For The Love Of The Games

January 31, 2011

While the NFL and NHL’s All-Star games were being played, the Celtics-Lakers rivalry was being renewed once again, and the Farmers Insurance Open was wrapping up, something else had the full attention of many young sports fans across the country. The X Games, make no doubt about it, are getting bigger each year.

Granted, with the major sports’ All-Star games receiving poor ratings in prior years anyway, Tiger Woods out of contention at Torrey Pines, and the fact that the NBA regular season means very little, it isn’t all too surprising that the X Games were the choice of many viewers with cable TV. However, could it be more than just few other options that made this year’s Winter X Games once of the most successful ever? I’m part of the target demographic that the X Games are trying to reach, but when my dad is giving me updates of what happened while I was at work, I know that the Games have caught lightning in a bottle.

One of the things that make a sport attractive to fans is accessibility. In other words, how easily can the fans interact with the athletes, and how relatable are the athletes to the fans that come out to support them? You’d be hard pressed to find an NFL fan who feels like they truly relate to the majority of the monsters who suit up on Sundays. At the X Games, you’ve got teenagers who have yet to graduate high school strapping their boots and taking to the slopes.

In sports such as NASCAR or golf, just seeing the athletes is considered a huge deal. At the X Games, you can see the athletes high fiving the fans after a great run and thanking the fans for coming out in their victory speeches. Hell, in the Superpipe events, the only way to get back up to the top is to go through the crowd.

In a sports world where the words “collective bargaining agreement” are in the headlines every day, 30 year old players want contracts that will pay them $30 million a year for a decade, and trash talking is a required activity leading up to a big game, it’s refreshing to see Nick Baumgartner holding his son on his shoulders after an emotional win in Snowboarder X, bringing back memories of Drew Brees and his son. So are brothers Colten and Caleb Moore performing a backflip together, which was not scored by the judges. So are snowboarders, men and women who are competing against each other, getting “stoked” after one of them has a great run, even if it means losing a chance at a medal because of it. These athletes do it for the fans, not the money. That’s what attracts new fans, not huge contracts that keep aging players around or trash talking that gets personal.

I’m not saying that the X Games is on its way to overtaking the NFL or Major League Baseball. But I do know that they have a formula that is going to allow the sports included in the Games to continue to rise in popularity. The X Games are about having fun, and making sure the fans are having fun too, as much as it’s about competition.

Popular sports come and go (think boxing and horse racing), and the X Games have a recipe, an attitude, that should only help increase interest in its product for years to come.

– K. Becks

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