X-ier Than Ever: Boise Goes Big on Second X Games Qualifying Event 

"Once [ESPN] came and looked around, they were immediately drawn to Boise's unique character."

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Kelsey Hawes

When the City of Boise first announced it would host an X Games qualifying event in December of 2016, it was huge news. For years, the ESPN-produced event had been the equivalent of the Olympics for extreme and alternative sports. Its arrival in Boise was seen by many as a qualifier of its own for the City of Trees.

"Once [ESPN] came and looked around, they were immediately drawn to Boise's unique character," said City of Boise spokesman Mike Journee.

The attraction went both ways. Boise had—and continues to have—an active, outdoorsy culture and atmosphere that ESPN believed was a perfect fit for its qualifying event, and Journee said the city loved the idea of projecting that atmosphere to a national audience. In June of 2017, Boise hosted its first X Games event, and soon thereafter announced it had inked a deal with ESPN for a second, which will take place Friday-Saturday, June 15-16.

In its second year, Boise fans will immediately notice some changes and additions. Chief among them is Harley Hooligan Racing, a Harley Davidson-sponsored flat track motorcycle event that will go down at CenturyLink Arena on Friday from 2-9 p.m. It will be concurrent with the familiar men's and women's skateboard park elimination competitions at Rhodes Skate Park, but even there, the City of Boise has made tweaks to improve the attendee experience. These include a youth-oriented activities center, a Family Fun Zone, an increase in seating from 300 seats to 500 seats, a concert series and more options for food and merchandise.

"It was just sharpening up how we do the event within the event. That comes down to continuing to add more features ... [We want] to keep people around for a few hours, and in order to do that, you need a good selection of booths where they can buy product and eat and engage in healthy activities," said Parks & Recreation Director Doug Holloway, whose department was the point of contact between the city and ESPN.

Behind the scenes, one of the major differences in this year's qualifier will be security. In addition to some private security, Boise Police will maintain a 14-officer presence, not including three to four supervisors at Rhodes Skate Park alone. The zone BPD will cover will also be significantly larger than in 2017, as it will span both Rhodes Skate Park and CenturyLink Arena—where five officers will patrol—and an additional six to 10 officers will keep watch over the Boise Pride Festival, which will overlap with the qualifier for the first time this year. Boise Police Captain Paul Birch said the three events have been blocked into a public safety program run from a single command center.

"We handle all these special events permits the same," Birch said. "I have two locations I have to manage and provide safety for; we also have all the events and festivities going on around the Pride Parade Friday and Saturday. We're treating them as one event."

That's a lot of officers, and the City of Boise is already putting up some amenities for ESPN staff and athletes, but the payoff is significant for local businesses. According to Carrie Westergard of the Boise Convention and Visitors Bureau, day attendance at the 2017 X Games in Boise was estimated at 7,000 people. Its total economic benefit was calculated at $1.5 million, but Westergard said that estimate is "on the conservative side." Likely, there were spectators not accounted for because they stayed in Boise via vacation rental programs like Airbnb rather than in hotel rooms.

This year, Westergard said the economic bump will be higher, nearly double what local businesses took in last year, and offered a casual estimate of a "north-of-$2 million" economic benefit.

Westergard said she believes much of the economic difference between this year and last year will come from the Harley Hooligan Racing event. In the lead-up to announcing the new addition, the City of Boise and ESPN toured CenturyLink Arena to see how the venue would deal with motorcycle exhaust, crowds, road closures and more.

"There was a lot of consideration that had to take place. Really, visually, they just had to get their eyes on what it was going to look like and all the logistics there," Westergard said.

ESPN liked what it saw—so much so that it rescheduled the entire slate of events from the first weekend in June 2018 to the second weekend in order to book CenturyLink for the motorcycle race, according to ESPN Event Development & Marketing Director Ryan McGuinness. X Games has held similar events with Harley Davidson in Minneapolis during X Games finals, but the Harley Hooligan Race will be the first event of its kind in a city hosting a qualifier.

McGuinness confirmed talks are already underway for a 2019 event, and left open the possibility of adding events to the Boise qualifier in the future.

"We're always looking to add to our events. Last year was the first year we did this. We're hoping to grow from there. The Harley Hooligan event is a perfect example of that, but Boise has so much to offer in terms of mountain biking and [the whitewater park]," he said. "There's so much to the outdoor lifestyle—Boise's got it all."

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