Generally, we try and stay away from heavily opinionated posts on the site, since we feel our opinion is just one voice of many, many BMX riders around the world and everyone has a different perspective on this sport of ours. But, today we are seeing a lot of discussion about the future of BMX contests after seeing the plan for the Nitro World Games, which is ultimately looking for a new way to expose BMX, moto-x, skateboarding and a few other action sports to the masses in hopes of pumping the industries full of energy and revived life that many feel is struggling to get the attention of the masses anymore. So, we’re going to toss out our perspective and then we’re hoping to get a lot of discussion going in the comments whether it be here, Facebook or really anywhere we can get riders to discuss their ideas or dreams of where to take this thing we call BMX next.
So, let me go into this one with a little background as to why I’m willing to dive into this one. Over my 17ish years of riding BMX and 8 or so years of being classified as “media”, I’ve not only attended a lot of contests, but I’ve organized and thrown roughly 20 of my own events from contests to jams over the years. I’ve attended two X-Games, multiple Dew Tours, one Van Doren Invitational, multiple Red Bull events, one Texas Toast, one Welcome Jam, a couple Toronto BMX Jams, a couple ASA Triples contests, three Baco Jams and countless local contests around the Midwest like Nowear “Bring Your Own Bike” Series stops to list off a few of the more higher profile events. With that being said, I don’t even want to know how many hours that I have spent spectating these contests with a camera or clipboard in my hands or thousands of dollars of product from sponsors that would be given away to riders and people who showed up. I’ve seen what works, I’ve seen what doesn’t… I’ve gone to events with hundreds of thousands of dollars backing it that sucked and ones with virtually no money that kicked a ton of ass.
There are a lot of factors that come into play that can make or break an event… A little rain, a snow storm, a day that just doesn’t work for most people, the lack of promotion, the lack of a prize that motivates people to make the trip, the format isn’t appealing, it is invite only, the entry fee is too much, there are better riders planning to enter so what’s the point, the people organizing it have no idea what they’re doing or are just plain lazy, the location or setup is shit. There are a lot of things that can play against the success of an event and something that might work in one place might completely flop in another. It’s a roll of the dice every time you even consider doing an event.
Over the years, BMX has seen a lot of events come and go. We have had hugely successful events like the Simple Session, Rebel Jam, Dreamline and Texas Toast that get a ton of industry support because people know that regardless of anything that might happen, it’s going to be a good time and put on properly. Then we have contests like the X-Games and Dew Tour that I will honestly say I dread to attend. After attending my first X-Games, I remember it being such a pain in the ass that I vowed that I would never attend another one on my own dime. I ended up attending a second a few years later and I quickly remembered why it’s hard to get excited about a contest like that and being glad I didn’t have to pay my way to be there.
Looking through the comments today on peoples thoughts about the Nitro World Games, there are a number of concerns coming from riders. A few of the main ones we have seen recurring over and over would be that the format is essentially a glorified Nitro Circus Live show that has trophies and money for the top three riders that throw down the craziest tricks (AKA ratings boosters), which Travis Pastrana made clear that this was the ultimate goal of this contest – to see the craziest riding in the world, on a bunch of box jumps with resi landings. Of course, then there are a ton of riders that think having the resi landings is pretty whack because for some reason taking some of the risk of injury out of the equation is just dumb — Just an FYI, you can get pretty messed up coming down on a resi landing. A third issue is that it doesn’t represent the many different styles of riding that BMX has. Box jumps are just one small part of the riding going on today, whether it’s ramp riding, street, vert, dirt, flatland… Hell even racing.
I personally agree on all of those different aspects — Well, minus the resi thing. As long as they’re not landing in a foam pit or puppies, I could give two shits less about what they land on.
