A blog series on Shopper Marketing.

By Cyndi Pyburn

Sometimes change is obvious.  Sometimes you have to look for it.  And sometimes change comes unexpectedly causing disruption.  Take the case of Extreme Sports.  They are growing in leaps and bounds.  Once thought of as ‘fad’ sports for teens, extreme sports are growing as they offer an opportunity to challenge and express oneself.  Extreme Sports will disrupt.

High-risk sporting events have been around for ages, with the gladiator matches of the Roman era being a fabled example. One could argue that each decade has ushered in a new extreme sport that has changed what is perceived as risky or dangerous. It used to be in the 1970s that running a marathon was extreme; now completing a marathon is for the masses. Then the triathlon became the new extreme, followed by countless other activities, such as heli-skiing, volcano surfing, obstacle racing and BASE jumping.  You ask, what is BASE jumping?  BASE is an acronym that stands for four categories of fixed objects from which one can jump:  building, antenna, span and earth (think cliff).  It’s like slack-lining on steroids.

Extreme sports are incredibly popular for a number of reasons, and each sport has its own ways of drawing in competitors and observers the world over.

  • For one, television has played its role in increasing the popularity of these sports with shows such as World of X Gamesand the Extreme Sports Channel.
  • Energy drink company Red Bull has also been on the forefront of the extreme sports movement.
  • There is little organization into teams or leagues, and therefore, no overzealous parents screaming at their kids giving these sports teen appeal.
  • A rise in so-called functional fitness—exercises that replicate actual human actions rather than simulated exercises. This has led more people to participate in boot-camp-like sports such as Cross-Fit, which involves challenges like climbing a rope or pulling a tractor tire.

I am not new to extreme sports.   As a mother of two athletes, my boys took to off-piste skiing early in life and competed in freestyle competitions across this great country. I quote:  “Best ski day of my life!  We hiked past a sign that read – Skiers die beyond this point – we hiked for 2 more hours and then skied down.”  Thankfully we paid for good coaching so they at least ‘knew what they were doing’.   I often wonder why boys in particular are so attracted to these fearless pursuits.  My own hypothesis is (and another reason perhaps why Extreme Sports has disrupted) is that they grew up in the 90s and 00s.  This was an era when ‘Girl Power’ was in full force – more math & science for girls, more female (not unisex) sports teams, empowerment across the board.  While I completely support gender equality, somehow the notion of masculinity was eroded (think metro-sexual).  The solution to this male crisis:  a new masculinity rooted in non-traditional, non-mainstream sports. Extreme sports allow for male individualism creating self-reliant risk takers and lifestyle seekers.  I’m not saying that women aren’t attracted to extreme sports…they are…but just in far fewer numbers.

The Tough Mudder is a great example of the sports fanatics and adrenaline junkies hunt for ever-more hard-core events to test their physical limits.  What’s unique about obstacle course racing, however, is that it’s not always easy to prepare or train for what the competitors might encounter. Unlike training for a marathon, where you can build up to long distances, obstacles are all about the rush of the unexpected.  Tough Mudder’s involve heat or cold, snow, fire, mud, extreme changes in elevation, water and sometimes electrocution. Some of the activities include runs, military-style obstacles, going through pipes, traversing cargo nets, climbing walls, encountering electric voltage, swimming in cold water, throwing or carrying heavy objects and traversing muddy areas.  All in all, Tough Mudder promotes fun, self-actualization, and hedonism.  They continue to grow in leaps and bounds (no pun intended).  Completing a Tough Mudder, let’s face it, earns ‘bragging rights’.

The Futureof.org states that by 2020, extreme sports will challenge professional and collegiate team sports for the title of most-watched category of sports content. Technology is driving this change.

“With 100 hours of GoPro video currently being uploaded to YouTube every minute of every day, and sales of action cameras growing nearly 50% annually and projected to hit 9 million in 2018, the extreme sports juggernaut looks unstoppable.”  Today, extreme sports are small content on the screen compared to the big business of professional sports. However, interest, participation, and performance levels in action sports are soaring and projected to surpassed conventional sports at the recreational level.

Tracking devices that measure performance fuel this progression.  Apps record every distance, every route, every heartbeat, every time record, every climb, every calorie – in fact, every performance measure imaginable.  The ‘always on’ challenge drives personal performance levels even higher and on a regular basis.

Technology will play a role in the relationship between fans and the teams they love. Fan-sourced content will be common. Fans can upload video streams and images of live games (from smartphones inside the arena) and will regularly exceed the amount generated by official broadcasters.  Think about how this will impact sponsorships and advertising (and owning teams).  Will large, sports sponsorships become a thing of the past as brands redirect their marketing budgets to personalized, micro-targeted digital ad campaigns with an audience of one?   No doubt, this will disrupt.

Extreme sports will continue to grow. Expect more change, greater disruption. There are people who believe that living life to the fullest means taking risks, losing your breath, and laughing in the face of danger. I hear this sentiment all the time from my guys when I point out the dangers.  “That won’t happen to us” they say.  For these people, they are always looking for new ways to make the most extreme sports even more extreme.   Sigh.