Snowboarder’s “triple rodeo” and the YouTube-ification of sport

British snowboarder Billy Morgan landed what is believed to be the first “triple rodeo” in December while training in Colorado. At the time of writing, different edits of his stunt have attracted close to 1m views on YouTube. It is a reminder for many other sports of what it takes to get attention.

Morgan’s video was picked up initially by the extreme sports community on websites including Onboard but it soon reached the mainstream media via ESPN and, in recent days, The Sun and the BBC. Extreme sports participants have been filming each other doing tricks ever since the bulky camcorder was invented. With the improvements in technology and an awareness of the marketing potential of stunts, it’s highly likely that a spectacular move will be captured on camera. Red Bull is among the sponsors that have moved into this market (see, for example, street trials cyclist Danny MacAskill).

Spectacular moments or passages of play occur in virtually all sports but there will generally only be a couple of incidents in dozens of hours of competition that can generate significant interest on YouTube and its rivals. In the last couple of weeks clips doing the rounds have included Tim Howard’s goal for Everton from his own penalty box and Jerome Simpson’s front flip to score a touchdown for the Cincinnati Bengals.

While these types of incidents during competition are rare, there is no reason why athletes from individual or team sports can’t have a go at some types of tricks during training – not everything that succeeds on YouTube involves risking your life. Teams and sponsors have been in on the act for some time (see, for example, the All Blacks showing off their skills and quarterback Johnny McEntee of the University of Connecticut).

There is scope to do more, particularly among lower profile sports whose major competitions may not generate much TV coverage. Demonstrations of endurance, strength or flexibility can impress viewers in sports that don’t easily lend themselves to stunts. Video training diaries are now commonplace but it’s a bigger project to produce a high quality film with the potential to attract a sizeable internet audience, requiring a fair amount of planning and investment.

Coaches, athletes and fans who value tradition in sport sometimes feel that such stunts are trivial or a distraction from the main priority of preparing for competition, which is true. We might prefer it if all fans would watch the finals of the national champinoships live. Unfortunately, there are an awful lot of 30 second clips available to watch which compete for our attention. For an audience used to dogs on skateboards, a “triple rodeo” is the least they expect.

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