No need to wince, cover your children's eyes or send a scathing e-mail to your local politician, there's nothing X-rated about the X Games.
The truth is, when the extreme-sports competition officially begins today at its primary venue, Staples Center, the crowd may look about as seedy as one at a Britney Spears concert and the economic effect they have is expected to quadruple that of the Rose Parade.
The X Games were created by ESPN nine years ago as programming for younger viewers. The plan has been a rousing success, bringing extreme sports closer to the mainstream awareness enjoyed by football, baseball, basketball and hockey. And because of the X Games, many kids would rather trade places with a professional skateboarder such as Tony Hawk than a major league baseball player like Alex Rodriguez.
In addition to skateboarding, the X Games include athletes competing in aggressive in-line skating, bike stunt, downhill BMX, motocross, wakeboarding and surfing. Some events, including surfing and downhill BMX, were held last weekend.
The event has snowballed since it began in 1995 as the Extreme Games, including events such as bungee jumping, skateboarding and skysurfing. Organizers changed the name to the X Games the next year, then decided to take the action to the snow for the first Winter X Games in 1997 at Big Bear Lake.
In addition to stops in Philadelphia in 2000 and 2001, the summer X Games also have been held in Rhode Island in 1995-96, San Diego in 1997-98 and San Francisco in 1999-2000.
Los Angeles got the nod over Miami to play host to the X Games for the next two years, mainly because its large market size would propel the already growing popularity of extreme sports. The network also didn't mind bringing the X Games home to Southern California, where many of the approximately 300 competitors live.
"It's the birthplace of action sports," ESPN President George Bodenheimer told The Times shortly after the announcement. "In many respects, its rightful home is in Southern California, and it's appropriate that the games are going to be there."
The event attracted an estimated 63 million viewers during its stop last summer in Philadelphia, according to ESPN. Their average age was 27, compared with 43 for professional football games and 49 for baseball. Economic development officials in Philadelphia estimated that 220,000 spectators attended last summer's X Games and flowed more than $40 million into the local economy over five days.
That wasn't lost on Los Angeles officials, who were happy to clear the way for the two-year agreement between Bodenheimer and Staples Center President Tim Leiweke.
"We are proud to partner with ESPN to bring the X Games to Los Angeles," Los Angeles City Councilwoman Jan Perry said shortly after the announcement in November. "Not only will this tremendous event focus worldwide attention on our downtown, it will generate over 10,000 room-nights for our hotels and $50 million for our economy."
Leiweke, who is also president of Anschutz Entertainment Group, which owns Staples Center, offered ESPN his arena rent-free as an inducement to Los Angeles' bid, which included no government subsidy. Leiweke is hoping the trade-off will come in promotional value, attracting a crowd that wouldn't otherwise attend an event at Staples Center. The X Games already have issued 18,000 media credentials for this event.
Among the athletes expected to compete are BMX star Dennis McCoy, skateboard hotshots Anthony Furlong, Neal Hendrix and Hawk, and motocross big-air jumpers Travis Pastrana and Mike Metzger.
Pastrana gained fame four years ago when he won the freestyle Moto X during the X Games in San Francisco, then celebrated by soaring with his motorcycle into San Francisco Bay. Afterward, ESPN refused to pay his $10,000 prize, instead using part of it to salvage the motorcycle and donating the balance to a charity involved in Bay cleanup.
Another colorful figure to watch is 16-year-old skateboarder Shaun White of Carlsbad, who narrowly missed qualifying for the 2002 U.S. Olympic team in snowboarding. White will be making his X Games debut.
In the bike stunt competition, Mat Hoffman became a legend in the sport long before last year's history-making, no-handed, 900-degree spin in the vert competition to defeat defending champion and eight-time X Games gold medalist Dave Mirra.
In the wakeboard competition to be held at Long Beach Marine Stadium, 16-year old Dallas Friday is coming off one of the most technically sound runs in the history of women's wakeboarding last month at the Malibu Open.
Another female competitor to watch is aggressive in-line skater Fabiola da Silva of Brazil, the only woman to compete against men in any X Games sport. Da Silva has won eight gold medals in her X Games career.
The X Games never seem to quit trying new things. This summer, several forms of broadcast technology will debut in the hopes of bringing viewers closer to the competition. At the inaugural surfing competition last Saturday in Huntington Beach, a remote-controlled, cable-suspended camera was used for the first time in televised surfing coverage. At the Staples Center, a robotic camera will hang from the ceiling and be able to travel horizontally along the 112-foot-long vert ramp.
In the park competition held outside Staples Center, a "Steadicam" was mounted to the waist of an operator, who followed the competitor around the course.