ESPN sells majority stake in iconic X Games brand

ESPN on Wednesday sold its majority stake in the X and Winter X Games, marking the end of a nearly three-decade chapter in which the network has helped propel snowboarding, skateboarding and other action sports out of the limelight. from the fringe and into the mainstream.

Terms of the sale to MSP Sports Capital, a sports-focused private equity firm that also has stakes in McLaren Racing and a handful of European soccer teams, have not been released. ESPN will remain a minority partner in the events and will continue to televise them.

This season’s Winter X Games are scheduled for January 27-29 in Aspen, Colorado.

Created at a time when ESPN was still looking for programming of all kinds (ESPN2 was originally designed specifically to appeal to younger audiences), the Winter X Games have long been a pioneer in snowboarding. It has a reputation for building the best halfpipe and slopestyle courses and finding new events (think snowmobiling) and niches (think Knuckle Huck) to keep action sports on the cutting edge.

The biggest names have passed through the X Games

Besides his three Olympic titles, Shaun White’s 15 victories and 23 medals in total at the X and Winter X Games are his greatest sporting achievement. Virtually all of the biggest names in the sport – Chloe Kim, Jamie Anderson, Danny Davis, Canadian Mark McMorris and many more – have won multiple titles in Aspen. Even in a time when the Olympics eclipse almost everything, hardly anyone argues that a great snowboarder’s resume isn’t complete without some sort of victory in Aspen.

The first X Games were held in 1995 – a summer affair known as « Extreme Games » which focused on skateboarding. Tony Hawk was among the gold medalists at the inaugural rally. ESPN added a winter version in 1997 that eventually eclipsed its summer cousin in many ways, thanks in large part to the inclusion of snowboarding in the Olympic schedule a year later.

Building courses, finding judges, looking after athlete health and safety, and scheduling concerts, which increasingly have become a major draw for events, requires more than 1,000 employees. By selling the majority stake while remaining invested in the business, ESPN will move away from that part of the business but still focus on its core mission – sports television.

“We are proud of what we have created with our employees and the athletes over nearly 30 years of world-class X Games events and content,” said Jimmy Pitaro, President of ESPN and Sports Content.

« Our vision… is simple »

MSP will step in, who will take over the production of the competitions, and is expected to reshape the digital offerings for an event that caters to a younger, content-hungry audience.

« Our vision for the X Games tomorrow, next year and a decade from now is simple: we want to create a global community of athletes and action sports fans where we push the boundaries of competition and entertainment. » , said Steve Flisler, who becomes the new CEO of X Games.

Flisler was an executive at Twitch, a streaming service that’s best known for its live streaming of video games, and also held executive positions at NBCUniversal.

He said X Games’ mission was to create « a content engine that gives fans more ways to interact and engage with athlete stories. »

“X Games athletes are competitors first, but will increasingly become some of the most influential content creators around the world,” Flisler said.

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