FEATURE: Chiba looking for extreme return from hosting Japan's 1st X Games

© Kyodo News

Chiba is looking to cash in on a bout of extreme sports fever sparked by last year's Tokyo Olympics when it hosts Japan's first-ever X Games, with corporate sponsors lining up to get in on the action.

X Games Chiba 2022, a three-day multi-sport event to be held from April 22 at the Zozo Marine Stadium outside Tokyo, will bring big-name stars, including some Olympic athletes, to wow crowds in high-octane skateboard, BMX and Moto X competitions.

The addition of skateboarding and freestyle BMX to the Tokyo Games breathed some fresh air into the sometimes staid Olympics and now the X Games are coming to Japan to ride the wave of interest generated by Japan's superstar medalists.

The X Games are more than two decades old and were called the Extreme Games earlier in their life. They were launched in 1995 by U.S sports channel ESPN and have taken place in North America, Asia and Europe, garnering over 6 million spectators to date, but never before in Japan.

It is an invite-only event, meaning organizers get to pick and choose the athletes who will be the biggest crowd-pleasers. More than 100 Japanese and foreign skaters and riders are expected to arrive in Chiba, including gold medalists from the inaugural skateboarding and men's BMX Park Olympic competitions.

Skateboarders Yuto Horigome and Sakura Yosozumi, Olympic champions in the men's street and women's park events, respectively, will return to the big stage in their homeland for the first time since last summer's games.

"I dream about competing on this stage. I want to do my best to win the gold medal," said Yosozumi, whose best X Games finish is third place.

In the Moto X competition, in which riders take motorbikes off big jumps with flips and various other acrobatics mixed in, there will be a "best whip" event and freestyle demos.

X Games Chiba is expected to have wide international coverage through ESPN, which reaches at least 500 million households across 192 countries and regions. It will also be beamed into Japanese homes through local broadcaster Nippon TV.

Corporate sponsors of the event are looking at it as an opportunity to increase their exposure in a new demographic, hoping that will translate to the bottom line.

Chiba has been promoting regional development through international conferences, sports and musical events. It expects around 90,000 spectators to attend the X Games, resulting in a positive ripple effect for the local economy.

Companies from a wide range of industries are listed as sponsors. Japanese distributor Web-Shark Inc. became a title partner to expand global recognition of Yogibo, a U.S. beanbag company it acquired in 2021.

It is joined by publishing company Kodansha Ltd., which is looking to expand book sales overseas, and X-Mobile Co., which wants to grab a bigger share in the low-cost cellphone service market.

"I hope that the attention won't be short-lived," says Shinji Kawano, the executive chairman of the event's organizing committee.

Event organizers are planning to set up a space outside the venue for visitors to get a taste of the sports, with cheap 500-yen ($4.00) tickets to entice elementary and junior high school students to get involved.

After the Olympics and Paralympics in Tokyo were largely held without spectators due to the pandemic, the presence of crowds in Chiba for the X Games will add to the atmosphere created by the athletes.

"I want to make an impact by flying higher than anyone else, and show people watching how fun it is," said Rim Nakamura, a freestyle BMX park rider who represented Japan at the Olympics.