There is something that you have to consider for this type of an event though. Imagine what it was like to get Travis and his production crew to sell this to NBC as a prime time event? They probably had to walk into a board room of executives that make a bunch of money dictating what people get to see on TV and explain this concept to people that really have no real perspective on the sports and probably refer to BMX as “skateboarding” in a general term and couldn’t tell you the name of a single trick whether it’s BMX, skateboarding, freestyle motocross, scooters or roller blades. The likely had to explain how they intend on getting millions of people from around the world to tune in, making a ton of money in advertising revenue, and sell out a big stadium in Salt Lake City, which we would assume will also play into that money that’s to be made to cover exponential costs and still make a profit to make these executives happy. They couldn’t just say “We want to throw an X-Games contest of our own”, because they would have to look at how the X-Games model works or doesn’t work, they would see all the different events like Rally cars that draw in a ton of viewers and the huge music acts they use to draw in even more people who are just there for the music and could give two shits less about Garrett Reynolds winning another gold medal or seeing a never before done trick in freestyle motocross. We’re assuming they built this concept around the Nitro Circus Live show, which would be pretty easy to show gets peoples attentions. They sell out those shows all over the world.
In a perfect world, we are hoping that this event is a huge success, gets a ton of peoples attention and they can expand on it the following year to include more events like BMX street, dirt, vert and flatland to really show what this sport of ours is really about and more importantly, increase the number of people who pick up BMX bikes. That’s in a perfect world. In reality, if they’re trying to stick to the concept they have produced for this first round, it’s highly unlikely we will be seeing Jamie Bestwick winning a gold medal at a Nitro World Games, but we will see some gnarlier ramps that allow for even more progression in the form of next level tricks that can be hucked over a gap.
So, what needs to change as far as how to develop a BMX contest that reaches the masses and is still presented the way core riders would want to see it? In my opinion, it’s going to require a lot of shit that may or may not be feasible or will require quite a bit of frame work to make it all work. I’ve compiled a list of ideas below…
Create a contest series that leads up to one massive event.
One thing a lot of people are talking about is the need for a series of qualifiers all around the country and world to get to these larger contests like X-Games and Dew Tour, to give all riders an equal shot at riding in these big events similar to how the CFB contests back in the day were for qualifying to get to the X-Games. Currently, one of the few contest series we have that gives AM’s a chance to qualify to ride in a larger scale final contest is the Monster Recon Tour, which holds stops all around the country and these AM’s are qualified to ride the final at the end of the tour. Great concept, but it only applies to the Recon Tour. The Dew Tour used to do its Free Flow Tour which also gave the opportunity to up and comers to prove their worth which did open doors for a few guys like Mike Spinner, who got his pro shot because of that. We’ve seen the Dew Tour scale back a fair amount over the past few years and utilize the model X-Games have done by turning it into more of a festival than just a large scale competition to draw in more people beyond action sports enthusiasts.
Create a governing body for freestyle BMX similar to the ABA and NBL which is now USA BMX
How do we do this? That’s the tricky part. First off, in my opinion, we would need to get these larger contests to even agree to take on these “unheard of” riders from the smaller local contests and let them ride a mainstream event like the X-Games. Second, we need something that a lot of people have talked about over the years and ultimately never made much progress – a governing body in the industry to would be in charge of dictating the terms between these large events and the BMX riders who ride these contests. There are a number of issues that come to mind right off the bat…
– How do we form this?
– What does it include?
– Who would be making the decisions?
– Does it only cover contests or does it cover BMX as a whole?
– What does membership look like?
– What are the perks of membership?
– How do we sanction contests?
– What would the constant style of judging be?
– How do riders qualify or become a part of this?
– Who has the time and money to actually take on a project like this?
– What kind of terms do we require for events?
– How do we get riders to side with this group and not just agree to ride a large scale contest when a big pay check is up for grabs if they just accept the invite and not go through this governing body?
There’s a lot of questions that come to mind pretty quickly when considering forming some sort of industry standard governing body when it comes to the competitive side of freestyle BMX that would take quite a bit to really nail down, since one person might not agree with the next as to the best ways to go about this.
BMX Racing has had this figured out for years, but it’s hard to apply it to the freestyle side of things because rules and freestyle don’t exactly go hand in hand. Plus, the majority of riders could care less about entering contests and would rather just ride for fun, film edits and hang out… Which is fine… So it would more or less be about all the contest guys that are competing to make money or just to be competitive. Which leads to a few more questions…
– How do we ensure these riders are getting fair compensation for showing up to these multi-million dollar events broadcasted around the world?
– How do we look professional enough to get more of our own events televised or big dollar endorsements and advertising deals to make it more appealing to support season long events leading up to a “championship” event like golf for instance, which is also an individual based sport not team sport?
