Written by Alex Dobis // April 2016

Hey guys, I wrote this article for my final paper in sports business management at Wharton. I had to address it to laymen and make sure anyone could understand the sports and business aspects. It should be an interesting read and I was lucky enough to have friends help me out with the interviews.

The US Action Sports Industry

Introduction:

Tony Hawk, Shaun White or even Travis Pastrana. I am sure you have heard at least one of these names before. This is a testament to the growth of action sports. All these athletes have had tremendous success in their respective fields and are responsible for some of the most entertaining and innovative “tricks” audiences have ever seen. While these names are big today, they most certainly were not 30 years ago. Though that may be mostly due to their young age, it is also important to note that action sports were simply nonexistent at the time. To this day, the most accurate definition of action sports is one given by Dr. Rhonda Cohen who states they are “a competitive (comparison or self-evaluative) activity within which the participant is subjected to natural or unusual physical and mental challenges such as speed, height, depth or natural forces and where fast and accurate cognitive perceptual processing may be required for a successful outcome”.

The action sports industry has seen phenomenal growth in the past 2 decades. With most action sports only appearing in the late 80s or early 90s, this young industry has had to find space for growth in a US sports market dominated by sports that have been around for much longer. 1995 marks a key turning point in the history of action sports, thanks to ESPN. ESPN noticed a decline in interest in major league sports amongst young viewers who increasingly opted towards the newer, more attractive and innovative sports such as skateboarding or freeskiing. They were in the midst of launching a new channel – ESPN2 – and were lacking content to fill in their open slots. They needed new content and realized they should produce it themselves rather than bid against other bigger news networks, especially for a secondary channel. As a result, they decided to target a younger demographic and try to capitalize on an untapped market. To do so, ESPN started their own one-of-a-kind event geared towards action sports and called it the Extreme Games (later X Games).

For the first time, all the existing action sports were pooled together in one venue as athletes competed for bronze, silver and gold medals. This event was set to be held annually in order to give it a sense of prestige (not as much as the Olympics which is every 4 years, but still special). The event had the best summer and winter action sport athletes come out and prove their skill in front of a combined crowd of approximately 500,000 in New Port, Rhode Island and Mount Snow, Vermont. It was the first time these athletes were truly able to be seen on the big stage, and it ended up being wildly successful.

From then on, the common belief was that the X Games and action sports were going to blow up in popularity. Many factors seemed to foreshadow this significant growth, such as high youth participation, high general interest from young people around the nation, and the danger seeking appeal that led so many people to love Nascar (and their crashes). It seemed to have all the right ingredients to become the next big thing in sports. To some extent, the sport has been growing quite well evidenced by the appearance and popularity of snowboarding, freesking, and BMX riding in the Olympic Games. However, action sports have gotten no where near major league sports like football or basketball in terms of ratings or revenue. So why didn’t action sports ever take off?

In this paper I will discuss the current status of the actions sports industry -- what is wrong with it and what is right with it. This paper will explore reasons why the industry has struggled to grow over the last couple of years despite huge initial potential. Finally, I will report what several professional athletes have to say about their chosen careers, and eventually suggest improvements to promote growth in this stagnant industry.

Advantages of the action sports industry

Youth participation:

As a previously sponsored skier, I have been involved in the ski industry some time. Just like most people who get into action sports, I started at a young age, when I was still adventurous and “unbreakable” (or so I thought). One day I was wandering around on the mountain, and noticed some kids hitting jumps in the terrain park. I thought it was the coolest thing in the world, so I joined in to try it myself. After crashing about 5 times in a row on a 5-foot jump, I finally stomped the landing and it felt incredibly fulfilling. Everyday, many kids find themselves wandering into the terrain park to test their luck with jumps or rails just like I once did. The sport is quite simple to try, as all one has to do is be on the mountain and know where the terrain park is.

This simplicity is one of the reasons why youth participation is on the rise. It is easy to get started (no additional gear needed), it is easily accessible and most importantly, and it is fun. High levels of youth participation are essential to the success of any sport and its respective industry because most avid fans of a sport played it when they were younger. Therefore, higher youth participation means a greater fan base. A larger fan base also means higher demand for the sport, which in turn boosts ratings, merchandise sales, and overall revenue for the industry. Furthermore, sponsors become more and more interested in a sport when it becomes more popular, but this will be discussed at a later point. Thus, a decline in participation can be viewed as problematic, evidenced by the current situation in American football.

