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ESPN details reasons for coming back

ESPN’s Chris Stiepock said yesterday that the sports television network has long considered Aspen the ideal locale for the Winter X Games, offering the perfect mountain venue in a high-profile resort.

He said ESPN had long hoped to make a more permanent home for the four-day winter action sports festival, which features gravity-defying competition between skiers, snowboarders, snowmobilers and motorcycle riders.

“There certainly is a list of other resorts interested in hosting the games, but over the years we haven’t spoken to them,” Stiepock said. “Aspen never really gave us the push to call anybody else.”



Stiepock, ESPN’s general manager of the Winter X Games, spoke with The Aspen Times yesterday shortly after ESPN and the Aspen Skiing Co. announced that the games would remain here through 2007. The joint announcement was made at a press conference at the ESPN Zone store in downtown Denver.

This year marks the third straight season that ESPN and the Skico have collaborated on the popular extreme winter sports competition. It also marks the first time a city has hosted an X Games competition, either summer or winter, for three consecutive years. The games have traditionally relocated every two years.



As the games have grown in popularity, however, the number of resorts that can handle the crush of fans, media, athletes and support crews has diminished. Last year, an estimated 48,000 fans showed up to watch the games, filling hotel rooms from Glenwood Springs to Aspen.

“We’ve probably outgrown 90 percent of the resorts out there,” Stiepock said.

Another factor in ESPN’s decision to settle down at Buttermilk is the cache that comes with a high-profile resort like Aspen.

“We are an event that relies on sponsorship dollars ” in Aspen you have a town that our sponsors love,” Stiepock said.

He said the notion of a long-term deal has been on the minds of executives from both companies for several years.

In fact, the decision to hold Winter X Games VIII, which begin on Friday, at Buttermilk came out of earlier discussions about a long-term deal, said David Perry, Skico vice president of marketing.

He said negotiations had originally been aimed at securing the games at Buttermilk for two additional seasons. But late last spring, the two sides could only agree on one additional year.

Negotiations picked up again in August, after ESPN said it wanted to broadcast the games live at prime time for its East Coast audience, requiring additional investments by the Skico in lighting and relocation of the superpipe.

“We said, ‘OK ” let’s talk about a long-term deal again,'” Perry explained.

He said the deal was also helped along by the city of Aspen, which agreed in principal to commit $100,000 a year toward covering the cost of the games.

“This is a fantastic event, and to be able to plan for it for three more years makes it even more fantastic,” Aspen Mayor Helen Klanderud said.

Another key was the participation of the lodging community, which has dropped its rates to make the games more affordable for both media and fans, Perry said.

He declined to discuss the terms of the deal, though he did say that the Skico initially invested about $1 million for the first year and spends roughly $500,000 a year to put them on.

For the short-term, the games are a money loser for the Skico, because ticket sales dip sharply over X Games weekend.

“We think it is a sound investment that will bring returns for the resort in the future,” Perry said. “There’s no more powerful tool than ESPN’s worldwide audience to strengthen the reputation of Aspen-Snowmass as an international center of action sports and youth culture.”

[Allyn Harvey’s e-mail address is aharvey@aspentimes.com]


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