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ESPN set for a date with nowhere to go

Brent Gardner-Smith
Aspen Times Staff Writer

We know when the next Winter X Games will take place, we just don’t know where.

ESPN announced Wednesday that it has set the dates for its Winter X Games VIII for Jan. 22 to Jan. 25, 2004. But, the cable television network said “information on the site is forthcoming.”

One local observed the announcement of the date without a site sounded a bit like a man setting a date for a wedding before a bride had been found.

ESPN and the Aspen Skiing Co. are still negotiating a possible deal to bring the Winter X Games back to Buttermilk Mountain for the third consecutive season. The Skico and ESPN originally inked a two-year deal.

Last week, David Perry, the Skico’s senior vice president of marketing and sales met with ESPN executives to keep working on the potential deal.

“The people at ESPN are good business people and they are conscious of the value of their property. And they are tough negotiators. What ESPN is looking for is to reduce their costs of operating the event whenever possible,” he said.

Yesterday, ESPN’s spokeswoman, Melissa Gullotti said that negotiations between ESPN and the Skico are still “very, very active.”

Gullotti said it was important now to at least set the dates for the next Winter X Games. “It is especially helpful to get the dates out there among the industry because everybody is scheduling events,” she said.

Last year’s made-for-television competition set a ratings record for ESPN, ESPN2 and ABC. Locally, ESPN estimates 48,000 people were drawn to the base of Buttermilk over the four-day event.

ESPN executives said last week they are currently only negotiating with the Skico for next year’s event. If a deal can’t be reached with the Skico, then ESPN will start working with other ski resorts which have expressed a strong interest in landing the games, which are seen as an ideal way to reach the youth market.

ESPN is currently focusing on its first “X Games Global Championship,” which will take place in May in both San Antonio, Texas, and Whistler, British Columbia, and will be televised May 17 to 24, 2003.

The X Games Global event will feature teams from Asia, Australia, Canada, Europe, South America and the U.S. The athletes in Texas will compete in the “Alamodome” in skateboarding, bicycle stunts, motorcycle jumping and in-line skating events.

In Whistler, athletes will compete in halfpipe events, both snowboarding and skiing.

“As North America’s largest resort, we are anxious to host the X Games Global Championship,” said Stuart Rempel, vice president of marketing and sales at Whistler, in a recent ESPN press release.

“Whistler has become an epicenter for action sports culture and recreation, making this partnership a natural fit. Bringing together the world’s greatest media company with the world’s greatest resort is the perfect marriage.”

Brent Gardner-Smith’s e-mail address is bgs@aspentimes.com


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