The Street League has a decent model going, but from my understanding it’s an invite only style event and it appears that, for the most part, it’s the same guys that are featured in the contests every time. We’re not sure how that format is all working out, but when $100,000 is up for grabs for 1st place at just one of the stops, it’s easy to see why they can motivate skaters to want to work towards getting into something like that going. I watch these contests when I see them on TV and I find them interesting because there are a good number of bails, but at the same time there are some insane tricks going down that make it have its moments that most people probably don’t comprehend. It’s also pretty crazy to see who wins based off their system for scoring. It’s almost more of a tactical way of approaching the contest over just hucking yourself to do the biggest trick once, you have to know how to span yourself out and be consistent from the first event to the final to rack up enough points, versus just one powerful run.
What could these larger events do to improve viewing for non-endemic viewers
What do I think needs to change for these major contests? One of the biggest things that comes to mind is that things are being strung out too long. The X-Games is a massive event that is televised for 3 or 4 days with hours of live coverage for all of the different events from BMX to freestyle motocross, skateboarding, rally cars and whatever else is hot at the moment. That live coverage is great and everything, but it seriously kills the excitement. When people hear I’ve been to an X-Games, they’re usually pretty surprised when I say I don’t enjoy going. That’s because they don’t see the production side of things. When it’s on TV, they are pretty good at keeping the “action” going, but I’d be willing to bet 50% of the footage they show isn’t even live riding, it’s replays and standby time between runs and scores. Add in all of the commercial breaks, these events drag on a lot longer than they need to. That’s why when you look at the stands for contests like BMX street… It’s not a full house because it moves to slow for people that don’t ride BMX. It’s small bursts of excitement and a lot of waiting around time. The general public want constant go, go, go. They don’t care about the scores or anything. They just want to see some cool tricks or some crazy crashes. The jam format definitely helps keep things moving, but even then the live feed only shows the top few guys regardless if their run was half as cool as the guy in 6th place that doesn’t have the big following as some of the other more focal guys. I can tell you right now I’d rather watch a recap of all the best runs packed into 30 minutes over a live feed of the contest strung out over 2 hours. Which is most likely why I don’t find it as exciting to actually be at a contest like the X-Games.
A good example of event coverage
Red Bull do a really decent job with their Signature Series events that appear on TV. For example, they turn Dreamline that is usually a two day event into a one or two hour special that features the highlights and some more in-depth stories behind the event and a few of the riders. Sure, these events are not nearly as large scale and intricate as the X-Games or Dew Tour, but it’s the same concept. Take some of the top riders in the world, give them a premiere course to ride and wave some money in front of them to motivate them to throw down some of their best riding and boom, you have something people want to watch.
The Nitro World Games concept
Will the condensed version of the Nitro World Games do this? Well, if they’re expecting to fit all of these events into a 3-hour slot on prime time TV, then we can only imagine they won’t be broadcasting this live or they will have a really crazy system to run multiple events at the same time, bouncing back and forth to keep the action moving constantly with limited down time to ensure they can fit it all into this block. I’ve been to BMX contests that could be fired out in 3 hours that ended up being 9 hours long and it gets pretty painful by the end. So, for them to be running multiple contests for BMX, freestyle motocross, skateboarding, scooters, inline and, from what it sounds like, a few other events… It’s going to be pretty hectic if it’s live.
Would ratings be higher if the X-Games had a smaller time slot that filled into one or two days versus three days with hours on top of hours of live coverage with a fair amount of filler and commercial time? I honestly have no idea. I’ve never worked in the TV business, but I know ratings control the advertising revenue. So maybe three days of coverage dragged out is generating more revenue than if they fired out a condensed highlight reel that might get a larger number of viewers based on the level of excitement. Once again, this is just from my perspective that the whole live aspect kind of kills the excitement in my opinion.
Eliminate “Invite Only” and give the chance to mix things up.
On to the next question… Is invite only really the way to go? Every year we can fairly easily predict who will be invited to the X-Games and Dew Tour with a few surprises here and there, but it’s usually a cast of familiar faces. Once that’s announced, there’s usually a good amount of bickering about “I can’t believe this rider or that rider didn’t get an invite!” Once again, a number of questions come to mind pretty quickyl…
-Would it be hard to organize a few smaller sanctioned contests ran as qualifiers or a points based leader board leading up to these bigger events for who would be invited to the X-Games?