Progression in action sports:

Youth participation can also have a huge influence on the level of play in the professional field. The more kids get into a sport, the bigger the talent pool is for future professional events. While this concept applies to nearly every sport, it is particularly relevant in the action sports business due to one simple factor that is present in just about every action sport: progression. The biggest moment in any action sport has always been some athlete executing a new innovative trick that has never been done before -- whether it be Tony Hawk with the first 900 so many years back, or Torstein Horgmo with the first snowboard triple flip ever done in competition. Both these moments happened at X Games, on the big stage, for millions to view and get excited about. However, the very next year you will find a handful of athletes doing the same trick that was so progressive the previous year and getting only average scores for it. Much like the field of medicine, innovation happens all the time, and if you don’t keep with it, you might just lose your job!

This concept of progression in combination with the ease of getting into the sport gives the action sports industry an amazing and truly unique identity. As years go by, athletes keep going pro at younger and younger ages with the growth of the sport. Almost every year new age records are being broken across the board, with some athletes medalling at X Games before they are even old enough to drive. The youngest contestant to this day has been Jagger Eaton who attended the 2012 Los Angeles X Games skate BIG AIR event at the young age of 11! If you have ever seen an X Games Big Air event, then you understand how impressive it is that an 11-year-old can show up and even earn a medal. Therein lies the beauty of the X Games and action sports as a whole: simply seeing young, relatable athletes do the most amazing feats inspires a whole new wave of young athletes to get out there and do the same.

Variety of events:

While Big Air is just one skateboarding event amongst so many others, this shows that any sport can have a variety of different events and still have the same crowd-pleasing effect. Sports such as football or basketball really have no differentiation when it comes to the events being held (aside from the NBA slam dunk contest) which leaves quite a large gap. Other events could generate more revenue for each industry through added sponsorships, new talent specific to said event, more air time, and also a low set up cost since the infrastructure would already be in place. While the X Games might have its flaws, they have definitely capitalized on the multi-event event aspect of sports with events such as “Best Trick” which has proven to be one of the most entertaining and progressive competitions ever and having “vert” or “street” which allows different athletes to shine in different aspects of the sport. This means the sport has more star athletes who in turn are more marketable, attract more sponsors, and connect with the fans to bring more overall awareness and revenue to the sport.

X Games and the Olympic Games:

Though I have discussed the X Games heavily and shown how big of a stage it is for each sport, the X Games` ratings pale in comparison to certain other events, one of the biggest of these being the Olympic Games. And yet it just so happens that the Olympic Games have been slowly taking after X Games and some of their events. Over the last 20 years, the Olympic Games have adopted 12 disciplines that were first featured in the X Games and this number just keeps on growing. And why wouldn’t they? One of the most recent additions was freeskiing Superpipe and Slopestyle events for men and women at the Winter Games. Getting these disciplines featured at the Games was the result of years of work and dedication and has had tremendous results. Upon the announcement, huge brands like Target and even Pop Tarts started sponsoring freeski athletes and had them represented on their products. On top of that, the men’s Slopestyle competition resulted in a US podium sweep, which brought even more attention to the sport as these athletes started becoming exceedingly popular on social media.

As you can see, action sports seem to have a lot going for them. Yet for some reason, the industry has had a difficult time getting off the ground and becoming a major player in today’s sports world. X Games have had to cancel their global events, athletes are having to find second jobs to support themselves, and action sports seem to be very difficult to find on television. Why is that? I will discuss all of these points as I review the key issues in the action sports industry.

