Tweak some little things, but leave the rest
COPPER MOUNTAIN – If one thing is clear from this week’s Winter Gravity Games, it’s that this event has the potential to be every bit as big as its owner, the Outdoor Life Network (OLN), wants it to be.Although the games had been held once before, in 2000, NBC owned them then. This time it was OLN at the helm, which basically made it a first-time deal – despite the overlapping name.There is no doubt OLN is on the right track to making its new property the success network executives believed it would be when they decided to buy the Gravity Games franchise last year. In many ways, in fact, it already is.Although this week’s competitor fields were somewhat unreliable – you never knew whether all the athletes on your start list would indeed compete – the big names took part, for the most part. This was especially true in the superpipe contests – the biggest draw in winter action sports.
Yet while that was a victory in itself, it would have had an even greater impact on the overall impression left by these games – which ended Sunday – if more people had been able to see the world’s top riders in action. The low visibility was due in part to two things: First, the number of fans that came out to watch was a fraction of that which organizers estimated it would be (they thought they’d get up to 10,000 per day); and second, if you didn’t have a Copper lift ticket, you had to hike 10-15 minutes up the mountain to the base of the pipe.It would have helped if the resort had built a new pipe at its base for this week’s events. And the riders knew it.”They need to move it down,” said Andy Finch, who took sixth in Sunday’s men’s snowboard pipe event. Finch said he thought the pitch coming into the Center Village base area would work. “This is the way this sport is going, because we learned quickly less spectators are willing to come and find the sport,” he said.The Winter X Games, which are held at Buttermilk in Aspen, have led the way in this regard. All of their venues end at the base area, including the pipe, the slopestyle course, the skier- and boardercross course, the moto-X jumps and the snowmobile snocross course.
ESPN’s lure aside, you can bet that’s why crowds in the tens of thousands showed up to watch in January, despite the event being twice as far from Denver as this week’s Gravity Games at Copper.It also would have helped if the schedule of events had been different this week. There’s no way the only two events to finish at the base, the skiercross and boardercross, should be held on Thursday and Friday – when crowds are, by nature, lowest.One of the reasons Copper provides such an attractive host site is its proximity to the Front Range. And weekends are the days when Front Rangers head to the High Country; thus, it would help if the Gravity Games’ most visible events were held on the weekend. The perfect combination here would be a pipe contest at the base on the weekend.As for money, OLN obviously realizes that cash wins. This week’s prize purses were the same as the X Games in most cases, with six of the 11 medal events paying out $20,000 to the winner. The overall purse was $374,500. Even if you’re not yet an established event, that brings the names. In fact, men’s skiercross winner and past X Games gold medalist Casey Puckett put it bluntly, saying he wouldn’t have come to Copper if the winner’s purse wasn’t so large.
The three-week window between the competitions this week and the OLN broadcast hurts the network’s purpose, which is to get people to watch its show. Still, because OLN is trying to produce a different sort of coverage (“action-mentary”) from everyday sports TV, the window is necessary for editing purposes. It will be interesting to see how intriguing this approach is to viewers.Like the X Games have made their money off a simple identity framed around a catchy letter, the Gravity Games have a word of their own to build around. “Gravity” grabs you.And despite the word’s pull, if OLN maintains its momentum and foundation from this week’s games – and tweaks some of the little things – this event is probably headed up.Devon O’Neil can be contacted at (970) 668-3998, ext. 231, or firstname.lastname@example.org.