Austin, Texas, the so-called Live Music Capital of the World, has been selected to host one of six stops on the Global X Games circuit for the next four years, ESPN announced Wednesday.
Austin was chosen from a pool of four finalists and will replace longtime host Los Angeles, which is bidding adieu to the X Games later this month after 11 years in the summer spotlight. Austin's inaugural X Games are set to take place May 15-18, 2014. Chicago, Detroit and Charlotte, N.C., also were in the running to replace L.A.
Circuit of The Americas (COTA), a 1,600-acre sports and entertainment venue 20 minutes southeast of downtown Austin, submitted the winning bid. COTA opened last year and already hosts the only Formula One race in America, the U.S. Grand Prix, which attracted 260,000 fans during its debut weekend last November.
Scott Guglielmino, ESPN's senior vice president for programming and Global X, said Austin's vibrant spirit, as well as the potential for a "festival feel" at COTA, helped sway X Games decision-makers.
"First of all, Austin as a city has done a terrific job over the last several years embracing big events," Guglielmino said. "Music, obviously, is a big piece of that, and they have a very active community and city. The other piece of it was when we got on the ground in Austin and met Bobby [Epstein, COTA's chairman and founding partner] and his group and saw the facility, it felt right very quickly. They shared a vision in terms of growing out this event."
Epstein, who touted COTA's expansive grounds and the city's "offbeat" culture, said that learning Austin's bid won was "like when you're going after a beautiful girl and you find out she likes you in return."
"If you haven't visited the venue, you would probably think of it as only a motorsports venue," Epstein said, crediting the bid's project manager, Paul Thornton, for leading the campaign. "But when you get there, you see that it's designed to host big events. We've got 1,600 acres. It's really a campus. And as part of that, there's a tremendous park area, a beautiful amphitheater. The other components of COTA are not afterthoughts. It's more than a racetrack."
The majority of competitions will be held at COTA, with the remainder staged downtown. Although this will be the first time the X Games have taken place outside of Los Angeles in the past 11 years, Guglielmino said geography didn't play a significant role in ESPN's decision.
"We view the X Games as a global play, and we view it certainly in the U.S. as a national play," he said. "So we felt comfortable in any of those four [finalist] markets that we were going to be able to resonate nationally either way."
Former San Antonio Spurs and Minnesota Vikings owner Red McCombs, another founding partner at COTA, called Austin's win "a great day for the state of Texas."
Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell said in a statement: "The X Games celebrate fitness, courage and individuality -- traits greatly valued by our community -- and we look forward to showing the world all of the wonderful things Austin has to offer."
Austin's supporters bolstered their chances with a rousing rally at the state capitol in early June. Thousands of residents, including a strong contingent from the city's action sports community, showed up to welcome ESPN executives who were in town to evaluate the bid. Epstein remembers bumping into a man who had helped build a makeshift vert ramp for the occasion.
"He said, 'Look, I'm giving my labor and my expertise for free just because I love what this would mean to Austin,'" Epstein said. "So I think there's a genuine feeling among the people who live here that this is something we want."
Although it's too early to say whether locally popular sports such as wakeboarding will be added to the docket for Austin, Guglielmino and Epstein did say a handful of possibilities have been discussed.
The Austin X Games will take place more than two months earlier than the event they're replacing, due largely to the city's stifling summer heat. X Games Barcelona, which was plagued by rain in May, is moving to a different date. An ESPN spokesman said next year's complete Global X Games schedule will be released soon.
In an ongoing and related bid process, ESPN is currently evaluating proposals for its North American winter X Games stop. Aspen, Colo., has hosted the event since 2002, but the town's contract expires after January 2014's edition. An announcement on where the North American winter stop will take place in 2015 and beyond is expected this fall.
In response to ESPN's selecting Austin, bid organizers in Detroit posted a message to their Facebook page announcing that they now plan to "create our own 'X Games.'"
"It doesn't matter" that Austin was picked," the message read, "because we are not walking away, and we don't believe the movement of people who have gotten behind the cause are either."