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The Meteoric Rise of Extreme Sport

Tuesday, March 4th, 2014


As soon as the 2014 Sochi Olympic Winter Games drew to a close and the hangovers started to fade, we start to look towards the next gathering of these outstanding athletes.

Lets not beat about the bush – there were many shortfalls at the Sochi Games for a world class event. Along with the lightning fast, slightly overweight computer-screen critics pointing out the shortfalls over and above any of the successes, there were also the frantically shared and well documented gaffs with accommodation and venue equipment, course inconsistencies and the ever present political games the organisers and associations played that stole way too much of the spotlight from those who should have been basking in it.

However for me these games shone a more positive light on some of the exciting developments in competitive sport. With the introduction of a number of new Olympic events at these games, most of them straight out of ESPN’s X Games format – this winter world just got sexier and a lot cooler. And this can only be a good thing for the evolution of the sport and the games.

I was asked by a social commentator what I thought was the reason why we have seen a significant spike in interest in such traditionally viewed extreme sports and why they are the new ‘sexy side of sport.’

In reality many of these sports have been around for years in one form or another – and it’s not just the winter wonderland that has benefited from the rise of unconventional sport subcultures.

In the last 5 years the interest in extreme sports has skyrocketed to overtake some mainstream sports, and for me there are a couple of realistic, significant and psychologically relevant reasons for this positive trend towards them, and away from the sports that would be categorised as traditional sports.


The first reason is our ability to be part of the action – to be part of these sports from the comfort of our computers, TVs and devices. As an active observer we can get up close and enjoy the real-time action from the athlete’s viewpoint, enjoying the thrills and spills and adrenalin filled success, without the physical investment.

Technology is in every aspect of our life today and with over 90% of the population owning a smart phone with a camera, we can capture, edit and share an event instantly. This makes it reachable, even for the most unsporty, uncoordinated or unwilling of us.

These sporting subcultures have embraced technology, innovating new and exciting ways to integrate us into their world and share it in real-time. in stark contrast, traditional sports have been slower off the mark in adopting the technology we all take for granted. The fastest growing medium today is video and these extreme sports have tapped into that niche nicely.

T20 Cricket has seen this trend towards the interactivity of sport and has been experimenting with umpire-cam, player microphones and wicket cam, and it’s paying off with an increase in audience participation. And lets be real, that also transcribes to the audience can now be accessed instantly too by those who wish to tap into our imagination and thus our pockets bringing more money into the game.


As I touched on earlier, many of these “new” sports are in fact old sports that had their start in humble, uncontrolled beginnings – either in back streets or as play things for the not-so-serious, and for a long time attracted little media, little interest and no funding.

And it is this ‘back street’ catalyst that makes them activities for the everybody inside us, a psychology of street-crafting and honing before being set free in the world. This gives these sports a lineage all of us can feel as the underdog. Whenever we give something a handicap it is socially accepted and championed by the masses, a shot at the establishment by the commoners.

It’s been well documented the astronomical amounts of money some traditional sports demand just to survive, with their disproportionate coaching staff to athlete rations, ever growing media departments, medical entourage and sponsorship wagons. When we measure this against the extreme sport environment many of these athletes not only do not expect the support and trappings, it is not actually on their radar. And it is this purer aspect of competition and sport that we crave, less Hollywood and more grass roots feel, the opportunity for a “normal” person to win.

Anything that isn’t mainstream, that isn’t overly regulated and is a little edgy is by definition “cool” – and provides a stimulation that speaks to our primitive side and rawness to our competitiveness.


We are primarily pack animals. The majority of us need our society in order to feel part of something bigger. We also gauge our views and beliefs from that which is, in the main part, socially accepted.

When Red Bull took up the challenge to elevate extreme sports into our consciousness, our living rooms and into our newsfeeds, we started to see new and exciting, almost superhuman achievements – and all with the consistent Red Bull logo on it. As we began to be more aware of it, to recognise that it was OK to like this, and recognise it’s value – it caused a groundswell as people flocked to be part of that movement.

Red Bull has done more to change the landscape of sport in the last 10 years than any other single entity. It chose to align itself (smartly) with emerging markets, embed itself into the “cool” group and it’s investment has paid off – not only for market recognition of it’s sickly sugary stimulant drink but more importantly for the introduction of a whole new evolution of sport.

When you hear Red Bull do you think energy drink, or sport first?


This key aspect, I believe, has been critical in the rise and dominance of extreme sports. It’s willingness to adapt and evolve with its audience was due to being exceptionally aware of who it is targeting, the demographics and psychographics of who is attracted to these sports and it has met market needs and exceeded them.

If we look at the more established and traditional sports, they have moved much slower to accommodate the ever changing face of their participants, rather expecting the participant to fit into their system rather than create an ever evolving system. It’s willingness to not be bogged down by who it is more who it’s for has allowed it a degree of agility.

Traditional sports have been more entrenched in the ways in which they operate. Much of that sludgy response is due to the systems by which these sports have grown and continue to survive is through creating feeder systems, development programmes and training paths. This depth has given traditional sports longevity, however like a wise old man, it may know more but cannot activate that knowledge without first taking its arthritis medication and waiting for the pain to subside. By this time the environment has once again shifted and that wise old man becomes less and less relevant.

So the shallow roots of extreme sport have given it the agility and an open platform to morph and adjust, but will it be sustainable – only you can determine that!


Image credit: Red Bull