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Tech Industry

Dot-coms swarm X-Games to court BMX crowd

The number of guerrilla marketers at the X-Games in San Francisco has mushroomed, mainly because of dot-coms.

SAN FRANCISCO--Next to the rooftop turntables on the Napster van, a woman with a ponytail down to her thighs dances and tosses stickers to young fans.

Up the street, teenagers crowd inside a Seagate Technology bus decorated with vintage skateboards and live music videos. Nearby, mobs shove into a Gamers.com booth to register email addresses for a chance to win prizes.

Welcome to the guerrilla marketing community gathered here outside the X-Games, an extreme sports event catering to boys and young men. In its sixth year, the six-day show features Evel Knievel-type stunts involving skateboards, in-line skates and BMX bikes.

The event has long been a favorite with fringe advertisers, but this year promoters say the number of guerrilla marketers has mushroomed mainly because of dot-coms. E-commerce companies ranging from controversial music distributor Napster to esoteric e-tailers selling animal-print bags have swarmed the event, hoping to get the attention of impressionable attendees--people who are largely computer literate and eager to spend their allowance online.

"I don't recall seeing many dot-com companies last year," said Ian Votteri, assistant director of marketing and communications with X-Games. "Usually it's companies like Jones Soda--they come and sell their Whoopass energy drink."

Kathleen Sullivan, director of sponsorship promotions for X-Games sponsor ESPN, said the number of guerrilla marketers at the event, and those that spill out into the surrounding streets near the San Francisco Bay, have almost tripled.

It's not surprising that so many marketers are fighting for the attention of the teenage crowd.

The vast majority of X-Games attendees fall into a demographic called "Generation Y," which loosely encompasses people between the ages of 6 and 20. Advertisers covet this group, which is at least as large as and more ethnically diverse than the baby boom generation and full of people who have an innate understanding of computers and the Internet.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics' Consumer Expenditure Survey, the 72 million Generation Y members--also known as echo boomers because many are the children of baby boomers--constitute a lucrative market. Although the majority are still teenagers, they spent about $150 billion and influenced more than $300 billion in U.S. purchases in 1998.

The X-Games seem to have become ground zero for advertisers aiming for echo boomer boys. Multicolored vans parked along San Francisco's Embarcadero Street include those for FreeCar.com, Woof.com and Myachi, a Web site that sells leopard-print hand sacks. Promoters at most of the vans hand out free goodies: stickers, key chains or raffle tickets. PeopleSoft floated its message nearby in the San Francisco Bay.

"The X-Games has become this huge marketable thing," Votteri said. "Everybody and their brother are trying to get a piece of it."

In the San Francisco Extreme Sports Village across the street from the X-Games, the city of San Francisco has sold booth space to several e-commerce companies looking to reach the X-Games overflow. The official X-Games arena holds about 17,000 people, but roughly 40,000 fans want to be part of the scene.

Sports village advertisers include Gamers.com, eHow, BrassRing.com and Macromedia, the maker of Web publishing software such as Dreamweaver and Flash. There are also traditional advertisers, such as The Sharper Image, Cellular One and the U.S. Army.

Noise from advertisers on the streets surrounding the official venue is loud in part because of the event's exclusivity. X-Games limits its sponsorship to 15 to 17 advertisers.

Mountain Dew is the exclusive soft-drink sponsor. Adobe Systems is the event's software sponsor, and Motorola is the communications sponsor. Other advertisers must crowd outside hoping to get some overflow.

Companies less appealing to teenagers struggle for attention in the parking lot across the street. Teenagers crowd the booth for Gamers.com, which features video games, but all is quiet at the Macromedia stall. Still, the publishing company is happy to be there, said Keith Cody, a Macromedia sales engineer.

"We have recruiters here for if an adult comes by," Cody said. "Or we're looking for 16-year-olds thinking about what they're going to do after high school. We're trying to build a new campus here (in San Francisco), and so it's part of our community relations."

Crowds are also thin at BrassRing. The Web site offers job search services, but the majority of people whizzing past on skateboards can't legally drive or work.

"A lot of them are here with their parents," said BrassRing marketing coordinator Karen Kurtz, who lures the kids over with free flashlight key rings. "And a lot of their parents are technical people."