CONCORD With 10 black X Games flags flying outside Charlotte Motor Speedway on Tuesday and an 11-time X Games gold medalist racing around the track inside, ESPN executives took in what could be the future site of the action sports event for the next three years.
Speedway officials met with executives from the sports cable giant for a site visit to showcase Charlotte Motor Speedway facilities in an effort to lure the games to Concord.
“It is a great facility,” said Tim Reed, senior director of content strategy at ESPN. “The team here in Charlotte, there’s a lot of great experience in major events throughout the year. That’s a big plus. Obviously all that built-in experience and infrastructure is very, very valuable.”
The speedway’s bid, labeled X Games Charlotte, is one of four host sites up for the event. Detroit, Chicago and Austin, Texas, are also vying for the four-day summer event that will go from 2014-2016. ESPN visited Detroit and Chicago last week, and will travel to Austin on Wednesday night.
The network plans to announce the winning host city by July 1.
ESPN executives met with speedway president Marcus Smith around noon Tuesday and then had lunch before touring the sites in and around the speedway. Around 5 p.m., a half-dozen of the nearly 20 ESPN employees on site took part in the NASCAR Racing Experience with Nationwide Series driver and X Games legend Travis Pastrana.
“I think it’d be crazy for X Games not to come to Charlotte, honestly,” said Pastrana, who races with Concord-based Roush Fenway Racing.
“If you take all these kids and expose them to NASCAR, and you take all these racing fans and you expose them to extreme sports, it’s a win-win for everybody.”
The two NASCAR races and All-Star Race the speedway hosts attracted ESPN executives, as well as the parking and security plans that are already in place.
The centralized location is another plus for the speedway. Where some cities like Chicago and Detroit have proposed plans that put events across the city, Charlotte’s bid would have all the events in one area.
Of course, the X Games have been broadcast from places like farmland in Brazil. But from a production standpoint, one ESPNer said everything in one place is easier.
“It’s definitely a preferable situation for us when you consider all the factors that are involved in setting up the venue,” said Chris Stiepock, vice president of X Games Global. “If we have to set up multiple venues, it’s not only from a staging perspective and building the courses but also from a television standpoint, a whole new production infrastructure.
“But also educating the public on where to go, what sports are where. It’s an extra step that we have to take and more work that we have to do.”
ESPN executives understand infrastructure will mean little if fan support isn’t strong. X Games Charlotte has an active Twitter account and Facebook page, but social media support lags behind cities like Austin and Detroit.
Last week, bid organizers in Detroit hosted a party in the city during the site visit that reportedly attracted nearly 5,000 people.
Reed said the southeast has shown an appetite for youth sports and action sports, though it’s difficult to get the pulse on any one region.
“I think it’s important for us to take a look at that, but at the same time it’s very tough to gauge,” Stiepock said. “So we take a look at the population. We take a look at the demographics. Really, we attract youth and we attract families. We’re pretty sure the four cities have youth and families, but it also helps to have a fan base that’s knowledgeable about these sports.”
Wednesday’s meeting between speedway and ESPN officials will be more business, discussing topics like ticketing and sponsorships.
After two days in Austin, ESPN employees will go back to their headquarters in Bristol, Conn., review information and continue discussions within the company and with the bid cities before making their ultimate decision.
The Charlotte Observer welcomes your comments on news of the day. The more voices engaged in conversation, the better for us all, but do keep it civil. Please refrain from profanity, obscenity, spam, name-calling or attacking others for their views.
Have a news tip? You can send it to a local news editor; email email@example.com to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Charlotte Observer.Read moreRead less