...but no one is there to watch it, does it make a sound?
Winter X Games 12 starts today. Yawn.
Each year about this time (just as I do every summer), I have to laugh at how desperately ESPN attempts to push the X Games upon sports fans who just don't care. If not for the forced placement of X Games across all of the ESPN/Disney banners (I'm sure Gretchen Bleiler, who graces the cover of this week's ESPN the Magazine, merits more public attention than that other fly-by-night sporting event next weekend), I don't think anyone would even know that the event existed. Sports Illustrated doesn't even whisper its name. Newspapers barely mention it, and those that do only do so because the event is local (i.e., the Los Angeles Times) or they feel somehow like they are missing out on a key niche sport.
But here's the dirty little secret of the X Games: No one, not even the target demographic, really cares. But advertisers, desperate to shill their wares to this demo, think it's a goldmine. So they come, and they fund the events...so to ESPN, it's cost-less.
Sure, kids today like to skateboard and snowboard, and the feats of athletic prowess in the X Games demonstrate a whole heck of a lot of skill. But the failure of extreme sports' ability to perform more than two times a year (other tours have cut back or gone bankrupt) are just one reflection of the overall lack of resonance or interest. Heck, even Disney on Ice and Ringling Brothers can do a national tour. X Games can't.
The microscopic television ratings are another key barometer. Tricks on a skateboard ramp or halfpipe are far less interesting to watch than Australian rules football or even billiards, a fact underscored by the events' pathetic television ratings (ESPN boosted viewership statistics by putting it on sister network ABC about six years ago; last August's Summer X Games rankings placed the ABC telecasts with 0.8 and 1.1 ratings, well behind other coverage of the PGA, MLB, NASCAR, and even the meaningless NFL Hall of Fame Game--2007's X Games barely beat out beach volleyball and the LPGA). Today, the few press releases highlighting X Games television viewership are carefully-worded statistical cuts on niche demographics, or obfuscations about streaming video traffic on the unknown EXPN.com site).
The athletes themselves don't make for compelling drama, either, again despite ESPN's omnipresent cross-promotions. Scott Willoughby of the Denver Post wrote: Among the more disturbing revelations...was word from ESPN's Chris Stiepock, general manager of the X Games, that professional bowling outranked a recently released HD documentary about Kelly Slater's quest for an unprecedented eighth world surfing title by something like eight viewers to one on ESPN2.
Look, I've been to both Summer and Winter X Games before; I saw Mike Metzger pull off consecutive backflips on his motorcycle in Philadelphia in 2002, which was an amazing trick. Admittedly, the events are marginally more compelling in person. But, short of that poor soul who plummeted 40 feet at Staples Center during last year's event, can you remember any other highlights or accomplishments from that X Games? And if all we can recall is disaster rather than achievement, isn't it more of a circus than a sporting event (see fourth paragraph, above).
For all those potential advertisers considering sponsorship, I've thrown together the following graph. (Click on the picture for legible text.)
X Games 12 is here. Which means, four more days before I can watch my favorite sports highlights again, without the unnecessary and irrelevant noise.