Action sports franchise the X-Games has embarked on its biggest expansion plan to date, with the stated aim of holding six X-Games events around the world each year from 2013.
Sports broadcaster ESPN, which owns and operates the franchise, launched a formal bidding process in May, aiming to find three international cities to supplement current annual X-Games events in Los Angeles and Aspen in the US and Tignes in France, and on 29th June ESPN appointed sports marketing firm Helios Partners to expand X-Games' commercial programme and manage the action sports tournament's host city bid process. It will be the first time that a host city for the X-Games, which were founded in 1995, will be decided through a formal bidding process.
Potential host cities are already expected to have submitted their interest to ESPN. In early July, a bid manual, detailing the specific requirements of the document, will be made available to all qualified applicants. A bidding workshop will then be held at the next X-Games event in Los Angeles in July this year. Following that, bid cities are expected to submit their proposals in the autumn, with the ultimate bidding deadline set for 2nd January 2012. ESPN, headed by global X-Games senior vice president Scott Guglielmino and ESPN’s International senior vice president Russell Wolff, will then announce the finalist cities, conduct site visits and analyse the bids before announcing the three new venues in April. For 2011 and 2012, ESPN will continue to operate four X-Games events per year – the summer X-Games in LA, the winter X-Games in Aspen, the European winter X-Games in Tignes, as well as a smaller X-Games Asia event in Shanghai – an event that is not likely to continue beyond 2012.
The organisers intend to sign three-year deals with their three new hosts. “Essentially we’re in a period now when we’re looking to make sure that interested cities and commercial entities are aware of the process and aware of the opportunity,” explained Scott Guglielmino in a teleconference announcing the launch of the process. “We will then qualify various entities to proceed through the process. Once an entity has qualified, they’ll gain access to a lot of the specifics in terms of the events themselves, what the requirements will be, the support that’s required, both financially as well as marketing support. One of the reasons to conduct an official bid process is to really explore and try to find the best locations and best local organising committee that can help us with these events and help support these events. One of the pieces to it is that when we designate a host city, it will be for a three-year term, so if the X-Games were to go to a city in Sweden, it would be there for three years, so ’13, ’14 and ’15. And the idea is to be able to really grow out over the course of those three years both the event and the support for the event itself.”
Although some pundits have suggested that ESPN has initiated the process to attempt to eke out a bidding war between emerging sport nations in the Middle East and South America, there are not as yet any firm favourites for the three extra slots. Indeed, it is not yet clear how the six events will be split between summer and winter. “The bid process is designed to be flexible,” said Guglielmino, “but my sense is that it will either be two winter events and four summer events, or three winter events and three summer events. One of the reasons to conduct a bid city process is to really try to find the right partners and the right hosts for these events and then work with those hosts to not only stage some world class X-Games events but also to ensure that each event takes on a local flair. An example that we’d use would be if we were to be in Australia, surfing would certainly be added – those types of additions to the X-Games events would certainly be part of our plan. The other piece is the location itself will serve as a backdrop as we cover the event, and so the richness of the host city and host country is also something of interest to us.
“One of the things we’re looking for is cities that really recognise the opportunity to embrace a really relevant event to youth,” he continued. “Athletic competition and expression through athletics is at the core of the X-Games, but one of the things that we’re really interested in doing is really embellishing and highlighting what we call cultural elements – so music, fashion, technology, environmentality – all of those themes that are important to youth and that are inherent in the X-Games and in action sports as a category. We’re looking to embellish those and celebrate those, and I think a potential host city is going to be a city that really understands that opportunity.”
While ESPN has held several smaller international X-Games events in the past, the latest expansion policy is designed to create a global spread of six annual events that match the “size and stature” of the current events in LA and Aspen. “By size and stature,” Guglielmino explained, “I mean the full complement of athletes and sports, live television coverage around the world and extensive marketing support.”
Since their foundation in 1995, there have been 16 summer X-Games events and 15 winter X-Games events. Medals are competed for across a variety of moto, rally and skateboarding events in the summer, and skiing and snowboarding in the winter. According to ESPN, the two major annual events are broadcast to around 224 million homes in 175 countries. Since 1998, 15 smaller X-Games Asia events have been held across Thailand, Malaysia, South Korea and China, while last year saw the inaugural winter X-Games Europe in Tignes, France.
This feature originally appeared in the July edition of SportsPro. To subscribe to the magazine, click here.