Shredding it up in Motown
Two 20-somethings carry the hope of a metropolis on their backs in an effort to bring the X Games to Detroit.
Published: June 26, 2013
To see Michigan hometown athlete Brandon Dosch shred a BMX dirt bike course is something to behold. The recent silver medalist from X Games Brazil may now be coming home to X Games Detroit in 2014. “It would mean the world to me to compete in front of my city,” Dosch says. Such are the rich possibilities for the Motor City — one of four finalist cities in competition for the ESPN X Games expansion in summers of 2014-2016.
We have Action Sports Detroit LLC to thank for this chance. Action Sports is Kevin Krease and Garret Koehler — the team behind Detroit’s X Games bid. The other finalist cities are Chicago, Austin, Texas, and Charlotte, N.C. ESPN promises a decision as early as in the second half of June.
Recently back from Barcelona, Spain, to observe one of six current annual international X Games events, Krease and Koehler of Action Sports are energized. We meet at Great Lakes Coffee’s charming Midtown location. These two college friends from Ohio’s Miami University are in their mid-20s, youthful and vibrant. They see this city as the ultimate place for the X Games. Koehler speaks of “a perfect alignment between the grittiness of Detroit and the grittiness of the X Games.”
In early May, Action Sports released a video supporting this city’s bid for the X Games. The video, produced by the Work Inc., a Detroit-based production house, includes poignant, vivid camera shots showcasing the city. It features young bikers, skateboarders and a rally car racer covering terrain from Belle Isle to Campus Martius. From the abandoned train station to the Ambassador Bridge, this video’s hard-edged vision of the city and its inspired youth culture is completely captivating.
ESPN’s X Games are the widely popular and quintessential extreme sports Olympics: from skateboarding to BMX biking to motocross, rally car racing and beyond. These are the very elite top athletes in their games performing breakthrough tricks and athletic acrobatics. The summer X Games may now be venturing from their glamorous Los Angeles home base to gritty Detroit, home of survivors.
In the early 1990s, ESPN saw a punk rock-inspired Generation X demographic that wasn’t necessarily watching football, and seized upon it. The games, which began in 1995 in Rhode Island and have called L.A. their primary home over the years, now include a winter games in Aspen, Colo., as well as events in Brazil, Barcelona, Munich, Germany and Tignes, France — all part of ESPN’s global expansion of the X Games to six annual events. Originally titled the “Extreme Games,” the event has included sports later incorporated into the Olympics and has contributed to the definition of an action sports lifestyle.
The X Games in Detroit would, according to Krease, likely be a three-day event held in late July or early August for three consecutive years, 2014-2016. The events, which have changed over the years, would certainly include skateboarding, motocross, BMX biking and rally cars, but going back to past X Games, may even include street luge and bungee jumping. According to Krease, “There could be wakeboarding in the Detroit River. It is an open platform to do some interesting things.”
Koehler describes these games as a “celebration of youth culture.” He begins: “X Games is a brand ESPN started comprised of action sports never before televised — an entire brand created around the action sports lifestyle. A lot of the events in the X Games later became Olympic sports. They are a cutting-edge brand. What is happening in Detroit is in perfect alignment with the X Games brand. Young people are taking action, taking risks to succeed in this city.” Koehler speaks fondly of the current business climate in Detroit and its favorability to young people exploring new ventures.
According to Krease, “What is attractive about X Games is what is attractive about Detroit. The X Games are all about action — action sports and action generally. Detroit is also about action and creating meaningful change.”
The two men feel Detroit is the ideal host city for these games because of the synergies between the event’s brand and Detroit’s well-acknowledged vibe. “X Games is a gritty extreme event. Detroit is a city of extremes — extreme wealth and extreme poverty,” Koehler says. “We believe this event can bridge these extremes and build stronger community.”
X Games is hugely popular among young people. The average attendee is 23 years old. This fits well with a growing youth community in this city, Krease explains. “Young people want to fix a lot of problems and stresses of the city,” he says, adding, “X Games is a platform to share the new story of Detroit and what is changing for the positive here.”
“This city embodies perseverance, more so than our competition,” Koehler says. “Austin or Charlotte would hold events at a race track outside the city. We’re proposing they hold events in spaces that these athletes are already performing in anyway. The urban environment of Detroit allows the showcasing of talent — whether BMX biking or skateboarding — in areas of the city they are always showcasing their talents.” The powerful video by the Work made as part of this city’s campaign for the games aptly captures this vision with local athletes riding and skating in Detroit’s gritty urban places and spaces.
“Action sports are about a lot more than sports,” Koehler says. “They are about lifestyles, building communities and events built in public spaces, not in private racetracks outside of town.”
According to an economic impact study of the 2010 X Games in Los Angeles (done by Micronomics, Inc.), that year’s games produced as much as $50 million in identifiable benefits to Los Angeles. The team at Action Sports Detroit feels very realistically that three years of summer X Games in Detroit, from 2014-2016, could bring $150 million in economic benefits to the city.
Furthermore, based on historical numbers, they feel attendances can safely be forecast at 150,000 to 200,000 over three days. Last year’s games in Los Angeles saw 144,700 people attend. Peak attendance was 268,390 in 1999 for X Games 5, held in San Francisco. Costs for putting on the games are estimated at between $15 million and $20 million per year.
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