Action sports: Dew Tour looks to create buzz in Utah
There will be backflips and tailwhips, lipslides and nosegrinds, Supermen and Lazy Boys, 360s, 720s, 900s and 1080s. But the greatest trick will rest with event organizers at this week's AST Dew Tour stop in Salt Lake City.
Forget the skateboarders, BMX riders and freestyle motocross daredevils, some of them like Shaun White and Ryan Sheckler the biggest names in their sports, who will compete for four days starting Thursday.
They're simply responsible for the show, which will be broadcast nationally by NBC. The task facing organizers, by comparison, is to sell a major-league action sports event to a population that at first glance seems an unlikely match.
After all, Utah is the ultimate Code Red state - no, we're not talking Mountain Dew products - giving 71 percent of its vote to President Bush in 2004. That didn't deter organizers, though, from adding Salt Lake to the five-city lineup for this year's tour.
"We really got the sense that Salt Lake understands how to take on big events and make them bigger," Dew Tour president Wade Martin said, adding, "It's hard to have any expectations in a first year, but we believe there's a strong fan base for action sports."
The bar certainly is set high for the event, which will take over EnergySolutions Arena and a neighboring parking lot. At this year's first three stops - in Baltimore, Cleveland and Portland, Ore. - four-day attendance averaged more than 53,000.
It took nearly two years to bring the Dew Tour to Salt Lake, with the Utah Sports Commission, Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. and Ogio International Inc., a Bluffdale-based gear bag manufacturer, championing the cause.
Even so, there are obstacles to overcome. There's no guarantee participation numbers in snowboarding, motocross and a host of other activities will guarantee spectator turnout. There's also the Sunday factor to consider.
While the Jazz opt not to play Sunday home games, a nod to the area's LDS Church leanings, the Dew Tour will serve up White, Bob Burnquist and Bucky Lasek in the skateboard vert finals, as well as the BMX park finals with Ryan Nyquist and Dave Mirra.
"It's definitely something we looked at and discussed throughout the process," Martin said. "I think perhaps it impacts Sunday attendance, but in the overall picture, it was worth it."
Utah Sports Commission president Jeff Robbins notes that the city turned out on Sundays during the 2002 Olympics and hopes the Dew Tour will receive similar support.
"It's a great image-building opportunity nationally and internationally," Robbins said.
What started with 25 cities in contention ended with Salt Lake as one of three new cities added to the tour for 2007.
"They're not easy to get,'' Robbins said of the events, "so once you get them, you're certainly hopeful the community embraces them and you have enough success that they want to come back."
If you listen to the athletes, they're happy to be anywhere but Southern California, where ESPN's X Games have returned five years running. There's a novelty in coming to Utah that's appealing to a crowd always searching for the next groundbreaking trick.
The turnout traditionally has been good in Salt Lake, Mike Mason (freestyle motocross) and Kevin Robinson (BMX) said this month, whether for arenacross racing or Tony Hawk's traveling Boom Boom HuckJam tour.
"I'm a big fan of bringing our events to cities that aren't saturated with the things that we do," said Robinson, who landed the first double flair at the 2006 X Games.
The Dew Tour prices tickets at $5 for kids and $15 for adults in encouraging families to come out. There's an educational benefit for the adults in that. As Robinson said, "A lot of the kids want to do what we're doing and the parents just have no idea."
One of the biggest backers of action sports also calls the area home. Not only does Ogio make bags for everything from skateboarding to motocross, but the company also has a training facility for its athletes with skate and BMX park courses and a foam pit.
"For us, it's our backyard, and Utah's a great action sports community,'' said Andy Bell, Ogio's vice president of promotions.
The hope is the Dew Tour will sign on for another two years. For his part, Bell predicted crowds would be on par with other cities and noted that Sunday attendance typically is a third to half of the 20,000-plus who turn out Saturdays.
Age more than a number
What worked most in Utah's favor was simple demographics. It has by far the youngest population of any state in the country, with a median age of 28.3, according to the Census Bureau. (Texas is No. 2 at 33.1.)
That puts half the state in the age group most likely to be fans of Sheckler, the 17-year-old skateboarding wunderkind with a new reality show on MTV.
