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Coverage of X Games bridges TV, Web

From production to promotion, skateboarder Tony Hawk's 900-degree aerial spin has been treated with both media in mind.

SAN FRANCISCO--Skateboarder Tony Hawk's 900-degree aerial spin made extreme sports history Sunday, and tonight ESPN.com may do the same for convergence.

Hawk's half-pipe stunt, already seen as the crowning moment of the X Games here, premiers at 6 p.m., the same time that ESPN.com will go live with a broad multimedia package. Half an hour earlier, Hawk will do a Web interview, to be replayed on TV as a bottom-of-the-screen "chat crawl."

From production to promotion, coverage of the X Games has been treated with both media in mind as the alternative sports phenomenon attracts an estimated 200,000 spectators this week, according to Kristen Fisher, senior multimedia producer at ESPN.com.

"It's a stepping stone, a model of integration," says Fisher, whose résumé includes Web production at the Super Bowl, the World Series, Triple Crown horse racing, and figure skating for ABC Sports Online. "It's the perfect event because the audience is the same on TV and the Net."

ESPN, the creator, operator, and media rights holder of the event, is channeling skateboarding, street luge, and sport climbing onto the Web in ways established competitions like the Super Bowl haven't explored.

Ownership is key. Although they're "media friendly," mainstream American sports from college football to the NHL weren't created with TV in mind and aren't the property of broadcasters. In addition, TV and Web rights often are owned separately, as at last year's Super Bowl, when Fox Sports carried the game and Lycos developed the official Web site.

For ESPN.com staff, the X Games partnership has been a boon. "I've worked at events in the smallest cubbies," Fisher notes during a tour of ESPN's block-long Web and TV production offices, which house the X Games site servers. "Internet has never had this kind of space," she said.

The arrangement has meant a lot to the Web team's productivity, Fisher adds. "We're not just taking any more. We're giving back, adding content, adding promotions," she says, citing X Games Raw, a section of video clips sponsored by Intel and RealNetworks.

Heavily backed by corporate sponsors, much of the X Games experience feeds on excitement generated by giant video screens, live radio broadcasts, and on-site multimedia activities. Visitors even find Sony Playstation competitions mimicking the action.

But like established sports, the competition depends on superstars like Hawk. His "900" so overwhelmed fellow competitors that skateboarding's Best Trick competition was declared "no contest," ruining ESPN.com's plans for a user poll of the top X Games stunt--officially placing the competition in league with traditional sports.