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Extreme marketing on view at X Fest

Big companies and small start-ups promote their products at X Fest, a vendor fair being held outside the X Games in downtown L.A.

June 30, 2012|By Laura Hautala, Los Angeles Times
  • X Fest vendor Pat Milbery of So-Gnar, right, prepares to hand out a skateboard to those people who can correctly answer trivia questions about the Ford Fiesta at the Ford Motor Co. booth.
X Fest vendor Pat Milbery of So-Gnar, right, prepares to hand out a skateboard… (Patrick T. Fallon, Los Angeles…)

The athletes weren't the only ones taking risks at the Summer X Games.

Dozens of merchants spent big money to take part in X Fest, a vendor fair outside the extreme sports event in downtown Los Angeles that's open to the public through Sunday.

Giant companies such asSony Corp.and Red Bull were there to promote their well-known products, but most fair participants were far smaller operations, including start-ups hoping to hit it big by introducing their inventions and other wares to the crowd.

"Just to be associated with the X Games and extreme sports, that's exactly what we want," said Steve Kraus, director of sales for Sbyke.

What's an Sbyke? It's a BMX bike in the front and a skateboard in the back, naturally. The franken-scooter was on display at a booth about the size of an office cubicle. It was in a row of identical booths, each divided by white plastic sheeting.

But no matter how humble the showcases, they were on view to a crowd that numbered more than 25,000 on Thursday, according to ESPN, which owns the X Games.

Kraus said that Sbyke, based in Las Vegas, was spending about $40,000 on booth space, staff and other costs at the fair. It was all about exposure.

"This is the generation of kids who want to try something different," Kraus said.

The young crowd, featuring a number of people on crutches, milled from booth to booth, picking up branded freebies. The vendors were not allowed to sell anything, though visitors could sign up for giveaways.

Brothers Zak and Niko Moon hung out at the Sbyke booth. Niko, 20, got the hang of the contraption's counterintuitive steering after a few false starts. Zak, 10, fell off.

"It was hard!" Zak said, and the boys moved on.

Rob Vito, president of Unequal Technologies, had a booth showing off a product especially appropriate for the X Games — concussion reduction pads.

"It's the ideal demographic, and it's right where we want to be," Vito said.

The company, which is near Philadelphia and has fewer than 50 employees, had donated 200 of its helmet pads to X Games athletes. Vito said his firm spent about $50,000 on the event.

David Meikle — whose only employees are his fiancee, two sons and a model, all of whom travel the skateboard event circuit — had an X Fest booth for his company named Retaks (skater, backward). The Henderson, Nev., outfit makes backpacks tailored for skaters.

Meikle paid a licensing fee to ESPN so that he could put small leather patches with the X Games logo on his products.

"That'll open a lot of doors for us that we never really pursued before," he said.

It was tough for the small vendors to compete for attention with the likes of Red Bull, which had a separate booth that looked like a club, complete with bar where visitors could pick up free samples of the drink. They could also watch the X Games live on flat-screen TVs and play video games.

The booth, run by the sports apparel company, featured foosball, ping-pong and a photo booth. That's where Denzel Graves of Rialto was hanging out with his cousins.

Graves, 18, has been skateboarding since he was 6 (with a two-year hiatus for a fractured ankle). He spends his allowance and paychecks on skate gear.

Do people ever tell him he's going to get hurt?

"Yeah, plenty of people." Graves said.

Do you listen?


A Hooters booth, where visitors could have their pictures taken with the restaurant chain's signature Hooters Girls, was also present at X Fest. The company's chief marketing officer, Dave Henninger, said the crowd was a good fit with Hooters, which aimed to be, as he put it, "hippin' it up, coolin' it up and bringing in a younger demographic."

But many vendors said X Games fans are neither predictable nor an easy sell.

"They're not foolish, these kids," Meikle said. "They're very intelligent and they know what they want."

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