I accept that it started as a group of guys doing their thing but i also think the marketing men grabbed onto the notion with both hands. And their teeth.
And who are these men exactly? Who do they work for? The first freeride specific bike was the Kona Stinky, designed by a guy who rode (and still rides) the Shore all through the 90's, if not before. The same holds true for the owner of Cove bikes. He still rips it up on his bike and is all about the ride. Both those guys have known one another a long time and have been pretty influential in the B.C. mountain bike scene (not without international reprocussions.) Now those are just two examples pertaining to the North Shore freeride scene, and they are not suits or marketing guys. If there exists a greedy marketing department in the likes of Shimano, Specialized, Giant etc., I'll leave up to your imagination, but if so they didn't create a niche, but latched on to one so their R&D department could produce more units to sell.