The Key Issues in the Industry

Injuries and health issues:

While youth participation for action sports has been healthy with more and more kids getting into the trend of individual/expression based sports, it is no secret that youth participation in major sports like football have been declining. This poses a real issue for the future of football as the potential talent pool decreases. The biggest reason for this decline has been the health issues related to the sport. With the NFL coming under fire over concussion scandals, parents are less likely to let their children engage in a sport that could potentially impair them in the future, personally and professionally. Action sports has had a stunted growth for the same reason. These sports can be high risk and seem frightening to many people. If some tricks are not performed correctly, the results can be dire. Mother nature can also be a factor in a lot of action sports such as surfing (sharks) and skiing. As a skier I can say this with absolute certitude: there is nothing more gut-wrenchingly scary to a skier than the thought of an avalanche. Many professional athletes who have been pioneers of certain sports like JP Auclair or Sarah Burke have died over the last couple of years “on the job” as a result of injuries or freak accidents while skiing. Furthermore, concussions have been a huge issue in action sports. While helmets are mandatory during competition, many videos of professionals on different media outlets feature them wearing no protective gear. This trend becomes popular amongst young athletes who choose to partake in these sports and often result in serious injuries as many action sports are very high risk. Even with a helmet on, concussions may happen to anyone very easily (they just so happen to be the reason you are reading this paper now instead of last week). This why pursuing the sport professionally can be a bad idea as injury rate is rather high.

However, contrary to popular belief, the rate of action sport injuries is actually lower than many other sports. If you look at the graph annexed at the end of this paper, you will notice basketball has the highest rate of ER-treated injuries per 100,000 participants with sports such as skateboarding having less than half that amount (even less than softball). This might seem surprising to some people, as these sports do seem to be more dangerous. But the way they are performed requires a lot of skill, comfort and confidence so athletes are in complete control of their bodies while flipping through the air. The only way to get injured in these sports is self-injury since they are individual sports whereas in sports such as hockey or football you have the added risk of other players injuring you.

The athlete revenue issue:

Despite these injury rates, young athletes are much more likely to pursue a career in sports such as basketball or football rather than action sports. This can be explained very simply with one word: salary. While college athletes go through school playing high level sports with no salary (though they do get scholarships), they seem to do fairly well once they hit the job market. According to Forbes, the average NBA player makes around 5 million dollars a year. According to simplyhired.com (references) the average skier makes 52,000 dollars a year. That’s right: 52,000 dollars. The same source says lift operators make an average annual salary of 42,000 dollars. Professional skiers find themselves making 1% of what NBA players make for the same amount of risk in the sport. This explains in large why most young athletes are more geared towards high exposure (and therefore high paying sports) rather than your average action sport -- this is has been a serious issue in that industry.

To further comprehend the difference in salary, we need to break down where the athlete’s revenue is coming from. Let’s go back to NBA players: the bulk of their salary is a result of their contract with their respective teams. Some more marketable athletes can also acquire individual contracts with certain brands which represents more income in exchange for media awareness and product promotion. However, action sports are individual sports, therefore they do not have any contracts with teams that generate income. In turn, their revenue comes from prize money awarded from competitions and tours. Sponsors can also support athletes but this depends heavily on how well they do in competition and how marketable they are. Thus, in order for any income from a sponsor to be note-worthy, one must first have competitive success (with the exception of those who are able to promote themselves through video segments). Much like the PGA, an athlete’s competitive success directly influences their salary. However, action sports do not have a tour as well established as the PGA’s and therefore the prize money awarded to action sports athletes is far lesser than what a golfer would expect for an event of the same magnitude to the athlete. For example, the 2015 Masters awarded 1,800,000 dollars to Jordan Spieth for winning and had 10,000,000 dollars to award overall. The X Games only had 3,000,000 $ to dole out over the whole event, with top athletes only winning 50,000 $ and athletes ending up in 10th place only getting around 1,000$ -- barely enough to cover their travel expenses. These salaries are simply not attractive enough to get people to commit their lives to certain sports which leaves a huge gap in professional participation and stunts the growth of the industry as a whole since there are less athletes to market and also less overall competition than there could be if event organizers had deeper pockets.

In affect, many average jobs pay more than professional skiing or BMX riding despite the fact that these sports are featured at the Olympics. Except for a handful of people at the top of the rankings, most pro athletes require a 2nd job just to be able to support their lifestyle. Take for example the case of Charley Ager, a professional skier who had pro-model apparel with one of the biggest Canadian outerwear brands, Orage. As you can read in his interview from 2012, despite producing footage for one of the most renowned production companies in the ski industry he still needed to work all summer just to be able to afford living the life of a professional skier. He claimed to have lived out of his truck for nearly a year, just pursuing his passion for skiing and trying to make it big time. And even after making it, he still finds himself camping year round near the mountain. As you can imagine, even the least successful NBA player does not camp outside of his stadium. While action sport industry wages are low now, they were even worse 15 years ago when professional skateboarders nearly boycotted the 2001 X Games over how low little money they were receiving.

