodenheimer said by telephone from ESPN's Bristol, Conn., headquarters. "In many respects, its rightful home is in Southern California, and it's appropriate that the games are going to be there."

ESPN, owned by Walt Disney Co., created the X Games as programming for younger viewers, legions of whom have embraced the edgy thrills and anti-establishment ethos of extreme sports over more traditional pursuits.

First held in 1995, the games have evolved from an athletic oddity into a hot broadcasting property -- attracting an estimated 63 million viewers this summer, according to ESPN. What's more, the average age of those viewers was 27, compared with 43 for professional football games and 49 for baseball.

Mainstream companies, hoping to tap that young demographic, have flocked to become sponsors. And cities are now vying for an event that, although dwarfed by the Super Bowl, draws a throng of spectators.

The games have been held in Newport, R.I.; San Diego; San Francisco; and most recently Philadelphia. This year's competition featured 21 events in seven categories: downhill BMX bike racing, bike stunts, speed climbs up walls, moto-x, skateboarding, aggressive in-line skating and wake boarding.

Philadelphia economic development officials estimated that 220,000 spectators attended last summer's X Games and pumped more than $40 million into the local economy over five days.

L.A., with its embrace of the X Games lifestyle, stands to make even more, some predicted.

"It's going to have huge participation and huge attendance levels," said William Kassoy, a vice president for Santa Monica-based Activision, which makes action sports video games.

The majority of the events for X Games IX, scheduled for Aug. 14-18, 2003, will take place in and around Staples Center. Some will be held at the Los Angeles Coliseum and other yet-to-be-determined local venues, ESPN announced.

Tim Leiweke, president of Anschutz Entertainment Group, which owns Staples Center, said the X Games should generate hotel bookings totaling 10,000 room nights -- but no rent for the downtown sports facility. He said Los Angeles' bid included no government subsidy, so AEG offered up Staples rent-free to ESPN as an inducement.

The trade-off, he said, is promotional value. Attracting a crowd that wouldn't otherwise attend Los Angeles Kings and Lakers games "bodes well" for future AEG projects, such as a new hotel and live theater planned for land adjacent to Staples.

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