Photos by Label Networks from Summer X Games 2010.

As the question continues to rage around “what is action sports these days?ESPN X Games just announced that they will be expanding their franchise to include 3 new host cities through a bid process to bring the X Games, often noted as the alternative Olympics, to different countries around the world. The evolution of action sports, and the X Games in general, has changed dramatically in the past 10 years, as certain sports have come and gone in terms of youth culture popularity (see our Spring Youth Culture Study Sports section for top sports preferred by 13-25-year-olds and size of market), but especially made-for-TV challenges, as well as brands surviving and changes in trade shows.

Interestingly, as the IOC struggles to make the Olympics more relevant, launching various social media campaigns and the Youth Olympic Games, the X Games continue to make headway in their direction, challenging what the ancient institution of sports and lifestyle sports means to fans. In terms of so-called action sports, currently in the mix for the Olympics is skiing slopestyle, while the debate continues regarding skateboarding and even surfing on a possible far horizon in the future.

Meanwhile, the X Games has changed up formats over the years, dropping, for example, aggressive inline (which still takes place as an event in other countries such as the KIA China X Games in Shanghai), and adding this summer to the LA X Games, Enduro, and Rally Car racing. Staples for the Summer Games continue to be skateboarding, motocross, and BMX; and for Winter Games, snowboarding, skiing, and snowmobiling.

Here’s what’s up from ESPN X Games:
ESPN, the leading action sports content provider and creator of the X Games, today announced a significant milestone in its long-term plans to expand the X Games on a global basis. Beginning in 2013, ESPN will produce six world-class X Games events around the world %u2013 two in the U.S. and four outside the U.S. ESPN is putting significant resources and focus behind this push for international expansion and will bring the most prestigious action sports competition to cities and fans around the world.

ESPN will conduct a formal bid process to determine the three new X Games host cities, which will join the current events in Los Angeles, Aspen and Tignes, France (where ESPN is partnered with Canal ). Cities will be selected in 2012 for a three-year agreement and will work with ESPN to produce the events.

A total of 130 hours of live TV coverage across the six X Games events on ESPN networks in the U.S. and around the world will be supplemented by coverage on digital platforms, including a year-round action sports website. The top priority of the X Games will continue to be to spotlight the world’s best action sports athletes in BMX, Skateboard, Moto X, and Rally Car Racing at the X Games; and Skiing, Snowboard and Snowmobile at the Winter X Games. Each X Games event will take on its own distinguishing character that will set it apart from the others, including the introduction of new sports and cultural elements based on the locations themselves. In addition, the X Games will continue to showcase and celebrate action sports competition while also highlighting the artistic and social elements inherent in the action sports lifestyle.

“We are incredibly excited to take the X Games to the next level,” said Scott Guglielmino, senior vice president, programming and Global X Games. “While we have produced events under the X Games banner outside the U.S. for many years, these four new X Games events will be of the same size and stature as the Los Angeles and Aspen events.”

Pro skateboarder and legend Tony Hawk, an integral part of the X Games as an iconic athlete and TV analyst, said, “It has been incredible to see the X Games grow from its relatively underground inception in 1995, to a thriving global competition circuit today. Our sports have benefited greatly from the positive exposure over the years, and I am proud to have watched it all evolve since the beginning.”