Street League, a pro skateboard competition series with four stops televised on ESPN, has picked up some momentum from its 2010 debut. First off the main competitor league, Maloof Money Cup got pushed off the map through Street League making an exclusive clause in the agreement to the riders participating. Basically the skaters signed an agreement that one could only ride in the Street League competition and not the Maloof Money Cup. Maloof Money cup did some neat things like build the Flushing Meadows Skate Park in Queens that I enjoy skating at when I’m in that park. Even though it was a harsh business move, having the skate competitions eventually being under one umbrella or organization is a good thing. Now I’ll go into my opinion of Street League and give a few suggestions on how it could be better.
What Maloof started and Street League continues is putting really money down for the riders. There are four stops and in the first three the winner gets $100,000 or $150,000, and in the last one the winner gets over $200,000. Each competition is only two days, so I think that’s a healthy check for a weekend. And the money trickles down with the skaters getting 10th or lower still gets checks. Yes, money is not everything, but for skaters making a living off of the sport, most without insurance, it can only help the sport.
One thing I like and sometimes dislike is that Street League has a new scoring system. Being more trick based they skate 3 portions of the course, and the harder tricks get higher scores. So on the big portion, a kickflip down a ten stair, would get less of a score than a laser flip. In theory this can keep a crowd engaged because they have an idea of who is winning, and what is needed to win. What I don’t like is that it slows the contest down. Skating is a fast paced activity. If a group of skaters are skating stairs, it’s a fast pace, one trick after another. To have a skater wait a little bit, even twenty seconds, for a score to go up, kind of takes the rhythm and energy out of it. I think I enjoy either a demo where the skaters do whatever they want, or the traditional contest where the skaters have two minutes to go through the whole course. Maloof and the X-games do a format where it’s timed, say 10 minutes, and the skaters do runs for a minute or stop if they fall. Then the next rider goes. I think that is the most entertaining contest format I’ve seen.
Now I’ll get to my real beef with Street League. Street League has 24 skaters compete in each competition. Nyjah Huston is an amazing skater and has a great future in skating. I’m not knocking him in anyway by saying this, but only 24 skaters in a competition is not a legit competition, it is a glamorized demo. Rob Dyrdek put a lot of thought into Street League, but the sport to imitate is not Basketball, or any team sport. I know the Powell ads in the 80’s made fun of Golf, but it is a competitive structure that skating could imitate. For the U.S. Open, one of the four majors, they invite about 150 golfers. It is a four-day challenge with 18 holes played each day. The tournaments are always Thursday to Sunday. On the Friday nights of tournaments, after 2 days of play, about half are cut from the tournament, still leaving amply room for upset and competition. Golf having large numbers of participants in the tournaments is what legitimizes the winners as champions. Week in week out the golf superstars continually end up in the top ten every Sunday. Also there are only 4 majors, but there are tournaments almost every weekend. All tournaments are sponsored or part of the PGA. A changing factor is the sponsors for the tournaments. One week it will be the Toyota Championship, and the next week it’ll be the Ford Champianship. Also the lengths of the course, sand dunes, and other factors can change, the tournaments were not meant to be all the same.
I believe Street League can learn two things from Golf. One, invite the community of sponsored skaters into the contest instead of trying for only the elite, make it a competition of 100 or more riders. If there are not 100 pros interested in Street League, I’m sure there are thousands of sponsored amateurs that would give it a shot. Give Nyjah Huston some competition! Secondly, take the success from this and make an organization that promotes and develops other contests putting a same skateboard industry stamp of approval on it. The Tampa Pro contest is a different time of year, and has a history. Manny Mania was unique and a lot of fun. During the X-games the park and Vert comps are fun to watch. I got to see Bowl-A-Rama last year in NYC and had a blast. The great thing about skating is that it is so varied, and people constantly tweak their parks or find new obstacles to skate on street. For Street League to have 4 stops with a similar course is fine, and I understand recognition is part of branding. But the great thing about skating is seeing new things, and there should be room for other courses and formats too. If the skate industry wants a primetime audience, it needs to shown regularly, be engaging, something people could watch at bars, and worth a discussion. Most people watch sports because they are fans and they enjoy talking about it with their friends, co-workers, or whoever will listen.
I don’t have a crystal ball but I think even though improvements are being made it’ll be a long time before televised skateboarding is on the mainstream radar. That said, it doesn’t matter, like running, participants get a lot out of it, and promote it positively through other means, like going skating instead of turning on the television.
Street League’s stop at Kansas City is this weekend! http://streetleague.com/