Some 200 world-class athletes will soar and roar inside U.S. Bank Stadium beginning Wednesday with warm up sessions for the X Games, a four-day competition showcasing adrenalin junkies on skateboards, Moto X and BMX bikes.
The green turf inside of the not-quite-year-old stadium has been supplanted with brown and gray — dirt and concrete to create bowls, ramps and tracks for the athletes to bounce, roll, drop and in the parlance of the event — rip — through.
“This event truly shows U.S. Bank Stadium’s versatility, utilizing every space associated with the facility in an unexpected and nontraditional fashion,” said Patrick Talty, general manager for SMG, the building’s operator.
The stadium will be the first in the NFL to host an extreme sports event, he said, adding that the building and Minnesota will be on a “stage viewed by millions around the world.”
The X Games are the first in a series of mega-events for U.S. Bank Stadium that include the Super Bowl on Feb. 4, 2018, followed by the Final Four in 2019. This year, both ABC and ESPN will broadcast more than 18 hours from the X Games.
The X Games are a big draw among millennials, but baby boomers and Gen Xers may see competitors as the spiritual descendants of the late Evel Knievel, who mounted his motorcycle to jump ramp-to-ramp more than 20 years before the first Extreme Games took place in 1995.
Minnesota Super Bowl Host Committee CEO Maureen Bausch, who has a view of the stadium’s west side from her downtown office, will be eyeing the four-day operation.
“I haven’t been over to see it yet, but I’m dying to go because I’m hearing it’s really cool,” she said.
She and her team — as well as a crew from Atlanta, which is hosting the Super Bowl in 2019 — will see what works and, maybe, what doesn’t.
“Every event is a great learning experience,” Bausch said.
Attendance for the X Games in the past three years has ranged from 100,000 to 160,000 over the four days of competition. Total attendance for Super Bowl events over 10 days is projected to be 1 million.
Security will be similar to concerts, with an X Games twist: a skateboard check for guests. Spectators can bring bags into the building. They don’t need to be clear like Minnesota Vikings games, but they cannot exceed 12 by 6 by 12 inches.
The Super Bowl is tying its 52 weeks of grant-giving into the games with a $100,000 grant for a skate park at the White Earth reservation and a skateboard giveaway.
The events differ, however, in scope. The Super Bowl festivities will take up massive amounts of space, from the Mall of America to the Minneapolis Convention Center and downtown St. Paul.
The X Games will be largely concentrated inside U.S. Bank Stadium, with concerts and games occurring outside on the Medtronic Plaza and Commons Park.
Woes on the roads
Minneapolis drivers will need to show some agility of their own during the games with a number of street closings near the stadium Thursday through Sunday. Chicago Avenue is already closed between 4th and 6th streets.
Beginning Thursday, drivers won’t be able to use sections of Park and Portland avenues or 4th Street, a key exit route for drivers heading for southbound I-35W, westbound I-94 and eastbound Hiawatha Avenue.
That’s all in addition to the ongoing road construction on I-94 at the Lowry Hill Tunnel and in the immediate downtown on Nicollet Mall and Washington Avenue.
While city officials are not forecasting the frustrating traffic jams that developed when the light-rail system was down for 11 days at the end of June and the intersection of 5th and Hennepin was closed, motorists can expect to run into snags during Thursday and Friday rush hours.
John Barobs, of Move Minneapolis, a transportation management organization promoting alternatives to driving, noted that thousands of X Games fans not familiar with downtown will be on the streets.
For those who choose to drive, Barobs suggests parking in Ramp A off 7th Street near Target Field and walking, taking a bus or train or using a bike share to get to U.S. Bank Stadium.
“It’s probably best to take advantage of a park-and-ride and take an express bus or the light rail,” he said. Metro Transit is offering discounted passes.
Researcher Nichole Morris, who studies driver behavior at the Human First Lab at the University of Minnesota, said drivers should use wayfinding apps and consider going to a “happy place” by using a safe driving distraction such as an audiobook.
“If you know it will take a longer time it will be far less stressful,” she said. “Or if you follow an app and know you are on the best route, even if you are going a constant 20 miles per hour, you feel like you are making progress. If you can execute some control over the situation, you will feel better.”
Council President Barb Johnson said the games are a chance to showcase the park and the stadium.
“I’m glad we got it. It will be good PR for us,” she said.
The X Games return to U.S. Bank Stadium next summer.
Where: All events except the Harley-Davidson Flat Track race at U.S. Bank Stadium. (That will take place at the Mall of America.)
Tickets: Prices start as low as $10 for the Harley-Davidson Flat Track Racing, but can reach as high as $750 for the all-access VIP experience.
What about the party? The X Games kickoff party will be held at First Avenue in downtown Minneapolis (701 N. 1st Av.). Tickets for that show can be purchased separately. The event starts at 10 p.m. Thursday, and features Dem Atlas, followed by Aesop Rock with Rob Sonic co-headlining the night with Prof.
How can I watch? You can watch the games live on ESPN and ABC, and livestream the games on the ESPN app. Portions of the games will also be on the X Games YouTube Channel.