The Red Bull Show Goes On

At London's Empire of Dirt event, action sport's biggest sponsor sells youth, acrobatics and energy drinks Bull Content Pool

BMX rider Drew Bezanson performs a backflip at Red Bull's Empire of Dirt contest last weekend at North London's Alexandra Palace.

Red Bull is in the hearts and minds business. Forget all that stuff about sugar water, taurine, or giving you wings; you don’t gain a roughly 50 percent global market share (some four and a half billion cans sold annually) based on the strength of a product that tastes better mixed with vodka or Jaegermeister. You do it by selling an idea. What is that idea? Here’s what it’s not: That your product is the next best thing to narcotics on a night out. No, the idea behind Red Bull is fresh-air spectacle. It’s the circus taken out of the tent and re-cast against the ennobling backdrop of the firmament. It’s young people doing improbable things, usually high in the air, while other young people watch in awe, and bask in the glow of possibility. It’s beauty in movement. 

Because Red Bull has all the corporate transparency of Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory, that’s about all there really is to say about the Empire of Dirt BMX event that took place over the weekend. The improbably named English farm boy and biker Kye Forte and his brother, Leo, designed a dirt jumping course that was, in essence, the greatest sand castle ever built. It cost a rumored $1 million and took over three weeks for Red Bull’s Oompa Loompas to shovel 25 thousand tons of composite concrete sand onto the slopes of Alexandra Palace, which overlooks London from its hilltop perch. Friday and Saturday saw some of the best BMX bikers in the world bombing down the great, whimsical, dusty creation, spinning and flipping over jumps, as if subverting the rules of God and physics to the adoring cheers of an estimated 10,000-person crowd. 

There might have been some sort of trophy at the end, but none of the riders interviewed were quite sure, or overly concerned. They came because they were invited. They came because their sponsors paid for their plane tickets. They came because they wanted to ride a sand castle that was, for a few days, one of the most remarkable structures in a city of remarkable structures and, as you read this, is already being demolished and loaded into dump trucks to be taken back to the quarry. They came because no one but Red Bull sinks a million dollars into building a sand castle. There was no greater rationale, just kinetic grandeur and PR.