Seeking a Bigger Piece of Action

Times Staff Writer

The Dew Action Sports Tour will conclude its second season with the PlayStation Pro this weekend in Orlando, Fla.

Despite the absence of several notable athletes, and complaints among others, the season and the tour already are being labeled a success.

Attendance is up over last year and, though TV ratings are down, corporate support has grown to where sponsorships are sold out, according to Wade Martin, general manager of what is commonly referred to as the Dew Tour.

Among new sponsors are Verizon and MasterCard, an indication that companies with no prior involvement with action sports view the NBC-Clear Channel creation as an effective vehicle to reach teens and young adults.

This long-term stability -- sponsors have signed on for two to five years -- has Martin and other executives entertaining thoughts of growth.

It will remain a five-stop series in midsized markets -- currently Louisville, Denver, Portland, San Jose and Orlando -- at least through next year. But new sites are being explored and a winter Dew Tour, with snowboarding as the marquee event, may eventually be launched.

"For the most part we're really happy about where we are right now," Martin said.

Through four events, attendance is at 190,000, a 15% jump over the 170,000 for the same period last year. The five-city total in 2005 was 230,000, a number likely to be outdone come Sunday afternoon.

Ratings on NBC last year to this point averaged .9, with about 1.25 million viewers tuning in to each event. That's down to .76 with nearly 1.1 viewers. But Martin says TV ratings are no longer "the sole barometer of consumption by our fans" and cites increased web traffic and more exposure this year on specialty networks such as MTV and Fuel TV.

The Dew Tour features five disciplines within three sports: skateboard park and vert, BMX park and vert, and freestyle motocross.

Athletes compete for four days at each event, earning points toward the season-ending championship. The overall purse is $2.5 million, plus a $1-million bonus pool to be distributed among the top 10 finishers in each discipline.

Athletes have embraced the Dew Tour for financial reasons, but also because it gives fans, who are used to one-off events such as the X Games, an actual series to follow.

Many veterans missed out this year because of injury -- most notably, BMX rider Dave Mirra, skateboarder Pierre Luc-Gagnon and freestyle motocross riders Jeremy Stenberg and Kenny Bartram. But this has helped younger pros establish themselves.

The most serious complaint was lodged by vert skateboarders unhappy with the change from a three-run to a two-run format. They're judged on their best routine and claim they need three runs to find their rhythm.

The format was changed to quicken the competition for the sake of fans, and to reward consistency among the athletes.

But "everyone is not digging the change," said Bob Burnquist, a legendary figure in skateboarding circles. "The last thing we want to do is boycott, but if they don't change it back for the first stop next year, nobody will show up."

Ryan Sheckler, last year's winner in the skateboard park discipline, complained that the outdoor venues were not fan friendly and that most skateboarders would rather perform indoors.

"Skateboarding has the biggest following outside of motocross and for them to keep putting us outside, where people can't sit down because there's not enough room" is wrong, Sheckler said.

But Sheckler and Burnquist added that Martin takes athletes' concerns seriously and acknowledged that these are mere growing pains.

"Everything else is amazing," said Sheckler, 16, who won $162,000 on the tour last year and may match that this year. "They do a really good job and they really listen to us."

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