How the X Games – the world’s leading extreme sports event – uses social media to engage with its youth audience and share the awe-inspiring feats of its athletes
Since launching in 1995, the X Games have grown to become the largest and most prestigious extreme sports event on the planet. Held each year in both summer and winter, the games quickly became the epicentre for extreme sports such as skateboarding, BMX, snowboarding and freestyle skiing, and helped bring alterative athletes including Tony Hawk, Shaun White and Dave Mirra into the mainstream.
But while the annual events in Austin, Texas, and Aspen, Colorado, attract hundreds of thousands of spectators and even more TV viewers thanks to parent company ESPN and its sister channel ABC, the X Games are also making a huge impact on social media. And with little wonder. After all, the event’s key demographic is predominantly made up of social-savvy millennials, while the adrenaline-pumping exploits of extreme sports athletes are ripe for ‘liking’ and sharing on platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, Vine and YouTube.
X Games organisers have therefore made social media an integral part of their engagement strategy, using a variety of platforms to help create awareness of the event, entertain and engage its audience and encourage active participation by fans.
“We constantly want to celebrate action sports and youth culture by highlighting the athletes and entertainers that are leading the progression,” explains Jason Krutzsch, senior manager of content strategy for the X Games.
Action sports are a visual industry – photography and video are the drivers of progression in this space
“Action sports is a global community, so social media is instrumental in connecting our fan base with our brand. Social lets us tell our story and also lets our fans share their experience around the moments of our events, whether you are on-site in Aspen or enjoying the coverage on TV in Oslo.”
And with over 130 million video views on YouTube and more than 7.4 million followers across Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, it’s clear that there is a huge appetite for the story that the X Games is telling. These platforms also allow organisers to keep their fans engaged between each of their live events.
“Social is our daily way to interact with the global action sports community,” says Krutzsch. “Our strategy is built around our live events, weekly World of X Games show on ABC here in the United States and the athletes that are continuing to push the progression in their respective sports. Everything we do is valuable content for our fans, from the building of our courses to shooting a segment for an upcoming show. We want our fans along for the ride.”
But as well as engaging fans, social media also allows the X Games to inform its audience in a way they are comfortable and familiar with.
“Engagement is always key, as well as letting fans know the information they want,” says Krutzsch. “Things like how to buy tickets, who is performing and where can I tune in. Social is a great vehicle to share content but it is also a key driver of how we let our fans know what is going on around the brand.”
The most popular X Games posts, however, remain those that highlight the awe-inspiring performances of its athletes. So when Shaun White ‘shreds’ (performs well) on the halfpipe course in Aspen, the photos and videos are spread all over social media.
“Action sports are a visual industry,” says Krutzsch. “Photography and video are the drivers of progression in this space. Platforms like Instagram, Vine, Snapchat and Facebook video are the keys to helping us tell our story.”
In the same way its athletes regularly ‘push the envelope’ in their events, the X Games social media team is also quick to innovate and adopt new platforms. At this year’s events in Aspen and Austin, for instance, they teamed up with Snapchat to tell a live, behind-the-scenes story during the games.
“It was really cool to see the overwhelming positive response from our athletes and our fans from around the globe,” says Krutzsch. “The live stories created a first-person look at the X Games from fans, athletes, musicians and influencers on-site.”
And according to Krutzsch, innovating in this way will be integral to the X Games as it continues to connect people around the world through action sports, music and youth culture.
“We are going to stay aggressive with identifying the best platforms to share our content,” he says. “The emerging platforms are continuing to give our fans a more personal look at the making of our events, TV shows and everything that goes on behind the scenes."
"Making sure we tell a good story, have the right resources to react in real time and have fun along the way will be the keys to our success moving forward. Our goal is to keep creating shareable moments that people want to be a part of.”