Thursday, July 28, 2011 Updated: July 29, 6:19 PM ET
Mega Ramp reaches new heights
By Andy Kamenetzky ESPNLosAngeles.com
It's been seven years since Danny Way brought Mega Ramp to the X Games. In that time, BMX has joined in on the fun, a rail jam element was added (then eliminated) and most strikingly, Mega Ramp has become a brand as well as a structure.
MegaRamp Events is a full-blown event production company. The name Mega Ramp is associated with products ranging from decks to clothing to toys. While still a ways off from true "empire" status (as GM Ray Ibe concedes, "Are we making a ton of money? No."), the company hosts tours and has made its presence felt with products available at the likes of Walmart.
In the meantime, Mega Ramp the brand has helped Way achieve a larger, more personal goal: expanding the possibilities of skateboarding.
In 2004, Big Air debuted at X Games X and Way, who took gold, was arguably the biggest story of the entire event. At that time, he was already working with Ibe and eventual Mega Ramp Events CEO Daryl Franklin. The two had been at Interscope Records, Ibe the head of new media, Franklin the vice president of business affairs. Ibe also had an established relationship with X Games as a music programmer. Both shared Way's vision of a Mega Ramp business, which Ibe tabbed as "the future of non-motorized sports." The popularity of "The DC Video" only boosted that appeal.
Daredevils like Bob Burquist have paved the way for greater experimentation on the expanding Mega Ramp.
"Ray and Daryl have been very instrumental with making things happen with my career," Way says. "The timing of those guys coming into my life was perfect. They immediately saw the possibility of creating an intellectual property out of this and making an event brand."
Adds Ibe, "When we started managing him, he had the whole concept of MegaRamp, and Daryl and I took that whole concept and made it into an actual business for him. It's been around for a while and it's starting to resonate now. It's coming of age, which is amazing."
But beyond sponsoring competitions in places ranging from the famed Woodward camps to Brazil, what makes Mega Ramp events unique are the perks a branded name offers riders, such as medical insurance and a Medivac presence for starters. Given how these skateboarders and BMXers are quite literally risking their lives participating in these contests, that peace of mind can't be overestimated.
Protection also comes with the ramp itself, given how Way is quite literally the world's foremost expert. The admitted effort to corner the market on this genre isn't so much about as an ironfisted monopoly as eliminating potentially shoddy and unsafe knockoffs.
"There's so much that can go wrong," insists Way of big air events. "Having somebody get involved in building something like this and creating an event without somebody that really knows the inside of how to do this, make it safe, and knowing the exact dimensions. The assurance for the athletes is they know if they show up at our event, they know what they're going to get. It's important. I want these guys to know that every time they show up at a Mega Ramp event, they know the ramp is going to be perfect. It's going to be A-plus everything."
Care for the riders extends beyond just phsyical well-being. The cost of accomodations were covered for the competition in Brazil. There's also a standard appearance fee, even for a rider placing last, creating an environment in which everyone gets something for their troubles.
"We know guys are putting everything on the line to ride this thing," acknowledges Way. "If they have a bad day, that happens. So we take that into consideration. We want to make sure that everyone that comes out to put on a show goes home with something and is well compensated if they did well.
"Without these guys, we wouldn't have anything. It's taken Bob [Burnquist] and Jake [Brown] and PLG [Pierre Luc-Gagnon] and K-Rob [Kevin Robinson] and [Chad] Kagy and these guys to come out and be the guinea pigs to make this happen. So in return, we wanted to elevate the bar, as far as taking care of athletes."
Along these lines, several riders are actually involved with the company not as formal partners, but rather as a sounding board and group mind.
"We all have opinions and we can all voice our opinions," BMXer Anthony Napolitan says. "There's never any drama about it. We're all one family and we talk things over. If things seem good, then it's good. If not, then we fix it."
Add Burnquist of the union between skateboarders and BMXers, "Without [BMX big air icon Mat] Hoffman, we wouldn't have this. Without Danny, we wouldn't have this. Maybe we would eventually, but these are the guys who brought it together. That's why all of us are OK with being involved in this venture together."
Beyond creative matters, the athletes receive a profit slice. (Picture revenue sharing in the NBA or NFL, minus the friction creating a lockout.) When they participate in an event or signing, or simply become the star of a heavily viewed YouTube clip, they receive a certain amount of points.
"At the end of the year, we have an athlete pool that incentivizes the amount based on things that we do, whether we make money on events or licensing," Ibe says. In turn, viral sensations are great advertising. "They're helping us out. It's a win-win for everybody," notes Ibe.
As for the branded merchandise, athletes can also lend a Mega Ramp product their name, along with mandatory specifications. Way doesn't picture any Mega Ramp rider endorsing an inferior bike or deck as a pure money grab. Credibility isn't easily earned in the action sports world and can disappear quickly when the smell test isn't passed. Besides, as Way notes, the goal is to improve the quality of gear available to the masses, along with the price tag. (Although their website cheekily offers Mega Ramps for a cool $1.5 million. No word on shipping and handling charges.)
"I think that Mega Ramp, from a merchandsing standpoint, can put out a product that isn't as expensive as a premeire brand. It caters to a broader appeal. It's not a core endemic brand. We feel we have an opportunity to make affordable products, gear, boards, whatever, and put those out in places that parents can afford and hopefully give their kid a positive skateboarding experience and draw them into the world of skateboarding.
"The boards you find at most of these mass retail stores, they barely roll ... But that's the goal. You can still make affordable products and make them good."
But even as a full-fledged business, Mega Ramp remains a first and foremost means of pushing skateboarding and BMX to new levels. Interviewed separately, Ibe and Burnquist described the conglomerate as a "movement." As revenue is created, so is the ability to push boundaries and expand possibilities.
With a 30-foot drop in, a 25-foot gap and an 18-foot quarterpipe, a miniature Mega Ramp remains a significant challenge, but less intimidating for kids to cut their teeth on. By offering this alternative, a generation of Mega Ramp riders are bred while knee high. (Need proof? Check out Mitchie Brusco landing a Mega Ramp 900 at the ripe old age of 14.) In conjuction with ASA Entertainment Group, an action sports company, they've also presented an event called Mega Ramp Triples, which features two jumps.
"It's really designed for BMX," Ibe says. "But now we're morphing it into a skateboard thing as well, too."
"As far as the progression level goes, Mega has made things that people would have never thought possible become a reality," Way says. "With that happening, people's minds are a little more open to believe that we're not at the end yet. We still have a lot to be done and we've barely tapped into that, I feel. It's really cool."