Not unlike MMA’s wild west days of cage fighting prior to the UFC’s extreme makeover, Street League Skateboarding is giving the professional skateboard contest a much-needed overhaul.
Launched in 2010 under the visionary entrepreneurship of twenty-year veteran pro skater-turned-TV mogul, Rob Dyrdek, SLS was created as a competition platform to elevate the sport’s top professionals to never-before-seen levels by revolutionizing the traditional contest format, installing a new real-time scoring system and broadcasting it live into the living rooms of mainstream America.
Now in its fifth season and with a new, global distribution partnership with FOX Sports 1 in place, SLS continues to take televised pro skating deep into unchartered territory. “I’m someone who keeps living his dreams over and over. And yet again, this is another major one,” says Dyrdek who’s experienced boundless success at MTV and previously as a pro skateboarder.
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Standardization, a word not commonly associated with the staunchly independent, do-it-yourself ranks of skateboarders, is the foundational goal of SLS’s multi-stop, tightly organized and scored contest series. According to Dyrdek, traditional run-based contest formats are outdated, lack excitement and in his words are, “fundamentally flawed”, when it comes to properly showcasing skateboarding and its top athletes.
“Before Street League, the platforms just didn’t elevate the guys the right way,” says Dyrdek. “The great differentiator with Street League is it shows who can do the hardest trick when it matters. You can’t fluke your way to a win at Street League. That’s the evolution we’re leading and it’s redefining what it means to be a top-level professional skateboarder.”
The word “sport” is also a-typical of skate culture and its use in reference to the four-wheeled activity is sometimes held in contempt among industry ranks who grapple with skating’s individualistic and artistic uniqueness being quantified alongside mainstream athletics.
Yet, having elements of traditional sport in its televised presentation is an aspect of Street League Dyrdek says is necessary if it’s to be successfully broadcast as live entertainment to the masses. “All aspects of the tour are inspired by the great entertainment side of traditional sports,” he says.
SLS takes the values of traditional sports entertainment and combines it with the core values of skateboarding.
“SLS takes the values of traditional sports entertainment and combines it with the core values of skateboarding.” Unlike traditional skate and other action sports contests that are usually based on timed runs, SLS provides a trick-by-trick event leading up to a series of final moments. The format functions similar to a three-period game culminating in a final trick crescendo where the event is won or lost—an aspect of SLS Dyrdek says creates the kind of edge-of-your-seat excitement fans crave.
But even with its nail-biting moments, one of the biggest historical challenges of televised skateboarding is keeping fan engagement levels high throughout the broadcast. Dyrdek says part of the solution to that problem lies in SLS’s unique point system. Where previously the vast variety of skateboard trickery performed at contests was held in the subjective hands of judges, SLS’ scoring establishes a series of objective point designations for each trick yielding something the sport has never seen before—hard athlete data.
Dyrdek says statistical data adds an additional layer of spectator involvement and allows fans to monitor the trick-by-trick, stop-to-stop and tour-to-tour performance of pro skaters much like fans of the NBA, MLB or NFL follow the careers of their favorite athletes.
Dyrdek has a hands-on approach with every aspect of Street League, including distracting P-Rod.
“Because of how the tricks are being scored, we now have an amazing amount of data that we can use to tell stories and substories,” says Dyrdek. “Statistics are so special to traditional sports and because of our format and the data we produce, we can now tell the exact same stories from a career perspective for skaters.”
For as organized and structured as the Street League format is, Dyrdek says it’s always under scrutiny and he and his team are constantly looking at ways to enhance the experience for both skaters and fans—an aspect of the business he’s learned a lot about since its launch. “We needed all those first very independent years to sort through all the kinks,” he says. “We needed that time to get SLS in the right place and to set it up for the long term. Where we’ve landed today is light years ahead of where we started.”
The latest step forward for Street League came this week when it announced a multi-year global distribution deal with FOX Sports 1—providing a massive footprint domestically and more international reach than its previous network contract with ESPN. “Working with FOX Sports gives us a real opportunity to elevate skateboarding, Dyrdek says.
“We think of ourselves as doing something similar to what the UFC did for MMA—the sport evolved, fans became educated and people started to see fighters as amazing stars and athletes. I think we’re on track toward the same thing with skateboarding and FOX is the only network that could do it with us the right way.”