Carolyn Sackariason
Aspen, CO Colorado

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January 28, 2008
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ESPN X Games franchise goes big

ASPEN " The global reach of the X Games franchise is growing to extreme levels with events now happening around the world and with the branding of related consumer products becoming a central component of the business plan.

Aspen is just one of several X Games events happening around the world. What began as one event a year in the mid 1990s, ESPN's global reach now includes events in Mexico, China, Dubai, Los Angeles and other international cities. London and Sydney are being eyed for future locations.

X Games events, such as the one in Aspen, also can be viewed live from as far away as Africa, the Middle East and Australia via expn.com, said Katie Moses Swope, spokeswoman for the event.

More than three years ago, ESPN relaunched the X brand from a consumer standpoint, offering action sporting goods such as BMX bikes, skateboards, helmets and other hard goods that are specifically "X" branded.

That gear is sold throughout the world, including Canada, Argentina, the UK and Asia. Sports Authority outlets in Japan have created concept stores, selling only X Games specific items, said Rick Alessandri, senior vice president of ESPN consumer products and managing director of the X Games franchise.

Two years ago, 660 J.C. Penney department store locations began carrying X Games apparel. A women's apparel line and X Games toys are in development, Alessandri said.

"Fourteen years of X Games has enabled us to expand the franchise," he said. "We felt our global reach of espn.com and the X Games fit well and that we had an opportunity to broaden that reach with products."

The growth of the franchise still is in its infancy and revenue generated is being reinvested.

"We are still in a significant investment mode," Alessandri said. "It's not cheap to put this event on and it's expensive to put this on around the world. We plan to keep the equity in the games and let the consumer and sponsorship sides grow."

Right now, the focus is more about how to reach kids and young adults. And that's not just happening through consumer products, but digital media as well.

Through mobile extensions, the Internet and other platforms, a world of opportunity exists for the X Games franchise to explode, Alessandri said.

"There are no limitations on what we can do with this," he said, adding that an "X" street skate video game will be launched by EA Sports next year. And X Games content is offered on X Box live just by downloading a game to the television.

"It's a holistic strategy of how do we combine all of it " digital media, merchandise, video games," Alessandri said.

What the appropriate products and reach are is still a guessing game for X franchise executives but they do know one thing for sure " they are onto something. Besides soccer, ESPN executives believe action sports resonate more with youth and young adults on a global level.

They've realized that by the success of the games internationally and how it has taken off in the past five years. The first games were held in the summer of 1995 in Rhode Island. After two years there, ESPN opened the games up for bid to cities around the country. San Diego, San Francisco and Philadelphia hosted the summer games before they moved to Los Angeles, where they have remained.

Winter X Games started in 1997 in Big Bear, Calif. and then went to Crested Butte and Mount Snow, VT. Aspen won out in 2002 and the games will remain through 2010.

In 1996, ESPN branched out to Thailand for qualifiers leading up to the annual events. Then came the Asian X Games and the events have grown from there, Swope said, adding that the athletes, spectators and sponsors can be tapped worldwide.

"It was a decision to bring the event to them," she said. "And now, in Aspen we have 250 athletes representing 20 countries."

csack@aspentimes.com


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The Aspen Times Updated Jan 28, 2008 06:50AM Published Jan 28, 2008 02:17AM Copyright 2008 The Aspen Times. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.