- Micah Abrams, Writer, Action Sports
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Earlier Friday, Street League and ESPN announced the inking of a multiyear partnership that ensures a television home for the league. Much has been made, here and elsewhere, of Street League founder Rob Dyrdek's aggressive plan to build a contest circuit with the exclusive support of the best street skaters in the world. After an initial news release several months ago, Dyrdek was all but silent on the topic, turning down interview requests, and letting the speculation on who would or wouldn't sign on and what it all might mean for skateboarding run rampant. Now, in a wide-ranging interview with ESPN.com, Dyrdek addresses the new TV deal, how his league will differ from what's come before it and how the deal will affect skater exclusivity regarding this summer's X Games.
ESPN.com: Why was a TV deal so important to the overall Street League
Rob Dyrdek: I want to build an elite property, and TV is a part of
that. It needs to be built with partners who believe in the long term; it
couldn't just be someone who wanted to put it on TV. That's why I chose a
multiyear deal as opposed to just going out and getting the thing on TV.
There was some speculation that you would be willing to do a purely
digital play if you couldn't get a TV deal in place.
Worst-case scenario, if I never found the right place and didn't think the
deal would work for the long term, I would have considered [online-only] to
prove the idea and then build on it. But for me, the people that understood
it most were ESPN. That was clear from my first meeting, and I met with
everyone under the sun. They understand, where most people still look at it
as just "action sports."
How is Street League not just action sports?
What I've studied over the last two years is what makes sports sports. Why are traditional sports so strong? It's too broad to just say [the NBA, NFL, et al] have been around for 100 years. It's because the sports have been refined; the formats tell an incredible story each game. Even if a basketball game is a blowout, Kobe scores 25 points in the first quarter, there's a story -- he might go for 100. All these stories develop and make it engaging. Plus, you're following it in real time, and you know the stakes on every play. That doesn't exist in action sports. You watch a bunch of tricks, and someone tells you the value of that after it's over. It's hard to be engaged by that.
In his piece about Street League last month, Adam Salo asked some pointed questions about how different Street League would really be from things like X Games. How will it?
As skateboarding evolved, it evolved away from competition. Having a best-trick contest doesn't work. You see hard tricks, but there's no organization. I got really deep into that, understood what was missing and came up with a new format that will create a level of storytelling. The competition itself will tell the story -- not, oh, this guy's been hurt for six months and is making a comeback. Who can make the hardest tricks when it matters? That was the revelation.
The biggest cornerstone is the instant scoring I've developed with ISX. This allows you to score each trick as the skater does it, and you know what place they're in the whole time. Bails count. Every try counts. A skater skates with 70 percent consistency but only a 4.2 average because his tricks aren't that tech. Another has a 50 percent consistency but a 7.2 average because his tricks are harder. You'll understand as this stuff develops. When their wheels hit the ground, it's posted. The pacing is there. [At X Games 15], of the last 28 tricks done in the final, three were landed. Guys were knocking out their first two scores, then trying really hard tricks. Being forced to land promotes consistency, and it becomes about who can do the hardest trick when it matters the most. That's the breakthrough.
How will Street League's judging be different?
We're creating a value system with a three-point range for all tricks. At most contests now, skaters are judged against themselves. The fact that [Paul Rodriguez] can do switch back lips down rails and no one else can do that, they judge if he's skating outside of how he normally skates. [Greg] Lutzka suffers from that, too. Without a trick accountability system, it's madness. The judges go back and pick scores as a group. With a value system in place, the rider knows. He know that he needs an 8.2 and the only trick that he can do in that range is a kickflip backside nose blunt, so he has to try that to get third. And if he bails, he goes down to sixth place. There's more strategy.
Who else did you discuss a TV deal with, other than ESPN?
Everybody. Even the weird people. But when I set out to do this, I needed someone who was an expert in event production, so I sat with everyone. When I sat with IMG, I knew that instant. It was love at first sight. They understood the vision. Same with the TV guys. It's the hard reality that everyone at ESPN has been living in this world in a real way for 15 years. They understand this is about more than just me using my influence to get the best dudes. There's a grander vision, and they really understand. One of the biggest things for me was moving off the weekend 1 o'clock time slot. I want a weekly [slot] that you follow all the way to the championship, like NASCAR or anything else. Prime time, in the middle of the week, opens you up to a whole new world and a bigger audience. You know what you're following and you don't have to guess when it will be on next.
Much of the Street League messaging to this point has been, if not explicitly anti-X Games, at least very much about how the league's goal is to take back competition skating from the big corporations that have run it for so long. Do you see any contradiction in cutting this deal with one of those corporations?
No, the intent wasn't, oh, we're going after all these properties. The intent was misunderstood: Let's look at how innovative the ideas are behind this, and then let's build it like the NFL or the UFC. And that can only be done with a major TV network. And there are not that many of those.
You don't think some of the skaters, who have been completely uninterested in X Games, won't see it as a contradiction?
It's not like they don't love ESPN. They love the idea of it on ESPN. The assurance that they get from this side is, not only are we doing a profit share with you, we're going to grow this and you're going to get 15 grand if you finish last, but you could make hundreds of thousands if you put it down. And there's the licensing deals. It's all about representing the sport, and the bigger it is, the better it is for everyone involved.
Based on Street League's exclusivity contract and the "wild-card" events skaters can choose to do, P-Rod, Chris Cole and Lutzka cannot compete in this summer's X Games. Will that change with the signing of this deal?
No. They were all given the option. They had two wild cards for single events or the whole Dew Tour. They had already made those decisions, and ESPN honored that.
After months of speculation, Dyrdek's new venture finds a TV home.