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ESPN officials on Thursday said the net is planning "a thorough review" of the X Games' snowmobile competitions after racer Caleb Moore's death marked the first fatality in the 18-year history of the event, according to a front-page piece by Jason Blevins of the DENVER POST. Moore last week "crashed after under-rotating a standard backflip." After he "tumbled over the handlebars, the 450-pound high-performance machine slammed into him, briefly knocking him unconscious." Moore's death has "drawn scrutiny to the escalating levels of risk that athletes assume when pushing their sports to new levels." This year's X Games saw "a number of athletes injured and taken to Aspen Valley Hospital, including Moore's brother Colten, who dislocated his pelvis on the same jump less than 30 minutes after Caleb's crash." Snowboarder Rose Battersby "sustained a lumbar spine fracture Sunday during a practice session." The X Games last year were "overshadowed by the death of skier Sarah Burke, killed two weeks before the event during a training session in the superpipe in Park City, Utah." X Games Communications Dir Danny Chi in an e-mail wrote that ESPN "requires every competitor to carry health insurance." However, Chi "declined to say if the network had ever helped pay medical bills for athletes injured during the X Games competition" (DENVER POST, 2/1).
EXTREME CONSEQUENCES: 21 Marketing VP/Business Development Dany Berghoff said of the inherent danger in X Games competitions, "I think that thrill is always part of the property. I think they're always edging a fine line of safety and providing those thrills to their fans." USA TODAY's Rachel George writes it is a "line the X Games has walked for years." SportsCorp President Marc Ganis said, "This kind of thing will have to have an effect because of what their insurance carriers will think going forward" (USA TODAY, 2/1). ESPN Senior VP/Programming & Global X Games Scott Guglielmino said, "We always have safety at the center of what we do. We work after each event and we review each event, each sport, to make sure we’re not missing anything. Clearly after this specific incident, we’re going to take a hard look at snowmobile specifically. But I think in terms of X Games going forward, we’ll continue to just keep safety at the center and continue to work hard to mitigate as much risk as possible.” He added, “One of the things we’re interested in looking at is in the snowmobile disciplines of freestyle and best trick, where the tricks are getting more and more dynamic and riders are choosing to separate from the machine mid-air. What we’re really interested in is if they don’t re-contact the sled before it comes down on the landing ramp -- or if they do and get thrown -- the two paths of the rider and the machine. In Caleb’s instance where he was then contacted by the sled on the actual landing ramp, that's something that we definitely want to avoid” ("SportsCenter," ESPN, 1/31).
SNOWBALL EFFECT: In N.Y., John Branch in a front-page piece writes Moore's death "immediately raised cultural questions about the lure of such events to young daredevils, the appeal to viewers and the responsibility of organizers." But with the growth of the X Games and sponsors like Red Bull that have "rushed into the death-defying stunt business, the pool of willing participants seems bottomless." There now are "six annual incarnations of the X Games, summer and winter versions broadcast around the world." Many X Games events are "based on high-flying aerial stunts" and seem to "invite disaster." The "growing mainstream popularity has led some events, like the halfpipe and slopestyle contests in snowboarding and skiing, to be added to the Winter Olympics" (N.Y. TIMES, 2/1). Also in N.Y., Phil Mushnick writes this year's X Games "turned into a carnage festival on ESPN’s invites and urgings." Snowboarder Halldor Helgason "landed on his head and was transported to the hospital last Friday." Mushnick writes Helgason "suffered a concussion on ESPN’s time and dime." Two days after Helgason's accident, two women slope-style skiers also "were hospitalized" (N.Y. POST, 2/1).
SAFETY HAS TO COME FIRST: Dallas Morning News columnist Tim Cowlishaw noted NASCAR took several major safety precautions after Dale Earnhardt died in '01 and said, "I don't know if that is even possible with snowmobiles going through the air. They have to obviously do everything they can to look at that situation. If it’s not, if there is not a way to make it safer I don't know how you go forward after something like this happens.” The Boston Globe's Bob Ryan said, "To introduce a heavy vehicle, a machine, into the mix is to me going maybe a little too far and should be re-examined. I am surprised there have not been more serious accidents or fatalities prior to this with the introduction of the snowmobiles.” The Miami Herald's Israel Gutierrez said the issue with extreme sports is “you keeping raising the bar, you keep upping the ante with these tricks." Gutierrez: "It just makes it so much more difficult to complete therefore you raise the level of danger." ESPN’s Tony Reali: “The question the X Games has to ask itself now might be, why do it with such heavy machinery?” (“Around The Horn,” ESPN, 1/31). ESPN's Tony Kornheiser said the snowmobile “is not designed” to perform the tricks they are doing. Kornheiser: “To me, you cannot be sort of astounded when something tragic happens. ESPN owns this event. I’d get rid of this competition.” ESPN’s Michael Wilbon: “You have to go as far as you can to try and guarantee safety even though you can’t guarantee safety” (“PTI,” ESPN, 1/31). Sports In Society Exec Dir Dan Lebowitz said he wants to see a “discussion” with athletes and ESPN, beginning the “conversation of a larger society about the risks that we want humans to take.” The Denver Post's Blevins said of the degree of difficulty in the tricks that are attempted, “I wonder if it’s smart to cap progression or to say there’s a ceiling of progression” (“Outside The Lines,” ESPN2, 1/31).
