July 30, 1995

Taking It To Extremes

Knight-Ridder
 

Skysurfers spiraled through the air at 10,000 feet; bungee jumpers rode kayaks, bicycles and other contraptions off the 160-foot platform above Waterplace Park; BMX bikers somersaulted over 6-foot mounds of dirt; and street lugers careened down College Hill.

But was ESPN’s multimillion dollar Extreme Games showcase a steppingstone to a new dimension in sports or an exercise in futility?

Sociologist Allen Sack is among those who are betting that extreme sports - boosted by ‘90s marketing, technology and the media - will gain popularity.

“The role of media has changed the extreme sports,” said Sack, a professor and manager of the sports industries program at the University of New Haven in Connecticut. “The Extreme Games are putting these sports in a context.”

Sack sees sports such as skysurfing as “the ultimate pairing of media and sport. The actual score is based on a combination of what the person does when they jump out of the plane and how well the other jumper has photographed it.”

The marketing world has worked hand-in-hand with the media to promote extreme sports with ever-growing technology pushing them along. Walter Brown hoped to capitalize on those possibilities when he started an extreme-and-adventure sports company in San Diego 15 months ago.

“I noticed many companies using extreme sports to market almost everything,” said Brown, of Outlook International. “You could sell something like insurance by listing all of the reasons why you need it. But if you show a guy going off a cliff in a kayak, suddenly it becomes eye-catching. We’re using fewer words and more visual. Generation X obviously likes it, and Baby Boomers are not aging as quickly these days, so it appeals to them as well.”

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