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In SoCal Redux, Summer X Games Production Is Back in Full Force for First Time Since 2019

Echo Entertainment returns as primary production-services provider

By Jason Dachman, Chief Editor Friday, July 21, 2023 - 2:25 pm

It has been four long years, but the Summer X Games is officially back this weekend at the Ventura County Fairgrounds. Its first ticketed, large-scale event since 2019 marks the end of a 10-year absence from California. With sold-out crowds expected, X Games, ESPN, and production partner Echo Entertainment are pulling out all the stops for the production of its live broadcasts.

“We are beyond excited — not so much for ourselves or the brand as for the athletes,” says Valerie Ryan, VP, fan experience and hospitality, X Games. “They feed off the enthusiasm of the fans. When the crowds get behind them, they are pushed harder and higher on their tricks. Fans are like the electricity the athletes need to be supercharged and perform at their best. We are so much more than just a TV show; we put these events on for the athletes, the fans, and the community.”

This weekend, ESPN, ESPN2, and ABC will showcase 15½ hours of live Skateboarding, BMX, and Moto X competition. In addition, every event will be live-streamed on X Games YouTube and Twitch channels (seven additional competition hours)

Beach-Side Venue: X Games Returns to Its SoCal Roots

In 2014, ESPN moved the Summer X Games to Austin and then Minneapolis, marking the end of a long relationship with Southern California. Then, the 2020 Summer X Games were canceled because of the pandemic, and, in 2021 and 2022, ESPN shifted to a scaled-down model held without spectators at training facilities around Southern California. Last October, ESPN sold a controlling stake in X Games to MSP Sports Capital, making X Games an independently run company (although ESPN remains a minority owner)

Now, after four years of challenges and change, the Summer X experience is back in full force this weekend at a sprawling new beach-side locale in Ventura. Tickets for Saturday’s festivities — which include a fan festival, food, and live music — have sold out, and a massive crowd is expected. This year’s X Fest includes a FlowRider wave machine, skateboard mini ramp, electric mini moto course, pump track, skate and BMX park, drone cage, and ninja-warrior obstacle course.

X Games has also announced the Xperience Fan Loyalty program, which will offer both onsite fans and viewers tuning in the chance to win autographed merchandise, athlete gift bags, and more.

“X Games is so excited to be back with fans in California,” says Ryan. “Our onsite X Fest at this year’s X Games California has double the number of interactive activations since the last time we had fans, in 2019 at X Games Minneapolis. There is so much for kids of all ages to do besides watching the action-packed competitions. There is something for everyone onsite at this year’s event.”

Back in the Big-Event Groove: Echo’s Full-Scale Onsite Presence in Ventura

Echo Entertainment, longtime production-services provider for X Games, is back in the role this year in Ventura and has rolled out Dome Productions Silver and B100XPT mobile units along with a Dome flypack. BSI is onsite managing the army of RF cameras and microphones.

Six competition venues have been set up across the sprawling Ventura Country Fairgrounds: Street Course Park (Men’s and Women’s skate and BMX), Quarter Pipe (Moto), Vert (Men’s and Women’s skate and BMX), and Moto X (Best Trick, Best Whip, and BMX Dirt).

“It’s a very big area with lots of space to work with,” says Echo Entertainment Technical Manager Pierce Williams. “We’re excited to be able to bring X Games back together as one big entity, unlike in the last few years when they were doing more of a scaled-down model with different segments in different venues.”

Although the fairgrounds provide plenty of flexibility in terms of facilities, cabling has been a major challenge for the Echo team.

“Since this is essentially a parking lot, there is nowhere to bury cable,” says Williams. “We have upwards of 35 TAC-12 [fiber cables] crisscrossing all over the fairgrounds. And trying get those hidden and [deployed] in all the rights places without their getting cut or people tripping over them or cars and motorcycles driving over them is very challenging, but we’ve been able to work it out.”

Echo has a total of 64 cameras positions across the six courses and will be repositioning its cameras — primarily Sony HDC-4300’s — throughout the three-day event.

In addition, Beverly Hills Aerials is providing live drone coverage for all six courses. The company will deploy its speed drone to cover the Moto X Course for Best Whip, Best Trick, and BMX Dirt and a larger drone to capture beauty shots of other courses.

“One of the great things about this venue is that it’s right on the ocean,” says Williams. “On top of giving us some great looks of the actual competition, the drone is going to give us some unbelievable aerials that show the venue and the ocean together.”

BSI is also supplying a bevy of RF cameras, including FollowCam systems featuring Sony PMW-F5 cameras with fisheye lenses on the Skate Park, Vert, and Moto X courses. Also on hand are three handheld RF cameras to capture the crowd and cover uncabled areas.

“We are psyched to have the crowds back with tickets selling out,” says Williams. “That has created a lot of energy for both the athletes and the viewers at home. And we think, with all the RF [cameras] and our drones out there, we’re going to be able to capture that energy more than ever.”

At the Center of It All: Host Set Designed To Ramp Up Pace of Broadcast

The X Games broadcasts will revolve around a host set in the center of the action. Host Selema Masekela will man the set alongside Jason Ellis and Tony Hawk, and Kristen Beat will serve as a roving sideline reporter.

“The goal is to have a very tight show and keep the program moving so that, when an event ends, we go to the host set, and, 15 minutes later, we’re on a different venue with the next event,” says Williams. “X Games wants to keep the competition moving for the viewers so there is no dead space [in the broadcast]. Since the host set is right in the middle of everything, it makes those transitions a lot more seamless.

“X Games is also trying to be very fluid with [talent] on that set,” he continues. “They want it to feel very immersive with the athletes and the crowd. We’ve given them the ability to get up and walk away from the set and into the crowd if they want. They have their own RF camera and mics, and IFBs are all set up to do those kinds of shots.”

Looking Ahead: Growth Beyond Two Annual Pillar Events

This weekend’s event marks the latest chapter in what X Games’ new ownership sees as an on-going evolution for the iconic brand.

Historically, X Games has been known mostly for its two pillar events — Summer X Games and Winter X Games — making the brand most relevant around July and January each year. However, Ryan says the organization is looking to create more seasonal content throughout the year and also looks to expand internationally beyond its current X Games Japan event.

“We look forward to creating content that not only provides amazing action sports content but also tells the stories behind athletes: why they are who they are, what makes them perform at such high levels, and what they like to do when they aren’t riding,” she says. “That’s something that has been missing from our previous years under ESPN. The hope is to create an athlete advisory board that can help create new ideas, shape the way we tell stories and stage events, and, most of all, listen.”


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