RISK MANAGEMENT: A Pitkin County, Colo., spokesperson on Thursday said that the county will "discuss possible enhancements to spectator safety and possibly the welfare of athletes at the Winter X Games with ESPN when a special-use permit for the January 2014 event is reviewed." Pitkin County Community Development Department Planner Mike Kraemer said, "There's definitely going to be extra discussion. That will be up for discussion with ESPN." In Aspen, Scott Condon notes county officials "don't look at the design of snowmobile courses, superpipes or any type of race courses as part of the special-event permit review" (ASPEN TIMES, 2/1). Blevins said he talked with some of the snowmobile competitors at the X Games, and they noted that the course was the “safest they’d ever seen” ("Outside The Lines," ESPN, 1/31). Meanwhile, Pitkin County officials said that they "don’t expect the tragedy to impact their decision to push for the X Games to return to the upper valley after 2014, when the current contract expires" (ASPEN DAILY NEWS, 2/1).
N.Y./N.J. Super Bowl Host Committee CEO Al Kelly has had a "strange week," with a series of media interviews "designed to answer the questions of a nation both skeptical and curious," according to Neil Best of NEWSDAY. Kelly said of next year's Super Bowl, to be held at MetLife Stadium, "There is just a tremendous amount of fascination about a Super Bowl in our region. I think more people are clearly very bullish about it. But I think there are people in wait-and-see mode." MetLife Exec VP/Global Brand, Marketing & Communications Beth Hirschhorn said that Ravens QB Joe Flacco's recent negative comments about a Super Bowl in N.J. were "hurtful, but not for long." Hirschhorn: "Now that everybody is talking about it, it's a benefit. ... I've never heard so much conversation a year in advance of a Super Bowl before" (NEWSDAY, 2/1). Hirschhorn said, "We hope this is the first of many Super Bowls in New York and that it will be such a successful event for the community, the fans, the players and the teams that they will not cross off cold-weather locations after this" (NYDAILYNEWS.com, 1/31). Kelly on Thursday said that he "wants the visitors to have such an enjoyable experience that the first cold-weather Super Bowl won’t be the last one." In Newark, Steve Politi notes Kelly is in New Orleans this week "with 16 of the 29 full-time employees of the host committee." Kelly said of other potential issues surrounding Super Bowl XLVIII, "We have a bigger geographic footprint. We want to use mass transit in as big a way as we can because if people can get on mass transit, they don’t have to worry about directions, about traffic, about parking, about drinking and driving" (Newark STAR-LEDGER, 2/1).
BAY CITY ROLLERS: In San Jose, Mark Purdy notes S.F.-based philanthropist Daniel Lurie, who is leading the 49ers' bid to host a Super Bowl, will keep "soaking up the sights" in New Orleans this week, paying "particular attention to the charitable activities surrounding the game that are close to his heart." Lurie said, "I didn't take this just to throw one big party. We want ours to be the most philanthropic Super Bowl ever and benefit the community as much as possible." Purdy notes Lurie hopes to host the game "in three or four years, after the new 49ers' stadium is finished in Santa Clara." Lurie said, "From what I've seen ... I haven't been overwhelmed yet. Our region was built to host events like this." He added, "If there's one thing I want to be clear about, it's that this is a Bay Area effort. It's a San Francisco bid. But our slogan is, 'Bring The Bowl To The Bay.'" Santa Clara Mayor Jamie Matthews said that he is "squarely on board with Lurie's effort." Matthews also intends to "organize a summit of South Bay and Peninsula mayors, along with top business people, to discuss the Super Bowl bid plan with Lurie." Meanwhile, some "voices in Santa Clara and Silicon Valley have expressed legitimate questions about whether they might be left out of the most lucrative Super Bowl fun." Lurie said, "We really believe people who come to the Super Bowl will want to spend a full week in the Bay Area. That could include everywhere from Napa Valley to Carmel and in between" (SAN JOSE MERCURY NEWS, 2/1).
