ESPN offered free buses for 2004 X Games
Upvalley governments agreed to pick up the tab for $20,000 worth of bus service for the Winter X Games in each of the next two years, if ESPN brings the event back to Buttermilk.
Elected officials from Aspen, Snowmass Village and Pitkin County unanimously approved the expenditure Thursday at a meeting of the Elected Officials Transportation Committee. The EOTC controls the proceeds of a countywide half-cent sales tax and half-cent use tax dedicated to transit.
The Aspen Skiing Co. is putting together a package that will constitute its offer to ESPN to lure back the games after two runs at Buttermilk. The cable network has traditionally moved on after two years at the same venue.
ESPN is looking to the Skico to make it more financially attractive to bring the four-day event back to Buttermilk, according to Bill Kane, Skico vice president.
“They’ve come back to us with a pretty aggressive upping of the ante . we’re in a bit of a bidding war to get the X Games back for a third year,” he told the EOTC. “I think they have some suitors that are making this a lot more financially attractive than we are.
“We’ve got to get back to them with a package of incentives. The clock is ticking,” Kane added.
The ski company has committed more than $1 million to the event next winter, including doubling its operating budget for the X Games, according to John Rigney, managing director of event marketing for the Skico.
The company is willing to spend $20,000 on busing to shuttle spectators to the games in 2004 and 2005 and looked to the EOTC to match that contribution. The EOTC money means ESPN won’t have to spend anything on contracting for bus service with the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority.
EOTC members had no quarrel with bringing back the X Games, though two county commissioners voiced concerns about setting a precedent by subsidizing the transit costs associated with a special event.
Commissioner Patti Clapper suggested a $1 fare for riders to help offset the cost. Buses to the games have been free in past years.
“Does Jazz Aspen come in and ask for a subsidy?” said Commissioner Jack Hatfield. “Does the next big event come in? I’m concerned about that.”
Both commissioners, however, voted in favor of the expenditure.
A return of the games will be worth far more than $20,000 to Aspen-Snowmass, both in terms of visitors and the value of the ESPN broadcasts of the event, Kane noted.
“I think on the back of an envelope, you can figure out that $20,000 comes back,” he said. “I think this would be more accurately described as an investment rather than a subsidy.”
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Max Weintraub has been senior curator at the Aspen Art Museum since January 2019.