Fri, Aug 15, 2003 - Page 23 News List

Sponsorship of X Games leads to professionalism


All of 250 people were there for Jamie Bestwick's first BMX competition in 1984, near his hometown of Nottingham, England.

A prime-time network TV audience will tune in as Bestwick swings his bike through the air in the X Games this week. Action began with a team surf contest last weekend and resumed yesterday.

"With a lot of corporate input and people taking a chance on action sports, giving it the publicity it warrants, you can make a decent living from, in essence, just riding a BMX bike," Bestwick said. "I can't think of a better job to have."

He'll be participating in the annual competition for the first time since he won a gold medal in 2000.

At 32, he is older than a lot of participants, and his years as a rider have allowed him to watch the X Games go from skate parks to stadiums with events that include skateboarding, in-line skating and wakeboarding. This year's events on ABC, ESPN and ESPN2 are expected to reach more than 110 million homes in 145 countries and territories worldwide, spokeswoman Melissa Gullotti said.

In their nine-year history, the X Games have expanded and reached an increasingly larger audience thanks in part to changes in the ways Americans play.

"This is what kids are doing. This is what they're more likely to watch as a fan," said Tom Doyle, a spokesman for the National Sporting Goods Association, a Mount Prospect, Illinois-based trade association. "That's why the X Games are so successful. They've been able to attract advertisers."

Since 1993, the number of people who play America's most popular team sport, basketball, has held steady at about 29 million, Doyle said. But the most popular action sport, in-line skating, had 18.8 million participants in 2002, up from 12.4 million in 1993.

Participants in action sports also tend to be younger than those in team sports, which is important to companies that hope to hook customers early. Forty-nine percent of basketball players nationwide are 17 or under, for example, compared with 61 percent of in-line skaters.

Why the youth appeal? Analysts say action sports tap into youthful rebellion in a way traditional sports don't.

"They're individualistic, there's an angry aspect to it, there's an in-your-face angle," said Harvey Lauer, president of American Sports Data Inc, a Hartsdale, New York, firm focused on sports and fitness research.

Lauer wrote an essay for his company's Web site describing most action sports as "solitary activities that not only allow the participant to avoid social interaction, but provide an escape from supervision and authority."

Doyle says action sports also are a reaction to overly regimented group sports.

While kids of a few years ago were more likely to come together on their own for neighborhood games of baseball or touch football, today's youth are often pushed into organized leagues by their parents.

Thus skating or biking with friends becomes an alternative. And from that alternative, competition develops.

Bestwick sat out the X Games the last two years because of a broken ankle in 2001 and broken arm in 2002.

Despite the injuries, he's glad he quit his day job.

"It was a gamble because I had a good job and I made good money, but I always wanted to ride in the great contests I could never get to," he said. "I took a chance and it's definitely paid off."

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