The event management issue:

The reason these athletes are getting such low incomes from these events is simply because the event organizers cannot afford to pay them more. Action sports tours have been struggling these last couple of years as broadcasting prices go up and event organizers find themselves having to cut corners to stay profitable. In some cases, they operate at huge losses. This is why the DEW tour, one of the most notable tours in the skiing and snowboarding scenes, went from a multi-stop event (prior to 2016) to a single 3 discipline event. The biggest example of this phenomenon has to be Global X Games. ESPN wanted to expand the X Games and turn the event into an international tour, with 4 summer stops in Austin, Brazil, Germany and Spain and 2 winter stops in Aspen and France. However, the tour that was supposed to be set over 3 years found itself coming to a screeching halt at the end of the first year and ESPN’s losses were estimated at 30 million dollars.

However, the failure of this tour is not to be blamed on action sports’ popularity or the athletes participating in the events, but rather on the event organizers themselves – in other words, ESPN. The way ESPN handled the launch of this tour was less than ideal. They gave themselves 12 months to find at least six global sponsors to cut 15 million dollar deals with (roughly 3 times the price average action sports deals are). They of course came up short with only 2 sponsors who did not even grant them near the $15m. This is only one of the many mistakes committed by ESPN while organizing this tour that sportsbusinessdaily.com pointed out so well. With a 100-million-dollar budget for the whole tour and no base infrastructure to work with, ESPN found themselves in a tight spot when they could not come up with the sponsorship money and had to close the whole tour down and just cut their losses. The one year it ran ended up not being relatively unsuccessful, attracting less than half the average amount of viewers they had before the expansion. What ESPN did not anticipate is that by adding more X Games competition, they were effectively diluting their brand. This is not hard to imagine. For example, if the Olympic Games were help annually instead of every 4 years, the event would lose some of it’s mystique as well.

This is not the first time ESPN has slipped up while organizing such an important event in the action sports industry. This event has become so grand to the industry that it has the power to push action sports to grow in new ways. But as we all know, with great power comes great responsibility and ESPN has definitely slipped up on that spectrum. The most flagrant example of this brings us to this year’s winter X Games. Many people found themselves wondering why Shaun White – the biggest name in snowboarding – was not present at the event he essentially grew up winning (men’s snowboard superpipe). As it turns out, he had organized his own series of events that were in direct competition with X Games, stateside and internationally. However, cutting Shaun out of the event was extremely short-sighted of ESPN and seemed to be an ego driven move as they did not want to give him anymore exposure. The simple fact is that you cannot host the best event in the world without inviting the best athlete in the world. By cutting him out, they decreased the level of competition and left out one of the sport’s biggest draws. This resulted in a decrease in ratings and most likely hurt the X Games a lot more than having Shaun White compete would have. The action sports industry lacks proper infrastructure and does not have an actual sports federation to keep private owners in check. This results in poor owner decisions that ultimately hurt an industry, much like this one.

The gate receipt issue:

You may have noticed that I did not mention a decrease in ticket sales while mentioning the decrease in ratings. This brings us to our next issue, the lack of gate receipts. Most of major leagues’ revenue comes from gate receipts. However, having been to Winter X Games in Aspen this year, I can assure you that they do not charge for entrance or even parking for that matter. ESPN is leaving a lot of money on the table by doing this and while some could argue that it is an effective way to get people interested in the event by opening it up to everyone, I have to disagree. Having been there for the first time this winter, I found myself in awe at all the mind blowing tricks that were being throw right before my eyes. However, I felt I was nearly the only person in the crowd actually cheering these athletes on. Having a free entrance ended up flooding the venue with people who really just did not have anything else to do that night, making it difficult for avid fans like myself to truly enjoy the event as the crowds were too large, it was difficult to get close to the action, and overall morale seemed to be low as most people did not understand the magnitude of what was going on. Simply put, imagine a person walking into a baseball game for the first time, and experiencing a no-hitter: while you might perceive that as amazing and thank the stars you were there, this person might just think to themselves “Well that was boring… Nobody hit the ball!”. The fact that the event is free also takes away from it’s core value. People tend to appreciate something more if they pay money – the same logic applies to sporting events. Without gate receipts, X Games might draw in a bigger crowd but at the end of the day those people are not going to contribute to the industry. The people who would are the avid fans that X Games might have alienated by flooding the event with people who are just there for the free Clif bars. ESPN failed to hit their target segment with Winter X Games but as I will later discuss there are potential solutions to this issue.

