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X Marks the Spot

14 Dec, 2002 By: Dan Bennett

Let's face it, it's a “Jackass” world -- at least for now. Not that there's anything wrong with that. Along with the extraneous good times that accompany some sports titles, though, there are also companies dedicated to the professionalism, grace and skill that go along with extreme sports.

San Luis Obispo, Calif.-based VAS Entertainment, formerly Video Action Sports, has been producing quality action sports titles since 1988, way ahead of the curve for this genre. The company has more than 3,500 sports titles available and is always releasing new high-quality titles.

“Our philosophy is the true representation of the core sports,” said Eric Boyd, director of business development for VAS Entertainment and president of the company's Rise Above Entertainment label.

“We were representing a niche market, but now that niche market is not so much niche as mainstream. Kids today are sports savvy. They open up their closets, and it's not necessarily a basketball or football that falls out, but probably a skateboard.”

Authenticity is the key for VAS, and in partnership with Ventura Distribution, the company has kept up its innovative service program to the retailers traditionally found in this genre -- smaller independent stores, sporting goods chains and specialty shops -- while also improving its long-running relationship with larger mass merchants.

“The success of a release is based on authenticity,” Boyd said. “We live in a world where there are two different marketplaces: the core mom-and-pops and the mass retailer. It's a challenge to find different ways of servicing both markets, and we've used our creativity in doing so.”

VAS has adopted a studio approach, finding talented producers and giving them the resources they need to succeed, then seeing the product through to the marketplace.

“We're unique in our world in that there's not anything quite like us,” Boyd said.

“We try to plan out marketing and development without messing with the integrity of the producer's vision. The product must be authentic. You can't fool a 13-to-18-year-old.”

VAS introduced its successful “CKY” skateboarding series more than 18 months ago and did big business with the classic racing title Mischief. The company also has enjoyed prominent success with its ongoing ski and snowboarding programs. Next month VAS releases the original, classic surf title Blue Crush.

“We had between 18 to 20 releases last year, and we're looking at two to three per month for 2003,” Boyd said. “We're going to continue developing our studio model, entering more strategic alliances with music companies and talent agencies, and bringing everything together under one dynamic umbrella.”

But VAS isn't the only game in town.

Trinidad Entertainment, in its partnership with Image Entertainment, distributes Trinidad's White Knuckle Action Sports line.

White Knuckle releases titles involving most of the extreme sports.

“The challenge for us [had] been twofold: proper placement and shelf space,” said Erik St. Anthony, CEO of Trinidad Entertainment.

“In the past year, we've seen a 300 percent increase in action sports video sales.”

Trinidad works with retailers on special promotions.

“Retailer support has included free DVD giveaways with purchase at Hastings,” St. Anthony said. “We have endcap promotions with Best Buy, Fry's and Virgin. Our major objective for 2003 is to move into the rental arena both with independents and with chain stores.”

The biggest White Knuckle title of 2002 was the big-wave surf title Laird.

“In addition to Laird, we released 20 titles during the past year, with a scheduled release of 28 more titles in 2003.”

The supplier has released the snowboarding title The Empire, the skiing title Blunt, the mountain biking title Disorder III: Freewheel Burning and the skating title Black Out. White Knuckle is capitalizing on the release of Universal Home Video's Blue Crush Jan. 14 with its own girl-surf title, Ocean Angels. The supplier is following that up with the February “lifestyle piece” release DVX.

“It has a magazine-styled DVD layout, geared toward the 18 and older, mature audience,” St. Anthony said. “It will provide the best in action sports, Playboy-style nudity, punk band videos and interviews with stars like Tommy Chong.”

Canada-based Liquid Media is another company that combines action sports with carefree lifestyles. Recent titles include the snowboarding epic Still Struggling and the latest in the company's BMX series, Road Fools: The Deep South. The new title Liquid Courage mixes things up a little, combining “extreme sports fueled by alcohol and adrenaline, parties and bikinis.”

The title's advertising says it all: “Prepare yourself for nudity, riots, violence, general stupidity and graphic images.”

“The company was created to satisfy the demand for action sports videos by the mainstream retailers,” said Bruce Clayton, director of sales and acquisitions for Liquid Media Distribution Ltd.

“The X Games and Gravity Games have been attracting larger audiences every year, and kids can't get enough. Moms are saying that their kids are pulling away from team sports and moving more into the independent realm of action sports.”

The company's sales staff and executives are participants themselves.

“As fans and participants in action sports, we're in a great position to promote these films,” Clayton said. “It's easy to have passion for something you enjoy. We believe in the filmmakers and the athletes. We have an indepth knowledge of the lifestyle and live it every day.”

Other aggressive suppliers are also moving in on the action. Thousand Oaks, Calif.-based Monterey Video is preparing to release its first two original productions involving extreme sports, part of its “Over the Edge” series.

The series debuts April 29 with BoardsX and Motorcycle MayhemX. Participants in the series include recognized athletes Tony Hawk, Kris Markovich, Terje Haakonsen, Rob Machado and Tommy “The Cat” Clowers.

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