The Winter X Games franchise will expand to include a three-year agreement to host an event in Calgary, Alberta, but local fans of the extreme sports competition need not worry: The new venue is meant to enhance, not supplant, the extravaganza that’s been held at Buttermilk since 2002, according to spokespersons for ESPN and Aspen Skiing Co.
A development deal involving Manifesto Sport Management and Insight Television, and granted by ESPN, is in the works, though several million dollars and a sponsorship deal still need to be confirmed. Insight is behind events such as the Juno Awards and “The Amazing Race-Canada.”
Specific dates for a Canadian X Games event in 2020 haven’t been set, according to ESPN spokeswoman Grace Coryell. She said it’s not known if Calgary would precede or follow Aspen’s X Games, which is traditionally held the last week of January.
“Calgary was granted the exclusive rights to bring an X Games event to Canada,” Coryell said Monday in an email. “That event would be in addition to the X Games in Aspen, if the Calgary event is confirmed.”
Media in Canada initially reported that the contract was “exclusive,” suggesting that it would be the only Winter X Games of its kind held during the season. That was clarified by the ESPN spokeswoman, who noted the three-year contract is contingent upon securing corporate sponsorships and would be exclusive to Canada. A source who asked not to be named said about $4 million (Canadian) must first be raised.
The past three years, Winter X Games have been run in Oslo, Norway, in addition to Aspen. Tignes, France, has also hosted European Winter X Games events. In January, the Aspen Skiing Co. announceda five-year extension that will keep the games in town through 2024.
Calgary is pumped for the X Games. It was the host of the 1988 Winter Olympics, in which freestyle skiing was introduced to the world. Freeskiing and freeriding athletes from Canada, including Cassie Sharpe and Mark McMorris, have dominated recent X Games and the 2018 Winter Olympics. Mogul skier Mikael Kingsbury is considered the most accomplished in his sport of all time.
A story this week in the Calgary Herald spoke to the excitement the X Games is generating.
“Winter X Games could be a new legacy for Calgary,” was the story’s headline, which referenced the economic impacts that could be expected as a host city. Events would be held in Olympic Park (now called Winpark) and Stampede Park, the longtime venue for the Calgary Stampede, a Western-themed event with a 100-year history.
In 2019, Winter X Games Aspen set a new attendance record, seeing 115,000 people come through the gates at Buttermilk between Jan. 24-27.
According to the story, “Mayor Naheed Nenshi said the Winter X Games would bring 75,000 spectators to Calgary each year during the event, and it’s estimated the city would realize $75 million per year in economic activity.” An earlier report quoted the mayor, who could not be reached Monday for comment, saying the Winter X Games could support 540 jobs.
The newspaper reported that, through its tourism bureau, the city would invest $1.8 million annually, from 2020 to 2022, in support of the Winter X Games. The province had committed to $13.5 million to host the event, the story notes.
“Canada will join Norway and France in securing rights to host the Winter X Games, and the long-standing Winter X Games in Aspen, Colo., will continue, as they have for the past 18 consecutive years,” the article says.
Aspen Skiing Co. vice president of communications Jeff Hanle said Monday he believed the Calgary X Games could shine an even a bigger spotlight on Winter X Games Aspen.
“It’s good for the sport, spreads things out and gives our X Games more exposure,” he said. “We don’t think it takes anything away from our event. It probably adds to it having more eyes on the franchise. These types of events have been taking place in different countries, different places. The big one continues here.”
In November 2018, residents of Calgary voted against being considered a host for the 2026 Winter Games. But the winter sports-hungry country is clearly excited for the chance to present another world-class event, said the source. The person stressed that the planning behind the X Games Calgary bid was in the works for several years.
Cindy Ady, CEO for Tourism Calgary, was quoted in the Herald as saying, “For three years, we get the Games. We want that forever.” Ady could not be reached Monday for comment.