The expense issue:

Gate receipt is not the only source of revenue X Games and other action sports events have missed out on. No association in the industry owns their own building for hosting events. Therefore, they find themselves renting buildings, importing ramp infrastructure and other necessities and paying a large sum of money to set everything up every time they host one of their events. This is one of the reasons Global X Games failed. It was simply to costly to bring all of the needed supplied up to Foz do Iguaçu in Brazil which was in a remote location far from big cities. ESPN also had their own crew of 700 fly out to each event, which can be quite costly especially when you need connections to get to Foz or Aspen from larger cities like Denver or Rio. All these factors come together to make action sports events extremely costly to run. In addition, with no stadium or building they lose an immense amount of opportunity, which we will get into shortly. Merchandise sales also seem to be nonexistent. However, this is not the industry’s fault as it is difficult to move merchandise in the individual sports market since there are no teams to promote and sell.

Athlete interview:

I was able to get in touch with Vincent Gagnier – a 22-year-old professional freestyle skier and 2015 Winter X Games gold medallist – and Remco Kayser – a 21-year-old rising star on the freestyle skiing circuit – and ask them a couple questions about their chosen career paths.

• What pushed you to pursue freestyle skiing professionally?

Vinnie: “I grew up wanting to be a professional skier like my idols, there’s no better lifestyle than skiing and travelling the globe with a bunch of friends.”

Remco: “I grew up in Geneva, which is situated next to numerous mountains and nice ski resorts. I therefore started skiing when I was around 3 or 4 years old and a few years later I quickly felt I loved being in the air more than just skiing on the slopes. When I was around 12 years old, I entered my first freeski-club and that's when I participated at my first contests. I loved the vibes and the adventures freeskiing had to offer and never stopped since that time. I slowly entered better teams until finally entering the SwissFreeski team in 2014.”

• Can you support yourself financially through skiing?

Vinnie: “Yes I can, the last 4 years have been good for me, before that, not so much though… It takes time, first you need to get on the podium at some big events, and slowly your contracts will grow and than you don’t really have to worry about getting top 3 as much (even if that’s always the goal).”

Remco: “No I can't. I have a few good contracts but it's not enough to live from skiing completely. I had to work for a month last summer to be able to travel and enjoy this full winter. Plus, it was the first year my parents weren't giving me anything... and life as a skier is pretty darn expensive!”

• What are your thoughts on X Games?

Vinnie: “Biggest event in skiing, the one contest that matters…. You have to ski the best you’ve ever skied that night. Live TV can be good but can be really bad too…skiing in a blizzard last year was very frustrating, but that’s how it works sometimes.”

• How much longer do you think you will be skiing professionally?

Vinnie: “Contest hopefully for another 4-5 years, but I better be in ski movies after that, or what else am I going to do.”

Remco: “I already had 3 pretty bad injuries (with an ACL surgery coming in two weeks) and the competition skiing isn't interesting to me anymore, so I decided to continue my studies. I am starting medical school in Fribourg in September. I will still be able to ski on the weekends and even during the week after I passed the first year, but never as much as the last few years!”

As you can see, the life of a professional skier is not as glamourous as some might think. Unless you are on top of the industry, it is very difficult to support yourself financially. The sport has a high athlete turn due to injury and the young image of the sport, which make some careers very short. And when an flawed event like the X Games is the biggest competition of the year for you with so much riding it (sponsors and results), you can’t help but wonder if there is room for improvement.

Ways to Improve the Industry

While the industry does have its flaws, it is still able to grow and remain a player in today’s competitive sports market. Big names like Red Bull and GoPro have backed the action sports industry for years through various events and helping riders push the boundaries of their respective sport every year. However, as noted above, there is much room for improvement. I will be addressing some of these key issues with some viable solutions that could not only improve the way sports action events are ran, but even improve the industry as a whole.

