ASPEN - The Aspen City Council and Aspen Chamber Resort Association have agreed to pitch in $275,000 annually over the next two years toward Aspen Skiing Co.'s overall cash incentive to ESPN in an effort to keep the Winter X Games.
Of the $275,000 figure, the city will contribute $125,000, $25,000 more than its previous annual commitment. The chamber's share will be $150,000, officials confirmed Tuesday during a council work session. Previously, the chamber did not provide cash for the event but supported it through marketing efforts and by urging its members from the lodging community to offer hotel discounts, chamber Chairman Warren Klug said.
John Rigney, Skico vice president of sales and events, told council members of the need for the extra money. He said Skico representatives are in the process of finalizing the company's bid and will meet with ESPN officials over the coming weeks with the goal of reaching an agreement. Whistler, a winter resort in British Columbia, also is bidding to host a winter event.
Aspen has hosted the Winter X Games since 2002, but its most recent contract with ESPN expired after this year's games, which ran from Jan. 26 to 29. This year, the X Games drew an estimated 108,000 people to Buttermilk Mountain over the four days of competition, including 45,600 on Jan. 28 - a single-day record. Overall attendance set a record in 2011 with 114,200 people over the four days of winter-sports competition.
Rigney suggested that the economic benefits the X Games bring to Aspen, with worldwide TV exposure of the city's status as a winter resort destination, remain strong.
"TV ratings were through the roof, even this year, up 35 percent year over year," he said. "So the trajectory of this brand is still on the rise."
Rigney said the X Games are an economic anchor for Aspen every January and have become part of the community's identity.
"They're actually a long-term partner now," he said of ESPN. "We've been together 11 years. And that event has evolved right here in our backyard."
Rigney asked council members for a minimum two-year commitment but suggested the possibility of working out a three-year deal with the sports network.
Councilman Torre said that while he appreciates the presence of the Winter X Games, the city has numerous other requests for money and his position would be to remain at the $100,000 annual level.
"What we've seen over the last year and a half, since we started the Mining for Ideas program, we've fielded a ton of requests for additional funds," he said. "They're all good events, and they all contribute to our community. I think that we have fiscal responsibility to the entirety of the community, and I would only support $100,000 at this time."
But Councilman Derek Johnson, who works for Skico, joined with Mayor Mick Ireland and Councilman Steve Skadron in voicing support for the request. Councilman Adam Frisch was largely quiet on the issue but did not express opposition.
Because of Johnson's employment connection to Skico, he said he considered recusing himself from the conversation. After speaking with City Attorney Jim True and others, he decided to remain involved since the money would go directly to ESPN, not Skico, and because of the broad community benefit at stake.
Rigney sought to assure the council that the total request to the city and chamber would remain at $275,000 and that Skico won't come back to the city in a month or two with a higher request.
Torre told Rigney that another difficult aspect of supporting the funding increase is the fact that Skico won't share its financial figures on the overall incentive package with council members.
"It's a funding request without really being included in the funding strategy," Torre said. "I don't know what you're dealing with. I don't know why you said $275,000. I don't know any other opportunities you have for getting the funding that you need to go to ESPN. It's hard for me to know if a $275,000 request is valid or not. I'm taking it on total good faith."
Rigney replied that he would also ask other Roaring Fork Valley communities, including Snowmass Village, Basalt and Carbondale, to assist with the incentive package, given that all of those towns benefit from the event.
Klug said the chamber's share of the incentive will come from revenue generated by the extra 1 percent sales tax on lodging that city voters passed in November 2010. The "bed tax" was added to an already existing 0.5 percent tax devoted to tourism promotion. The combined 1.5 percent sales tax is applied only to lodging bills rather than all retail sales.
Klug said he believes the X Games have made a difference to the local economy this year at a time when North American ski resorts have largely struggled due to lackluster snowfall. TV coverage of the X Games helped counter the widespread impression that Colorado and Aspen-area skiing conditions were poor, he said.
"2013 will be the first year for an actual cash contribution (to the X Games) from (the chamber)," Klug said. "This $150,000 will have to come from the new bed tax. In the fall, we'll have to look at some rearranging of next year's budget.
"I think the X Games' image of fun, young people, great snow, having a good time, I think all of that helps us."