X Games pull out of global markets, retains winter and summer events

by Curtis Wackerle, Aspen Daily News Staff Writer

Citing economic difficulties, ESPN abruptly canceled X Games events in Spain, Brazil, Germany and France on Thursday, but remains committed to its flagship winter and summer productions, network officials said in a prepared statement.
However, whether the winter event remains in Aspen after 2014 remains to be seen. The end of X Games in Barcelona, Spain; Munich, Germany; Tignes, France and Foz do Iguacu, Brazil doesn’t change the fact that the cable network is in the “late stages” of a winter host-city bid review process, ESPN spokesman Danny Chi said via email.
The X Games first came to Buttermilk Ski Area outside of Aspen in February 2002, and have remained there since, with contracts being renewed every few years. The current deal, announced in May 2012 after widespread speculation that Aspen was in danger of losing the event, ends after the January 2014 games.
Aspen Skiing Co. Vice President of Sales and Events John Rigney said he has been in regular communication with ESPN officials about Aspen’s desire to secure a long-term X Games contract extension. Rigney met with network executives in Los Angeles in August, he said in a phone interview from Zurich, Switzerland, where he was meeting with International Skiing Federation officials.
Rigney said he was caught off guard by the announcement.
“I didn’t see it coming,” he said. “This is the first we’ve heard of it.”  
With the discontinuation of the games globally, Rigney believes Aspen is in a better position to hold on to the valuable event.
“It can only help us,” he said. “I’m glad X Games Aspen/Snowmass is alive and well. ... Regardless of what went on with their global expansion, their focus on Aspen and now Austin is a testament to our community.”
After a decade in Los Angeles, ESPN announced that the summer X Games would be moving to Austin, Tex. Those games will be held in May.
Rigney said he expects an announcement on the future of X Games in Aspen before the event comes to town Jan. 23-26.
ESPN had produced just one X Games each in Barcelona, Munich and Foz do Iguacu, although it launched the events under three-year contracts.
“We will work with our [local] partners and respect our contractual agreements,” Chi said via email.
The X Games in Tignes, a winter event, had been around since 2010.
A company statement said the “overall economics of these events do not provide a sustainable future path.”
The X Games are a crucial economic driver for Aspen and Snowmass between the holidays and Presidents’ Day, packing more people into the valley than any other draw. Their PR value in terms of reaching the youth market also is immeasurable, as they reach millions worldwide on television. When asked how Aspen will continue to attract the next generation of visitors, local officials often point to the X Games.
When the global X Games expansion was announced, along with Aspen’s contract extension in May 2012, Scott Guglielmino, ESPN’s senior vice president of programming and X Games, tied the two initiatives together.
“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,” he said in a prepared statement at the time.