Establish an official action sports federation:

The 5 traits of a successful emerging league are audience appeal, deep pocketed owners, appropriate market place, TV presence, and strong leadership. Action sports are definitely appealing -- Red Bull, GoPro and ESPN have spent millions on supporting the industry and Austin, Texas along with Aspen, Colorado do seem to be the right place to hold those respective events. While TV presence is not as strong as it could be, all of X Games events are broadcasted worldwide by ESPN which is a huge network. Unfortunately, there simply just is not enough live content to show to rival football or basketball (or enough demand for that matter). The key issue here is the lack of an American action sports federation. Without someone setting rules or regulations, it is simply too difficult for an industry to strive when owners let their egos get involved on the business side of things (like Shaun White and ESPN) or event runners express concern for their athletes which has resulted in more than one boycotted event. The establishment of a sports regulation and a commissioner to keep everyone in check and help avoid problems such as these that hurt the industry and result in a loss of money and time for everyone involved. Simply imagine the NFL without Roger Goodell and their regulations -- it would be a mess.

Charge for big events:

Now to move on to one of the major revenue resource that has remained untapped: gate receipt. While free entrance to X Games events might have been beneficial at the start, that is no longer the case. By charging people for entrance, the event will be able to attract the exact crowd that they would want to target. As stated previously, by paying for an experience, it immediately becomes more valuable and therefore X Games as a brand becomes more valuable to the consumer. This will of course also generate gate receipt revenue which is pure benefit since the event will be hosted the same – also a way to justify the ticket price. This would mean only actual fans of the sport would be at the event, so everyone would be into it, cheering athletes on, and overall morale would be boosted. There is no arguing that this would be a plus not only for the fans attending the event but also for the organizers, the athletes and even the security hired who will have less people to deal with. And while some might argue that less people attending the event means a shorter reach for the sport, this is false because the people who would not attend were not targeted by the event and their sponsors and most likely do not spend money in the action sports industry. In fact, one could argue that the TV experience for X Games is much better for the average person rather than what you could see at an overcrowded event. People who are interested can still view the event on ESPN and now avid sports fans who would not consider going to the event because of all the reasons I stated earlier might reconsider, and the actual target audience at the event increases rather than decreases.

Acquire a stadium or an arena:

One of the most noticeable aspects of these events is not only how big the features are, but how they got there. The short answer to that is with a lot of money. Having to build these monstrous-sized jumps and take them down is extremely costly and adds on to the huge expense that comes with running these sorts of events. You might have noticed that the X Games are also held in different locations with no home stadium or building and find themselves having to rent an area out and build a set-up every year. The solution to both these problems lies in the acquisition of their own stadium or arena. Renting can be extremely costly, and moving the needed material to some of these venues can prove to be extremely difficult and expensive. If the X Games were to own their own building, they could simply leave there supplies there and only incur holding costs. With their own stadium, they would also have an immense amount of new opportunities open up. This means revenue from name sales and sponsorships (like the GoPro X-Arena for example), concessions, luxury seating and newly added gate receipt, and also the real estate play around it. The X Games are an attractive event for cities to host, with Los Angeles having seen a great increase in overall revenue for the city while hosting them. This is an amazing opportunity for X Games to create more revenue for the action sports industry and help in progress even more.

While X Games are only held a couple days a year, this arena could be a hub for all action sports events who have the very same issue. And whenever the arena is not occupied, it can always be rented out to players in an other industry which creates local revenue, but also creates a cross-promotion affect which can help the industry on a national level. We have seen X Games cross-promote before with the addition of big name artist playing at the venues from the very start and the attempt to add professional gaming to the latest Winter X games. This would add a whole new spectrum to that allowing them to partner up with bigger or equal sized industries and eventually create long term partnerships which could translate into actual merchandise sale, more broadcast coverage and progressive deals for the industry as a whole depending on who they partner with.

