X Games to stay at Buttermilk through 2010 | AspenTimes.com

X Games to stay at Buttermilk through 2010

Allyn HarveyThe Aspen Times

The ESPN Winter X Games will be at Buttermilk at least through 2010.ESPN and the Aspen Skiing Co. announced Friday that they had reached a deal to stage the games here for three years after the current contract expires in 2007.While Skico officials concede that hosting the games is a loss-leader, costing more to stage than the event actually brings in, the long-term effects on the resort’s reputation and bottom line make it worthwhile.”We’re betting on the long-term,” said Pat O’Donnell, Skico CEO. “We’re betting our credibility and our image on this event.”Hoteliers and restaurateurs throughout the valley, meanwhile will continue to see the very real short-term benefits of the deal. ESPN/ABC Sports General Manager Chris Stiepock said the latest round of negotiations began to ramp up seven months ago. Stiepock declined to say how large he expects the on-sight and television audiences to grow by 2010. He did hint, however, that at least some of the “growth” will come with the accompanying events – open-air concerts and other events. “Similar to the way Sundance is not about movies anymore.”Bill Tomcich of Stay Aspen Snowmass, a central reservations firm, said Friday that nearly every rental property between Aspen and Carbondale is currently occupied. “Occupancy is 100 percent – I’ve never seen anything like this,” he said.Although ESPN performed its “due diligence” and examined other venues, once the talks became serious, other options fell to the wayside.Tomcich said that Aspen/Snowmass, with four mountains, is unique among North American ski resorts because it is able to devote an entire mountain to the games and still serve its regular customers. He also noted the compact, amphitheater-like terrain makes an ideal venue for both television cameras and the audience.”It really creates an optimum situation for us because we can do everything we need to do with Buttermilk,” Stiepock said. Neither Skico nor ESPN officials were willing to disclose details of the contract. Skico officials did say that the event is a “significant” item in its annual operating budget. Local governments also donate cash and services to the cause. “By and large, it’s an exchange of goods and services,” Stiepock said. “They have the Snowcats we need, we have the TV exposure they need – you can just go down the list.”O’Donnell said the Skico really gained an understanding of what the X Games brings to Aspen in 2004, after hosting the games for two years. “The first two times we didn’t know what exactly we were getting ourselves into,” he said.By the third year, he said, company management and ownership was fully on board with finding ways to keep ESPN and the games at Buttermilk.Since then, the Skico has been aggressive in negotiating extensions with ESPN, securing a three-year deal in 2005 and another three-year deal Friday.According to an ESPN news release, attendance has grown 91 percent since the games first came here in 2002. Viewership last year was up 23 percent, averaging 677,000 households in 2005.

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