Action sports

The Baltimore Sun

You really couldn't ask for a better kickoff weekend to the Dew Tour than this one.

Baltimore played host to the Panasonic Open, the second straight year the tour's first stop came here, and fans flocked to the Camden Yards Sports Complex on a sunny weekend.

And it looks as if they will have a chance to flock there again next year.

The Maryland Stadium Authority signed two one-year contracts with the Dew Tour for 2008 and 2009. Having the Dew Tour return next year is contingent on the Orioles' schedule, but it appears the Panasonic Open is here to stay.

"At this point, there is a contract in place for next year," said David Raith, acting executive director of the stadium authority. "It'll definitely come back; we've notified the Orioles and requested that the O's be out of town at that time. Major League Baseball and the Orioles made it work for us."

Many said Baltimore is a haven for action sports.

"There's a lot of kids around here that are big into skating and BMX-ing, so the culture of the city really fits in," said Spencer Prehn, 27, of Baltimore.

Others came to the event for much simpler reasons.

"I came to see Ryan Sheckler!" said Ashley Kroll, 14, of Baltimore, referring to the 18-year-old Skateboard Park winner and MTV celebrity. "It's also a lot of fun and there's a lot of things to do."

This year's tour featured a sprawling skate park, a towering vert ramp and a dirt course filled with gigantic hills where athletes wowed appreciative fans.

There was also a festival portion of the stop where large companies offered free games and activities and local businesses set up information booths. There were miniature park and dirt courses that allowed young fans to try to imitate the competitors.

Overall, Baltimore appeared to embrace the tour.

"It's huge man, it's huge. Baltimore deserves to see stuff like this," Skateboard Vert winner and Baltimore native Bucky Lasek said. Lasek was largely responsible for getting the tour to come to Baltimore last year.

"[Baltimore] showed how much they appreciated it. I got so many calls on how people are going to bring their kids out. They love it, man. It's so much pride, man, so much pride."

The Panasonic Open brought in 52,502 spectators this weekend. That was less than last year's total of 54,907, but the event was still successful in bringing in lots of money and valuable exposure to the city.

And those fans spent money while the event offered more exposure to the city.

"There's an economic impact and we're still trying to figure out what it is, but it's probably around $10 million," said Tom Noonan, president and CEO of the Baltimore Area Convention and Visitors Association. "Even greater than that, it brings in a different audience to the city of Baltimore in not just attendance, but worldwide watching on television.

"This brings a whole different market segment. When people come and see things like the Inner Harbor, they have a great time. They use our restaurants, hotels and have a positive image and tell people to come here."

The Action Sports Tour has also been pleased with Baltimore being the kickoff stop because of the fan turnout and support.

AST president Wade Martin said: "I think one of the great things about the fans is not just that they're turning out in high numbers, but they're real energetic, they seem real knowledgeable about the sports and they're real engaged in the competitions."

Many of the athletes said Baltimore was one of the premier stops on tour.

"It's that atmosphere. I think the crowd's a little bit harder here," said Sheckler, a three-time Dew Cup winner. "The crowd's amazing. I love Baltimore, and I can't wait to come back next year."

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