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Appeal of the X Games Is a Growth Enterprise

Action sports showcase is a big moneymaker for ESPN as the drift toward the mainstream persists.

August 11, 2003|Mike Bresnahan | Times Staff Writer

Action sports athletes and fans, some of them anti-establishment in nature, aren't necessarily in favor of catching the mainstream wave. To some, there are fewer things worse than being overrun by high ticket prices, on-site sushi stands and, gag, luxury suites.

World-renowned Norwegian snowboarder Terje Haakonsen refused to compete in last year's Winter Olympics because he felt the sport had become too mainstream, a testimony to an overarching concept among action sports athletes.

They are definitely individualists.

In many of their sports, the non-competitive nature is overwhelming. There are no coaches, chalk talks, training tables or practices.

There are no penalties for arriving late at the skate park, no fines for showing up overweight at an in-line skating competition.

"There are those who participate in skateboarding and [freestyle motocross] who like to be in competitive events but there are even more who like to learn at their own pace and not necessarily compete with anything other than themselves," X Games General Manager Chris Stiepock said. "The lack of infrastructure is something that initially draws a kid to these sports but is something that may keep these sports from being as big as the NFL and NBA."

Signs point, however, to an inevitable thrust toward bigger and better.

Geographically, the X Games have gradually moved from small-market venues to larger and larger cities.

The X Games began in 1995 in Rhode Island and climbed the ladder of populous cities, moving from San Diego to San Francisco to Philadelphia, never staying more than their customary two years at each place.

The X Games' choice of Los Angeles over Miami as host for the next two years silenced industry critics who felt L.A., a natural hotbed of action sports and the home of many industry sponsors, had been getting snubbed.

"I think five or six years ago we might not have been ready for L.A.," Stiepock said. "I don't think we were a big enough property to resonate in the L.A. area and get the attention that you really need to be able to garner a crowd in Los Angeles.

"Having been through San Francisco and Philly on our way to L.A., we felt like we were ready. We felt like L.A. was the epicenter for action sports. In that sense the X Games belongs there."

It will be the latest test of the X Games' mainstream strength.

"For at least 10 more years there's a really good avenue for something like the X Games," said editor Kurt Roy of TransWorld media, the leading action sports publisher.

"If it's all about money, you'd be better going off with team sports. But the culture and the lifestyle can't really be competed with. There won't be any slowing."

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