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L.A. a Contender to Host Next Summer's X Games

Television: ESPN may announce its decision by the end of the month. Events would be held in and around Staples Center, boosting local firms.

October 11, 2002|RALPH FRAMMOLINO | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Los Angeles is under consideration as the site for next year's X Games, an ESPN spokesman said Thursday.

The Games, invented nearly a decade ago by the sports network as alternative programming for Generation Y, have quickly evolved into the Olympics of action sports.

They attract hundreds of athletes and hundreds of thousands of spectators for events ranging from skateboarding to speed climbing.

Los Angeles is competing with Miami to host the summer X Games in 2003 and 2004, said Josh Krulewitz, ESPN's director of media relations.

If Los Angeles gets the nod, the events will be held in and around Staples Center, Krulewitz said.

ESPN, owned by Walt Disney Co., hopes to announce its decision by the end of the month.

This summer's X Games, held over five days in Philadelphia, drew 300 athletes, more than 220,000 spectators and pumped an estimated $40 million into the local economy, according to ESPN and the city's convention and visitors bureau.

Although the economic impact is considerably less than the $125 million of a Super Bowl, it would be a welcome "piece of change" for area hotels, restaurants and other tourist businesses struggling with an economic slowdown, said Jack Kyser, chief economist for the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp.

ESPN hosted the first X Games in Rhode Island seven years ago, the product of network brainstorming over how to woo younger viewers with action sports on the new ESPN2 cable channel.

Since then, events have been added, and dropped--street luge, for example--and the Games have grown into a cultural happening, marketing experts say.

The most recent Games featured 21 events in seven sports categories: skateboarding; aggressive in-line skating; bike stunts; moto-x; speed climbs up walls; downhill BMX bike racing; and wake boarding, the only water competition. In keeping with its grass-roots beginning, there is no admission fee.

"A lot of parents didn't think they were serious events," said David Carter, a local sports marketing consultant who attended the first X Games in 1995. "Over the course of the last decade, the interest and exposure of extreme sports has grown faster than any other sport, except for NASCAR." Carter, who also teaches a graduate course on sports business at USC, said there is great interest in action sports among his students. "They'll say, 'We talk about the Olympics. Why don't we talk about the X Games?' "

He said the message hasn't been lost on corporate sponsors, which have flocked to the X Games and action sports in order to tap their audience of high-spending pre-teens, teenagers and young adults.

Among the X Games sponsors: Taco Bell, Mountain Dew, Levi, Saturn and Activision.

This year's X Games were viewed by more than 63 million people, said Krulewitz, and the average age of viewers was 27. That compares with 43 for viewers of ESPN professional football and 49 for baseball, he said.

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