Host events in bigger and better places:

However, hosting the event in various locations also has its upsides. While many action sports have become popular over the years, their respective professional circuits have not been so lucky, with most people only knowing about the X Games, the DEW Tour and of course the Olympics. To create more demand for the sport which would allow the industry to grow even more, event organizers need to find away to extend their reach. This brings us back to cross-promotion. While the Red Sox might play a game at the GoPro X-Arena anytime soon, there is no reason to believe skiing could not host a Big Air event at Fenway Park. In fact, that is exactly what happened this year! This allowed the sport to reach a bigger audience since it had a bigger stage. And since it was in Boston, they were relatively close to their key demographic (people can actually ski in Boston). Action sports need to host more events on bigger stages such as Fenway. This brings incredibly good publicity to the sport with the cross-promotion going as far as the Red Sox’s official website and the event being broadcasted live on television. This allows athletes like Vincent Gagnier - who won gold at the Fenway Big Air – to get more exposure, become more marketable and get a better contract with his sponsors which allows professional skiers to have more successful careers. Therefore, with more exposure comes more opportunity and more money. That is why you might have noticed freeskiers on your box of Pop-Tarts during the Sochi Winter Olympics. Huge contracts like those create precedents for other athletes and allow the industry to expand and tap into new markets. This is how we can ultimately get this stagnating industry to grow and create more income for athletes and event organizers alike.

Have a breakthrough moment:

No matter how well these solutions work out, action sports will always have a difficult time getting to the forefront of the sports industry. This is for one simple reason: they have not had break through moment. Every sport, before becoming a huge success in the United States, has had a break through moment with transcendent stars. A moment so big that it is simply impossible to forget and sets a precedent like non other for the sport, whether it be Tiger Woods becoming the first black golf player and dominating the tour, or the infamous 1979 Daytona 500 fist fight on primetime television. These events brought their respective sports to a new, bigger stage and the rest was history. Unfortunately, this is not a phenomenon that can be reproduced at will, and only time will tell if the stars align for some action sport to blow up. But in the meanwhile, there is a lot to be done to promote growth within the industry and keep action sports as a competitive player in today’s American sports market.

In Conclusion:

Action sports are not going anywhere soon. They have incredible audience appeal and are growing more and more each year, getting on bigger and better stages to promote their events. However, the core of the industry is flawed with bad event organizing, expensive structures and difficulty supporting the professional athletes that make these sports what they are today. While there are solutions to these problems, only time will tell how big the industry can actually become as it moves forward all while learning from its past mistakes.

At the end of the day, action sports were simply a victim of poor timing. The major sports leagues that are dominating the markets today all seem to have grown alongside the television and event broadcasting back in the mid 20th century. Since then, TV viewership has been declining with the appearance of computers and the internet in the 90s, the same time action sports came into play. As broadcasting prices soar in today’s market, the action sports industry struggles to find it’s place amongst the big players such as football or basketball. But with the right people running the show, the industry might just get its time to shine.

Sources:

• Fenway Big Air: http://boston.redsox.mlb.com/bos/ticketing/big_air.jsp

• X Games Brazil picture: http://istia.tv/blog/tag/foz-do-iguacu/

• Charley Ager interview: http://www.davepires.com/charley-ager/

• How the X Games work: http://adventure.howstuffworks.com/x-games1.htm

• Professional sports salary: http://www.simplyhired.com/salaries-k-professional-skier-jobs.html

• Injury report: http://www.rtoonline.com/images/HeelyInjuryRateChart.gif

• X Games general information: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/X_Games

• X Games/the Olympics: https://hbr.org/2014/02/why-the-x-games-wont-dethrone-the-olympics/

• ESPN management: http://www.businessinsider.com/espn-nightmare-scenario-2013-5

• Shaun White: http://awfulannouncing.com/2016/espn-didnt-invite-shaun-white-to-x-games-thanks-to-disparaging-comments.html

• Global X Games: http://www.sportsbusinessdaily.com/Journal/Issues/2013/10/14/Events-and-Attractions/Global-X-Games.aspx

• X Games at 20: http://www.forbes.com/sites/alanaglass/2014/06/07/x-games-at-20-the-evolution-of-action-sports/#4de457494cfe

• Other professionals’ views on X Games: http://news.lineskis.com/2016/04/19/welcome-to-the-team-peyben-khai/?utm_source=ns&utm_medium=promoted&utm_content=khai-krepela-peyben-hagglund&utm_campaign=web-ads

• PGA athlete’s pay: http://www.augusta.com/masters/story/news/2015-masters-prize-money-announced


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