Who says action sports is a niche fanbase? X Games’ huge growth proves otherwise

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - JULY 22: Brighton Zeuner competes in the Women's Skateboard Park Final during the ESPN X Games at U.S. Bank Stadium on July 22, 2018 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
MINNEAPOLIS, MN - JULY 22: Brighton Zeuner competes in the Women's Skateboard Park Final during the ESPN X Games at U.S. Bank Stadium on July 22, 2018 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images) /

Don’t let anyone tell you that action sports only attract a niche group of fans. According to numbers just released by ESPN, the action sports showcase X Games is growing at a rapid pace thanks to its engaged fanbase.

At FanSided, first and foremost our aim is to celebrate fandom in all its forms. If a group of people is really excited and energized about a particular topic — whether it’s sports, entertainment, pop culture or even soft-drink related — we want to know, and we want to celebrate it.

As we’ve upped our action sports coverage in recent years, catering to an underserved market of passionate fans, we’ve been thrilled to see the sports’ success continue to grow, from skateboarding to BMX to Moto X.

And for that reason, numbers released today by ESPN revealing the X Games’ massive year-over-year growth make our hearts sing.

According to an ESPN release, the most recent iteration of the X Games, held in Minneapolis this July, captured a cross-section of sports and lifestyle fans in more ways than ever before.

The X Games Minneapolis audience across ESPN, ESPN2 and ABC was up +38 percent year-over-year for all telecasts, which is really exciting for the future of the event. After all, TV is where the big money is, even as the media landscape continues to shift.

“To see the numbers and the success, that we were up 38 percent, that was really good to see,” says Tim Reed, Vice President of the X Games.

“When you complement that with the significant consumption across social and digital platforms, it’s a good reminder that there is an audience out there that enjoys action sports and resonates with this lifestyle.”

And it is a lifestyle, truly. Since he was brought on, Reed has focused on building out the X Games experience into more than competitions — though those are, of course, still the showpiece.

Last month in Minneapolis, known for its rich art and skate culture,  sports and lifestyle came together to create an immersive experience for fans — one in which they could interact with the culture behind these sports in everything from art to food to music, with headlining performances by Ice Cube, Kaskade and Zedd wrapping up the days’ events.

The X Games also offers unprecedented access to the athletes like never before — and they, of course, are why we tune in at all.

World of X Games, a weekly TV show on ABC, features athletes and X Games content throughout the year for the four competitions  featuring a variety of X Games and athlete-focused content. The series is home to multiple action sports events, and profiles iconic action sports figures as well as athlete and artist highlights, event previews and recaps around X Games Aspen, Norway, Sydney and Minneapolis.

On Instagram, the X Games page reached more than 1.6MM people, with 8.5MM video views, up +225 percent year-over-year. The feed gave fans behind-the-scenes access to the athletes and instant replays of their insane tricks, making it a must-have complement to the action on TV or in person, where 119,000 people showed up to U.S. Bank Stadium.

This post in particular, featuring 23-year-old skateboarder Nyjah Huston, earned 692.6K interactions and video views:

Needless to say, people really, really like skateboarding.

In recent years, under Reed’s guidance, the X Games have made a push to stay young and, above all, authentic. Do that, and the fans will be attracted naturally.

“From a production and programming perspective, we’re trying to keep in mind the audience we’re trying to serve, trying to be as authentic and legitimate as we can in the space,” Reed says, highlighting recent decisions to bring legendary skateboarder Bob Burnquist on the skateboard broadcast team this year.

BMXer Scotty Cranmer — who was told he wouldn’t walk again after a crash in 2016 and has captivated fans with his resilience, not to mention with his pile of medals — also crushed it on the BMX broadcasts.

Everything is looking up for the X Games as it continues to grow and attract new action sports fans. With the summer events held in July and the winter events in January, it’s not competing against much in the way of television broadcasting.

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But even as other, major sports leagues scramble to adapt to the way young fans consume content on other platforms, the X Games already finds itself ahead of the game.

That will serve it well as it looks to springboard off its success next January in Aspen — and, until then, in its lead-up programming from its first-ever competition in Sydney in October to its “Real” series featuring up-and-coming athletes in all action sports.