DEEP IN THE HEART...: Texans Owner Bob McNair on Thursday said that he "believes having James A. Baker III as chairman of Houston’s Super Bowl Host Committee will enhance the city’s bid" for Super Bowl LI in '17. McNair said that the deal with Baker "hasn’t been finalized, but they hope to get it done in time for a news conference in Houston next week." In Houston, John McClain noted Baker "served as secretary of state and secretary of the treasury under two presidents" (CHRON.com, 1/31). McNair appeared on CNBC’s “Squawk Box” this morning and said Baker “really represents Houston better than anyone and he's respected around the world, and all owners know who he is. I just couldn't think of anyone that could represent our city better than Jim Baker.” McNair noted that S.F. is bidding for the ’16 Super Bowl and if they win Sunday’s game it could help their bid. McNair added, "The fact that they're building a new stadium, I think that's the strongest thing going for them, and we typically reward cities that have just gotten a new stadium. So I'd say that would probably make them the favorite” (“Squawk Box,” CNBC, 1/31).
The secondary ticket market for Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans is showing marked softness compared to last year, representing the second straight year of declines in prices for the event. StubHub officials late Thursday said the company's average sales price for the game was $2,456 per ticket, down 11% from a similar point before last year's Giants-Patriots game in Indianapolis, and down 32% from the Packers-Steelers game two years ago at Cowboys Stadium. Ticket sellers and execs see several key factors at play, including the lack of large national fan bases for either the Ravens or 49ers, very expensive round-trip flights to New Orleans from Baltimore and S.F., low inventories of available hotel rooms and a minimal level of engagement by local New Orleans fans. StubHub said just 3% of its Super Bowl purchases thus far have been from Louisiana, compared to 5% from Indiana for last year's game and more than 20% from Texas for the game at Cowboys Stadium. "There's been very little buy-in from the local audience, which is unusual to see," said StubHub Head of Communications Glenn Lehrman. Prices are expected to continue to drop as the game approaches, and the final price may approach $2,000 and challenge the Super Bowl XLIV Saints-Colts matchup as the softest resale market for the game in recent memory. Prices are down despite a less inventory available on the resale market. Ticket metasearch engine FanSnap showed 5,251 Super Bowl tickets for sale earlier Friday, down from 8,277 at a comparable point last year. Ticket search engine SeatGeek shows an average listing price of $2,173, down by 25% since the conference championship games. Ticket aggregator TiqIQ, meanwhile, showed low-end, get-in pricing at $1,289 per ticket, with a strong likelihood of those prices falling below $1,000 by gametime. Face value of Super Bowl tickets range from $850 to $1,250.
Super Bowl XLVII halftime performer Beyonce "won't be making a dime from the NFL," according to Victor Luckerson of TIME magazine. The NFL since Super Bowl I has "not paid performers an appearance fee." The Who frontman Roger Daltrey, whose band performed at Super Bowl XLIV in '10, said that the event is "an opportunity for increased exposure, even for a band that’s already sold 100 million records." Madonna’s halftime show last year "actually garnered more viewers than the game itself, making it the most-watched event in television history." From the NFL’s perspective, "such publicity is payment enough." NFL Programming Dir Lawrence Randall said, "We’re putting someone up there for twelve and a half minutes in front of the largest audience that any television program garners in the United States. It’s a pretty good deal. It’s the famous win-win for both parties." Nielsen data shows that digital purchases of The Who's music "quadrupled the week after its Super Bowl performance," and physical albums also "saw a large spike in sales." Performing at the Super Bowl "acts as a type of affirmation of an artist’s pop-culture ubiquity" (TIME.com, 1/31).
SASHA FIERCE: Beyonce came under fire after admitting she did not perform the national anthem live at President Obama's inauguration, but on Thursday she said that she "won't be lip-syncing" during her Super Bowl performance. Beyonce: "I will absolutely be singing live. I am well-rehearsed and I will absolutely be singing live. This is what I was born to do, what I was born for" (WASHINGTONPOST.com, 1/31). USA TODAY's Elysa Gardner wrote it is "unlikely that we'll hear the term 'wardrobe malfunction' around the water cooler Monday." Nor should there be "questionable words or gestures, such as the middle finger seen round the world last February -- raised by MIA." Rolling Stone Associate Editor Andy Greene said he expects the production value of Beyonce's performance to be "a spectacular (show) on par with something from Broadway or Vegas" (USA TODAY, 2/1). Beyonce said of the set design, "It took so many months to just decide what the stage was because some of the things that were in my head just weren't possible to put together in that amount of time." She said choosing which songs to perform "was one of the hardest things" (NFL Network, 1/31). Rolling Stone Associate Editor Simon Vozick-Levinson said what Beyonce “needs to do at the Super Bowl on Sunday is go out there and give the performance we all know she can ... and I think she definitely will” (“Nightline,” ABC, 2/1).