Business & Economy

ESPN's Summer X-Games leave for Austin after this weekend. Should Los Angeles be concerned?

A skateboarder practices Wednesday for the 2013 Summer X Games at L.A. Live, which will be the last to be hosted by Los Angeles.
A skateboarder practices Wednesday for the 2013 Summer X Games at L.A. Live, which will be the last to be hosted by Los Angeles.
Ben Bergman/KPCC

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The Summer X-Games get underway Thursday in downtown Los Angeles. After more than a decade in Southern California, ESPN’s made-for-TV action sports bonanza is leaving after this weekend.

At L.A. Live, skateboarders have been honing their tricks on a series of ramps and railings, preparing to compete this weekend.

But even before these games start, the City of Los Angeles already lost to a smaller — some would say cooler and more youthful – competitor: Austin, Texas.

The city — best known for hosting South by Southwest and being on Kim Jong Un’s target list — will be home to the Summer X-Games for at least the next three years.

“It is young, and it is rapidly growing,” said Chris Stiepock, vice president of the X-Games. “I think one thing you can say is that we will be a little bit of a bigger fish in a little bit of a smaller pond.”

Stiepock says ESPN started looking at moving the games after AEG revealed its plans to build a football stadium next to L.A. Live.

ESPN was concerned that the massive construction project would interfere with the X-Games, so they opened up an Olympic-style bidding process that narrowed a field of 15 cities down to four finalists: Detroit, Chicago, Charlotte and Austin.

Stiepock says L.A. never made a serious effort to keep the games. (AEG executives have said it made sense for the X-Games to leave now, and they’re hopeful the games will return.)

“Ultimately to be competitive they would have had to engage the mayor’s office, the city government, the state of California, the tourism board, etc, etc,” said Stiepock.

Should L.A. have put up more of a fight?

From a purely financial prospective, the answer seems to be: Maybe.

Economist Roy Weinstein, managing director at Micronomics, studied the economic impact of the 2010 X-Games, which he found benefited the city to the tune of about $30 million dollars, with an additional $20 million generated from exposure on ESPN.

“That’s clearly significant, but it’s not as great as the incremental impact of some of these other events like the Emmys or the Grammys or the All-Star game that the NBA played here a couple years ago,” said Weinstein.

The economist recently studied the potential impact of the upcoming 2015 Special Olympics on the L.A. economy. He found that event could generate more than $400 million in economic activity – eight times as much as the X-Games.

He says the X-Games impact is relatively minimal because only about a quarter of those in the stands are from out of town.

“It’s not so much people coming in from across the country to watch the X-Games as it is people from the surrounding area,” said Epstein.

That means less money spent on hotels, and whatever dollars locals do plunk down at or around the X-Games they would probably spend anyway on something else that would contribute to L.A.’s economy.