Sports

X Games to gear up and then say goodbye to L.A.

X GamesAustin (Chicago, Illinois)ESPNAEGStaples CenterUniversity of Texas at Austin

In 2003, the X Games came to Los Angeles in what was supposed to be a two- or three-year experiment. Before long, they turned into a fruitful, highly anticipated event that has encapsulated action sports in the Southland for 11 years.

This year's X Games, which open Thursday and run through Sunday, are expected to attract large crowds to Staples Center, L.A. Live and the Irwindale Event Center.

But of late, the relationship between L.A. and the X Games has grown stale, with both parties breaking things off in what amounts to "I think we should see other people."

Last week, ESPN, which owns the event, announced that the 2014 X Games would move to Austin, Texas, after AEG and ESPN made a joint decision to end the current run in Los Angeles.

"Quite frankly, it has gotten very big and they were looking to change the format," said Lee Zeidman, AEG senior vice president of Staples Center and L.A. Live, which will host the vast majority of this year's events. "It made sense for them to leave after this year based on the economics, the growth potential and the fact that they have the opportunity to try something new."

ESPN did not make an executive available to answer questions for this story. In a statement, ESPN said, "We've had a great relationship with AEG, and they've been key partners in helping grow the X Games over the last 11 years. As we move the event to Austin, we are focused on creating a long and successful relationship with our new partners at Circuit of the Americas."

Austin won the X Games from ESPN after an Olympic-style bidding process that narrowed a field of more than 15 cities to finalists Austin, Detroit, Chicago and Charlotte, N.C. AEG did not make a bid on behalf of L.A.

Austin, the capital of Texas, will host the 2014-2017 X Games at Circuit of the Americas, a 3.5-mile racing and motor sports circuit co-founded by Bobby Epstein.

"We hope it redefines the sports and entertainment experience in terms of creating a festival-type complex," Epstein said. "It's a young, dynamic city and we're the live music capital of the world. We also have an offbeat culture, which might be a good comparison to the X Games."

Epstein said the new X Games could feature headliner concerts and would shift to May, after the spring semester at the University of Texas, which has the fifth biggest enrollment in the country with more than 52,000 students, and before the arrival of blistering summer heat.

"We'd love to duplicate the run that L.A. had," Epstein said. "Hopefully it goes on longer than that if we do a good job and the city responds the way we think it will. I think it could be here quite awhile."

Circuit of the Americas provides something Los Angeles never could: the opportunity for all events to take place at the same venue. Over the years in Los Angeles, most events took place around Staples Center, with some venturing out to StubHub Center and the Irwindale Event Center, host of this year's skateboarding and BMX big air event.

Zeidman said he envisions the event's returning to Los Angeles one day, built around Farmers Field, AEG's proposed NFL stadium, near Staples Center.

"After 11 years here we've kind of run out of real estate in and around downtown," Zeidman said. "But we believe it's going to come back. We're very hopeful that if and when we build Farmers Field we can provide an additional home for ESPN and the X Games to come back here to Los Angeles and be bigger and better."

Danny Way, a San Diego-based skateboarder and five-time X Games gold medalist, was optimistic the event would return to Southern California, which he called "the capital of the industry."

"Change is good, though," Way said. "If it is going to go anywhere, that is a pretty good location. Austin is like a state within a state. It's got a more California feel than the rest of Texas."

andrew.gastelum@latimes.com

Twitter: @andrewgastelum

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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X GamesAustin (Chicago, Illinois)ESPNAEGStaples CenterUniversity of Texas at Austin
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