The Aspen Skiing Co. executive in charge of negotiations to keep the ESPN Winter X Games in Aspen said the broad framework of the deal to keep the signature event here through 2014 was in place in March, but the final details were still being ironed out this week.
The announcement Tuesday that the X Games are staying for two more years ended speculation about the games’ future in Aspen, as the most recent contract, announced in 2009, expired after this January’s event.
“Of course we didn’t want to see this go,” John Rigney, SkiCo vice president of sales and events, said Tuesday. “It was a little nerve-wracking. But at the end of the day, we wholeheartedly believed that [ESPN] would want the best place [for the event].”
With the combination of the venue at Buttermilk, where all the competitions can take place in a compact, easily accessible area, and the support of the community, Aspen fit the bill, Rigney said.
Officials with the television network announced Tuesday morning that Aspen will continue to be part of an expanded X Games lineup. ESPN had gone through a year-long bidding process where it sought international cities to host new X Games events, attracting broad interest. Although it never solicited bids to specifically find a new venue for Aspen’s Winter X Games, there was interest in the bidding process from Whistler, British Columbia, and many wondered if ESPN would host two Winter X Games in North America.
Beginning in 2013, the action sports extravaganza also will host events in Foz do Iguacu, Brazil; Barcelona, Spain; and Munich, Germany. Existing X Games franchises in Los Angeles and Tignes, France also will stay put.
The latest contract, which keeps the winter’s largest event in town through 2014, marks the fourth time ESPN and SkiCo officials have extended the games’ stay in Aspen since they first came to Buttermilk in 2002.
“ESPN is thrilled to extend its relationship with Aspen Skiing Co., the city of Aspen, Pitkin County and town of Snowmass Village for two more years,” Scott Guglielmino, ESPN senior vice president of programming and X Games, said in a press release. “After 11 fantastic years of world-class competition and progression in Aspen, we’re delighted to move into the new phase of X Games growth toward a global youth and lifestyle brand with one of our most long-term and valued relationships.”
Rigney noted that both the SkiCo and public sector agencies “increased the value of the deal” to keep ESPN in town. The city of Aspen stepped up its annual commitment supporting the games from $100,000 to $125,000; the town of Snowmass Village is investing $170,000 instead of $85,000; the Elected Officials Transportation Committee is doubling its contribution from $50,000 to $100,000. There also is new money from the Aspen Chamber Resort Association, which is contributing $150,000; it was not a funding partner in the past.
Rigney added that he cannot disclose the details of SkiCo’s financial contribution to the event, but that it also is increasing. Hotels and lodges also contribute to the games in the form of free or discounted rooms for X Games personnel.
“This is a huge statement on behalf of the entire Aspen/Snowmass community,” Rigney said.
The X Games, which take place over four days in late January, brought a record 114,000 spectators to Buttermilk in 2011, and 108,000 this year. They return Jan. 24-27, 2013. The event is perhaps the biggest on the calendar for Aspen, at least in terms of the number of people — most of them young — that come to town.
Rigney said he had no reason to believe that ESPN will be looking for a new suitor after 2014.
“I certainly hope not and I couldn’t envision why that would be,” he said. “We’ll have a nice little 13-year streak going at that point.”
Rigney speculated that the contract extension took longer to be announced this time around because ESPN wanted to package news about Aspen with the new X Games host cities.
“Try hammering out six different contracts in multiple languages,” he said.