The announcement Tuesday by ESPN that the X Games will expand from two major events in the United States to six global events staged annually underscores how deeply action sports have penetrated mainstream youth culture.
As part of the "Global X" initiative, expansion will occur in 2013, with Los Angeles and Aspen, Colo., remaining as venues for summer and winter competitions, respectively. Tignes, France, will be a second Winter X Games location, and the remaining venues will be determined through a competitive bidding process that began Tuesday. (Host cities will be announced sometime next year.)
Scott Guglielmino, ESPN's senior vice president in charge of programming, called this the biggest announcement regarding the X Games since ESPN announced the event's debut in 1995. He added that each of the six events will showcase local culture and "have its own kind of flare."
Travis Pastrana, an 11-time X Games gold medalist and arguably the world's most popular action sports athlete, said the expansion reflected the booming growth and mainstream acceptance of action sports.
"It used to be that schoolteachers and parents and other people with a big influence on kids were saying there's no future in it," said Pastrana, a freestyle motocross legend and rally racing star. "You found, really, that the true passion in action sports comes from that, but what's awesome is that it's now accepted more socially.
"It's giving kids the opportunity to really chase their dreams and parents the opportunity to see that these are legitimate sports with real money [involved]. And at the same time it's still core and fun. I'm super pumped about the expansion."
X Games competitions have been held abroad in recent years but as lower-profile events. Under the Global X plan all six events will be similar in size and scope, and a website will be created to devote year-round coverage to all things related to the events.
Unlike the U.S. Dew Tour, a summer and winter action sports series run by NBC, each Global X event will be stand-alone, with no points or standings determining a series winner. Each, Guglielmino said, will be regarded as a major, like the PGA Tour's four majors.
The bidding process will begin next year and the most likely scenario is that there will be four summer and two winter Global X events, but it's possible that there will be three summer and three winter competitions.
Core sports will remain the same at each venue. For example, the gargantuan mega-ramp, used for immensely popular big-air skateboarding and BMX competitions, will be featured at each summer venue.
But it's also possible, according to X Games creator Ron Semiao, that sports will be added at specific venues where certain sports are important to a specific area's culture. For example, if Australia were to land an X Games, surfing might be added as a discipline for that event.
Semiao does not believe the expansion, which will include 130 hours of live programming for the six events, is a gamble. Rather, he said, the timing is perfect because action sports have worked their way into the mainstream youth culture to the point where they're as accepted, if not more so, than traditional sports.
"You now have a situation where if you go into a teen's garage, you will see a football and a basketball and a baseball and a snowboard and a dirt bike, a BMX bike and a skateboard along with a soccer ball," Semiao said. "They are all part of sports and have worked their way into the generally accepted sports culture, particularly with youth."
The timing of the expansion comes shortly after it was announced that freeskiing halfpipe competitions -- staple X Games events for men and women -- will debut at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
Freeskiing star Sarah Burke acknowledged that her already busy schedule will become more hectic, but said she'd work the X Games competitions into her itinerary. "The X Games has always been the main one; the dream that everyone strives to be part of," she said. "I know it's going to be the top event on everyone's schedule and they'll make room for it. And I think everyone's really excited to see how it goes."
-- Travis Pastrana image (top) courtesy of Dom Cooley/Shazamm/ESPN Images. Sarah Burke image courtesy of C. Van Hanja / ESPN Images
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