Recent deaths draw attention to extreme sports

Athletes are pushing themselves further to claim the spotlight and the big payouts that come with it. But new concerns are being raised about the risks.

By Bruce Kennedy Feb 6, 2013 9:29AM
Image: Snowboard (Photodisc Blue/Getty Images)Millions watched last month as extreme snowmobiler Caleb Moore was fatally injured during ESPN's Winter X Games in Colorado. He and his brother, a fellow snowmobiler, were at the top of their sport but had only just started to reap the benefits of their celebrity.

"We were paying the bills, but we weren't making money," the 25-year-old recently told The New York Times. “Now we’re starting to live more comfortably." Moore was sponsored at the games by a vehicle company and an energy drink.

Moore's death, the death of freestyle skier Sarah Burke last year and the injuries of a number of their fellow competitors have drawn new attention to so-called extreme sports -- which include skateboarding, BMX bike racing, snowboarding, skiing and snowmobiling. 

Conceived less than two decades ago as fringe sporting events, the Winter and Summer X games have developed into multi-million dollar extravaganzas. 

Both the winter and summer versions attract hundreds of thousands of in-person fans, with millions more watching on television. And that audience is made up mostly of young, active consumers.

"I think it’s an audience that’s gaining in terms of purchase power," Eric Johnson, executive vice president of multimedia sales at ESPN, told Media Life Magazine several years ago. 

Advertisers like Ford (F), the U.S. Navy, Sony (SNE) and BFGoodrich are also becoming involved in extreme sporting events, joining more youth-oriented brands like Red Bull.

And with the big advertisers come hefty paydays and endorsements for some top extreme sports competitors. Olympic champion Shaun White, for example, was worth an estimated $20 million in 2012, according to Forbes.

So it shouldn't be a surprise if athletes in these high-risk sports try to push themselves a bit further with each stunt as they look for the bragging rights, recognition and big payouts associated with the most creative and extreme competitors.

But for every Shaun White or Tony Hawk -- the professional skateboarder who has parlayed his career into a marketing and video game empire worth an estimated $120 million -- there are also the casualties. 

The reasoning behind extreme sports, John Smallwood wrote the other day in, "is to push things as far as possible and then try to take them farther. Part of their massive appeal is that these sports constantly walk on the thin edge between brilliance and disaster."



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