Equal prize money for men, women at Aspen Winter X Games

Nate Peterson
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
Published: Nathan Bilow AP

ASPEN ” Call it Title X: After ongoing discussions with various women’s sports organizations, ESPN announced Monday that January’s Winter X Games 13 in Aspen will include equal prize money for men and women.

For a network that prides itself as a leader in promoting women’s sports, the move was necessary, said Katie Moses Swope, director of public relations for both the Winter X Games and the X Games in Los Angeles.

“Our executives have a great, open relationship with the Women’s Sports Foundation and [nonprofit skateboarding organization] the Alliance,” Moses Swope said. “Really, over recent years, with the recent successes in women’s sport … we decided to recognize their talent with an equal purse.”

Moses Swope said the decision wasn’t influenced by other marquee action sports events, such as the Burton Global Open Series, going to equal prize purses, but instead was a conclusion that came after years of feedback from athletes and judges.

“We’ve had a lot of feedback, whether it was prize purses or building courses. Such as, do you build separate courses for men and women?” Moses Swope said. “We’ve had a lot of positive and negative feedback. This was a decision we did on our own.”

But it didn’t come without some prodding.

According to a news release on the Alliance website, a concerted effort to lobby ESPN executives for equal prize purses began as early as 2006, on the eve of X Games 12. That’s when three Alliance co-founders met privately in Los Angeles with John Skipper, ESPN’s executive vice president of content and “struck … [a] deal to bring women’s action sports to parity with the men’s side ” financially and in broadcast exposure ” over the next year or two.”

Regardless of how the decision came about, it’s one that ESPN is excited about, Moses Swope said. She said the response on action sports websites and blogs has been overwhelmingly supportive.

Local Winter X Games athletes Gretchen Bleiler and Peter Olenick did not return calls seeking comment.

The payouts for athletes at the X Games are among the highest in action sports.

While ESPN hasn’t officially released how much its prize purses will be for January’s Winter X Games at Buttermilk, male medal winners at the X Games in Los Angeles this summer earned prize checks of $50,000.

The equal pay for prize money debate is one that transcends action sports and is one that ESPN has even brought attention to in its reporting on other major sporting events, such as professional golf and tennis.

In general, sporting events organizers have defended uneven payouts for males and females by arguing that there is a talent gap between the sexes and that the pay only reflects that. When asked about such arguments in regard to male and female action sports athletes, Moses Swope acknowledged that certain event organizers still defend uneven payouts, but it’s a moot point for the X Games ” at least for now.

“This is a positive thing,” she said. “We felt we wanted to recognize the talent and the caliber of these athletes. You’re going to have differences in talent in the X Games, but how athletes have progressed in certain disciplines, that’s how we based our decision.”

The Winter X Games, which are set to remain at Buttermilk through 2010, return Jan. 22-25.