Hey, ESPN, how ’bout free buses? | AspenTimes.com

Hey, ESPN, how ’bout free buses?

Janet Urquhart

As part of its effort to woo ESPN and the Winter X Games back for an unprecedented third run, the Aspen Skiing Co. is asking taxpayers to help cover the cost of shuttling people around during the four-day event.

John Rigney, managing director of event marketing for the Skico, asked the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority’s board of directors Thursday if RFTA could cover about half of the $40,000 in bus service dedicated to the four-day event.

The overseers of the taxpayer-subsidized, but financially strapped transit agency offered Rigney little encouragement, but suggested he try tapping a separate pool of transportation dollars controlled by upper-valley governments.

“We’re kind of in dire financial straits ourselves,” said Jacque Whitsitt, RFTA board chairwoman and a Basalt Town Council member.

“I don’t think we are in a position to give very much,” agreed Scott Chaplin, a Carbondale trustee. “I don’t want you to get your hopes up, that’s all.”

Several RFTA board members urged Rigney to approach the Elected Officials Transportation Committee, made up of elected officials in Aspen, Snowmass Village and Pitkin County. The EOTC controls revenues for a countywide half-cent sales tax dedicated to transit and a fund that now holds about $11 million.

Since the Winter X Games primarily benefit the upper valley, with spectators spending money in Aspen and Snowmass, any subsidy for the event’s bus service ought to come from upvalley governments, reasoned Arnie Mordkin, a Snowmass Village Town Council member.

The X Games benefit the entire valley, countered Aspen Mayor Helen Klanderud, though she agreed the EOTC should entertain the request. The committee meets next week.

The Skico, which has been negotiating diligently with ESPN for a third Winter X Games at Buttermilk, has been looking at every possible means of cutting ESPN’s costs in bringing the event here, according to Rigney.

The ski company is hoping to receive an answer from the cable network sometime this month, he said.

Rigney said he has already appealed to the lodging community to cut the costs the network bears to house the army of production people it brings to the valley for the games.

“The response has been overwhelming,” he said. Eighty percent of the lodges and hotels that provide accommodations for ESPN have agreed to discount their rates, Rigney reported.

The cost of busing is small by comparison, but, he said, “every nickel counts at this point.”

For the most recent Winter X Games, held Jan. 30-Feb. 2, the Skico and ESPN split the $29,000 cost of additional buses to serve the Buttermilk venue. In addition, the Skico reallocated about $11,000 worth of skier shuttle services to the games, Rigney said. The Skico contracts with RFTA annually to provide bus service to its ski areas each winter.

The Skico would like to find another source to provide about $20,000 worth of the transportation costs associated with the X Games, while it continues to fund the other $20,000, letting ESPN off the hook for a bus bill.

“Can we come up with a way to perhaps mitigate or assist in these costs?” he said. “I’m looking for a way to either substantially cut or potentially eliminate the $40,000 cost of transporting people to and from the X Games.”

The Skico has already made it clear it is willing to double its operational budget to help produce the X Games next year, Rigney said. Operating costs are part of more than $1 million the company would spend next year to host the X Games, he said.

“We’re in this north of a million bucks already, and we do this willingly,” Rigney said. “We think it’s a great investment.”

This year’s X Games drew about 48,000 people to the base of Buttermilk and an estimated 15 million people around the world watched ESPN’s coverage during the event, not to mention those who tuned in for later rebroadcasts, Rigney said.

“We’re very clear on the value. This is probably the best marketing we could do . it gets a whole other generation interested in Aspen/Snowmass,” he said.

Rigney got no argument on the value of hosting the event from RFTA board members, who said they wouldn’t close the door to trying to help if Rigney can’t pry loose some funding from the EOTC.

Snowmass representative Bill Boineau suggested RFTA seek some advertising on ESPN during the games in exchange.

“If we can do something to let people know, when you get there [Aspen], you don’t need a car, to me, that’s worth $20,000,” agreed Dorothea Farris, a Pitkin County commissioner.

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