MINNEAPOLIS — Helmets and pads will be donned by elite athletes this month at U.S. Bank Stadium, but don't expect everyone to be wearing Vikings purple and gold.
Minneapolis is gearing up to host its first Summer X Games, the top annual competition for action sport athletes to compete for gold and glory. Spanning four days, the competitors will race, spin and flip on skateboards, dirt bikes, motorcycles and BMX bikes in downtown Minneapolis and at the Mall of America in Bloomington from July 13-16.
But much like other elite sporting events, ESPN's X Games is not just all about athletics. Each night will end with a large concert, and new art installations and interactive exhibits will help appeal to fans of all backgrounds.
Think the Super Bowl meets Warped Tour.
"It speaks to the whole culture surrounding action sports," said Jennifer Rieber, who does music booking and production with ESPN. "I think music is very important to them, and we have a pretty young demographic. Music, art, fashion, all of this is right in the cultural wheelhouse of the X Games."
The growth of the X Games is all about the demand from the athletes and those attending, said Tim Reed, vice president of X Games for ESPN.
"I think we started as a sports event 23 years ago," he said. "What we've done and looked to achieve is broadening the brand. We have music, we have photography competitions, we have several art installments from local artists. We have all of those lifestyle components, and we'll have lots of interactive events.
"We have almost 30 hours of sports programming, but you get all of this festival atmosphere where you can pop in and out of events with plenty of things to do. We like to think there's a broader offering for a lot of different fans."
The annual event has been a boon to previous host cities, with tens of thousands of visitors expected to flock to the Twin Cities to take in the events.
Organizers say the move from outside of Austin, Texas, to downtown Minneapolis will provide an electric atmosphere for the Games.
"You feel this renewed energy because it's all new again: new relationships, new building, new city," Reed said. "We've done events in the east coast in Philly, we've done them on the west coast in San Diego, San Francisco and L.A., and we've done a couple years in the south. It's nice to diversify the brand and expose it to a region that hasn't really been near it."
Weather had taken a toll on X Games events in Austin, with wind and rain causing delays and cancellations in competitions. That made the brand new U.S. Bank Stadium — with it's glass-like ETFE roof and facade — a very attractive option for ESPN.
"It wasn't just the covered environment; I think the stadium itself is state-of-the-art. It's beautiful," Reed said. "The glass gives it an outdoors feel, but you're indoors in climate control. From a sports perspective it really alleviates some of the stresses from weather. Obviously, the sports themselves are pretty technical, so everything's got to be precise. And controlled conditions helps set up the athletes for success."
Minnesota's most accomplished X Games athlete, Pelican Rapids' Tucker Hibbert, battles the elements while competing in snocross events during the winter. He's no stranger at the summer X Games, and he said having it in his home state is "really exciting."
"Bringing all the amazing athletes and all the hype to Minnesota is definitely a boost to our state and people who practice these sports in Minnesota," Hibbert said. "Every event at the X Games is exciting in its own way, and really impressive to watch live. It's one thing to watch on TV, but being able to see the athletes live and right in front of your face is a completely different experience. A lot of people from Minnesota will be experiencing this for the first time."