Judging from the number of skateboarders and BMX riders zigzagging around the concrete bowl at Lone Peak Park in Sandy one day last week, the Dew Tour will be able to draw from that base of kids and young adults.
"Guarantee it's going to do good out here,'' said Mike Smith, 23, of Sandy. "Skateboarding is huge in Utah. It's weird. In Salt Lake City and Cedar City and Orem and Provo, it's bigger than it is in Las Vegas and Phoenix, [everywhere] other than California.
"I think it's because the snowboarding and skiing might have something to do with it. I don't know. We've also got tons of skateparks, too. . . . I love it. We need more events like that" in Utah.
One person who will be attending is Huntsman, the Republican governor who proves action sports fans defy groupings into red states and blue states.
A regular motocross rider, Huntsman has been unable to race since undergoing shoulder surgery in July.
Huntsman will take part in a Dew Tour news conference Tuesday and stop by the event Saturday.
Of course, nobody could sum up the tour coming to Utah quite like Mason, who lives in Carson City, Nev., and calls this his home event.
"Salt Lake City seems kind of like an active town, always into something, you know?'' Mason said, adding, "I think there's going to be nothing but positive vibes from the Dew Tour coming here."
What's the difference between ESPN's X Games and the Dew Tour?
As freestyle motocross rider Kenny Bartram puts it, the X Games is built for the best TV show while the Dew Tour is built for the best competition.
The tour consists of five stops (one a month) similar to what golfers have on the PGA Tour. There are winners at each event, as well as a points champion that is crowned at the end of each season.
"The athletes are kind of like a family almost because we see each other once a month for five months and we all just kind of bond over each stop, hanging out," said Mike Mason, who ranks third in freestyle motocross after three events.
"The X Games, I think it's such a high pressure event that every athlete kind of sticks to his or her own thing. You don't really get to hang out much."
The Dew Tour also has a development arm, the Free Flow Tour, which helped give rise to BMX rider Mike Spinner. The 19-year-old has since become the first rider to land a 720 tailwhip in competition as well as a 1080.
"That's something the Dew Tour has that X Games doesn't," said Andy Bell, Ogio's vice president of promotions. "They're building from within, building from the core."
Through three events, Shaun White (skateboard vert) is the only three-time winner. The other points leaders are Ryan Sheckler (skateboard park), Daniel Dhers (BMX park), Jamie Bestwick (BMX vert), Ryan Nyquist (BMX dirt) and Nate Adams (freestyle motocross).
"Having the point system's awesome because it gives you something to strive for and gives you a reason to want to hit all the contests," BMX rider Kevin Robinson said. "And having five stops, you can have one bad event and still make up for it at the next event."
The Dew Tour stop in Salt Lake also will feature a BMX supercross event, which will debut at the Beijing Olympics.
- Ross Siler
TV: USA, 10-11 p.m.
Opens to public at 2 p.m.
BMX dirt prelims 3 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Skateboard vert prelims 3:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.
Skateboard park prelims 6:30 p.m. to 9 p.m.
BMX vert prelims 7:30 p.m. to 9 p.m.
Freestyle motocross prelims 7:30 p.m. to 10 p.m.
TV: USA, 10-11 p.m.
Opens to public at 2 p.m.
BMX vert finals 4 p.m. to 5 p.m.
BMX dirt finals 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Concert with Chevelle 9 p.m. to 11 p.m.
TV: NBC, Noon to 1:30 p.m.
Opens to public at 11 a.m.
Freeestyle motocross finals 11:45 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.
BMX park prelims 2:30 p.m. to 5 p.m.
BMX supercross finals 5 p.m. to 5:45 p.m.
Skateboard park finals 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.
TV: NBC, 1-4 p.m.
Opens to public at noon
BMX park finals 12:45 p.m. to 1:45 p.m.
Skateboard vert finals 2:45 p.m. to 4 p.m.
2007 Dew Action Sports Tour schedule
* June 21-24: Panasonic Open, Baltimore, Md.
* July 19-22: Right Guard Open, Cleveland, Ohio
* August 16-19: Vans Invitational, Portland, Ore.
* Thu-Sun: Toyota Challenge, Salt Lake City
* October 18-21: Playstation Pro, Orlando, Fla.