X Games brings back iconic Selema Masekela to lead television broadcast | AspenTimes.com

X Games brings back iconic Selema Masekela to lead television broadcast

X Games is scheduled to return to Buttermilk from Jan. 27-29

Host Sal Masekela, right, talks with a young Shaun White during Winter X Games VII.
Courtesy of X Games

X Games took a major step backward on Friday, and his name is Selema Masekela.

On numerous occasions since purchasing the X Games brand late last year from ESPN, the event’s new owners have expressed a desire to return the competition to its electric roots. Enter Masekela, who MSP Sports Capital said will return as the official X Games Aspen host for 2023.

In 2013, he left his X Games post after a 13-year run as its frontman. He had a front-row seat for the rise of the franchise, including in 2002 when the winter event first came to Aspen’s Buttermilk Ski Area.

“I really enjoyed Aspen. I really enjoyed the 10, 11 years I got to be there. Really felt like I became ingrained within the community. They made me feel like it was home,” Masekela said in a previously unpublished 2021 interview with The Aspen Times.

“I really believe that Aspen created the energy to really elevate what Winter X Games became,” he continued. “There is also this idea to the outside world of Aspen being so much about the homes and the hills and the really, really rich people who come to play there. But, that ain’t Aspen. Aspen is the locals, Aspen is the people who live there and work there and live the lifestyle and live the culture. That’s what really fired me up about coming to Aspen for X Games.”

X Games began as the “Extreme Games” in 1995. ESPN, which created the franchise, held the first Winter X Games at Snow Summit Mountain Resort in California in 1997, a year before snowboarding made its Olympic debut at the 1998 Nagano Games. Crested Butte then hosted Winter X Games in 1998 and 1999 before moving to Mount Snow, Vermont, for 2000 and 2001.

But, it wasn’t until it found its home in Aspen beginning in 2002 that Winter X Games truly became the signature event worldwide for freeskiers and snowboarders — not to mention the snowmobilers and other extreme winter-sport athletes.

“The people felt like they owned the X Games. It felt like people showed up and said, ‘This was my shit.’ That was special, man,” Masekela said in 2021 about the early years of X Games in Aspen. “It was the definition of cool. And, X Games isn’t cool anymore. That’s such a hard thing for me to say.”

Former X Games host Selema Masekela is returning to host the event again in 2023.
Courtesy of X Games

MSP Sports Capital announced in October it had purchased the majority stake of X Games — this includes the summer events — and had taken over its day-to-day operations. ESPN retained a small stake in the franchise and will continue to televise the competitions. MSP Sports Capital is a global private-equity firm, founded by Jeff Moorad and Jahm Najafi, and has a portfolio that includes investments in McLaren Racing Limited and four European soccer franchises.

It named Steven Flisler, who recently served as the vice president of original content at the streaming service Twitch, as X Games CEO.

“Selema is one of the most iconic figures and voices in action sports. We are honored to have him return to the X Games family and lead our on-air broadcast team,” he said in Friday’s news release about Masekela’s return. “In his new role, he will serve as our lead anchor, a coach to all talent, and be a consulting producer on the team. Selema has been in front of the camera for so many legendary X Games feats, and we can’t wait for him to be a part of our new chapter.”

Joining Masekela on the broadcast this year will be many familiar faces: Jack Mitrani, who had been the primary host since 2017, will pair with Hannah Rad to co-host the streaming coverage on YouTube and Twitch. Brandon Graham, Craig McMorris, Jimmy Coleman, Jen Hudak, and Tom Wallisch are all slated to return, as well as Jonathan “DC” Oetken.

First up for Masekela in his return is an X Games preview show, co-hosted with Victoria Arlen, that will debut this Sunday, Jan. 15, from 4-5 p.m. Mountain Time on ESPN. Among the athletes featured in the preview will be Aspen’s own Alex Ferreira, a two-time X Games champion in halfpipe skiing.

“Hosting the X Games changed my life — my action sports passions were converted overnight into a professional broadcasting career,” Masekela said in Friday’s news release. “I’m excited to return and share the next generation’s stories while being part of the evolution of X Games. I can’t wait to see how the planet’s best athletes add to the list of the best moments in sports history.”

Sal Masekela hosts Winter X Games VIII.
Courtesy of X Games

During his 2021 interview with The Aspen Times, which occurred over Zoom not long after X Games wrapped up its 20th anniversary event at Buttermilk, Masekela had made it clear he wasn’t happy with what X Games had become or where it was headed. Even two years ago, there were rumors that ESPN was trying to sell the X Games brand, which to many had become stagnant over recent years.

To people like Masekela, it lacked the energy it had in the early 2000s, and he was at the top of the list of those wanting to bring that feeling back — for fans and athletes, alike.

“If you can elevate it again, I do think there is a need there. I think there is a need for a Super Bowl of action sports. But, it should feel like the Super Bowl and not the XFL,” he said in 2021 about the need for X Games within the freeskiing and snowboard world and about his personal struggles with watching the competitions in recent years.

“I felt bad for the athletes, I felt bad for some of the announcers,” Masekela continued in 2021. “It was hard to watch. But, to me, it’s an opportunity. Because it can’t get any worse than that. I do believe it’s a legacy brand, and people will be there for its revival if you can make them feel X Games is theirs again.”

X Games Aspen is scheduled to return to Buttermilk from Jan. 27-29. As they have been in the past, the competitions are free for the public to attend.