-Could these smaller events be televised in a condensed format that could gain a following from viewers throughout the year who would follow the points standings and see how these riders got to the finals?
-Would it raise endorsement and advertising deals to increase prize money which would undoubtably gain the interest of more viewers and probably draw in more riders to the sport or motivate more talented riders who don’t care for competitions to compete?
It’s all likely. More contests with multiple events are needed than just the independent contest that is once a year and that’s it. Riders have bad days and good days. Maybe somebody that ended up in last place could take first on a different setup or a different day? What would the X-Games rider line up look like if it was based off 5 or 10 events leading up to it? Would it still be the same riders that are generally always voted in?
Is Mega Ramp really that great?
Do we really need Mega Ramps to get peoples attention these days? All of these large scale events feature a mega ramp that towers over everything and only a select few riders are willing to roll in and send themselves flying into the sky. Apparently it’s great for ratings because more and more emphasis gets put on it. Quite frankly, watching one of these events is scary and really less exciting than it’s made out to be. A slight breeze can ruin everything and send a rider flailing to a few months of surgeries, casts and rehabilitation. For what? Prize money? Fame? A medal? Sweet. I can tell you the main things I remember seeing on these ramps are the crashes like the skater Jake Brown fall from the sky that made his shoes blast off on impact, or Chad Kagy wrecking incredibly hard. Sure, there’s been some crazy and progressive tricks done, but realistically we will never see a mega ramp being an every day thing that’s seen at skateparks. There are so few half pipes these days mostly because people are scared to ride them because they’re big, scary and the risk is too high. Why aren’t we focusing in on all of the incredible riding that goes down on every day ramps? Realistic things kids can see on TV and then see a similar ramp at their local skatepark and realize they could potentially do that same trick?
Bring together some of the big notable contests and use them as these series events for the year
Finally, what would it take to get more events like Texas Toast, the Vans Rebel Jam or Van Doren Invitational and Simple Session to exist and maybe become tied together some how? Mark Losey already did it with BMX Comps, tallying every riders scores from every event and ranked them because a lot of the same riders attend these contests already. The formats are different, but what if some how they were all tied together and not just a “One off” weekend and that each one is a step toward a bigger event for the year? We already know that each of these contests are hugely successful in their own ways and they draw in a crowd because it’s exciting and unique. We have plenty of people who know how to run events, we have plenty of brands that want to find a way to grow BMX and support what’s keeping riders stoked on bikes, we have enough to show TV producers and potential non-endemic sponsors and advertisers that people will watch if they know they’re in for some entertainment. We just need to find a way to say hey, we don’t need over produced events with ridiculous events that will get peoples attention for five seconds because they hope to see something crazy. In my opinion, we just need a way to show the exciting part of the core BMX scene to people in the right way. Why can’t we show BMX the way it’s meant to be seen and have it reach mass amounts of people properly?
The Flip Side
For every one rider that would be stoked to see BMX and contests become more appealing, there will be at least 5 guys that could give two shits less about contests or seeing BMX gain popularity and would much rather see it be a core underground sport that isn’t filled with egos, people in it just to make money and riders that are only focused on having fun, not chasing these crazy “circus” tricks. They love that independent, free feeling the sport gives them that some how makes them feel like they’re apart of something sacred and against the norm. Which is fine, too. But it’s safe to say without the competition side of things changing and growing to draw more riders and money in, once your knees go to shit and real life takes over, BMX won’t be able to sustain on the weekend warriors and core anti-commericalized style that some consider “real BMX”. It doesn’t have to be some sort of shitty commercialized thing either. If we take the reigns and find a way to take the decisions out of the hands of people who don’t know the difference between BMX and skateboarding and make them ourselves… We can still grow BMX, throw some killer events that will get the attention of the general public and preserve what BMX is.
So… That’s my rant and perspective. I’m sure I’ve missed out a lot and probably just asked a bunch of questions without really solving anything. Maybe I’m crazy and have this all wrong… But it’s there for you. Take it as you will. Let us know what you think in the comments. Talk with your friends about it… Maybe somebody will figure this one out.