UPDATE: 1/22/14 ESPN announced a 5 year renewal of Winter X Games in Aspen. X Games will compete in Aspen through at least 2019. AspenSpin was wrong.
This week in Aspen Winter X Games is back for the 13th year in a row. Everyone in town knows that the contract between Aspen and ESPN (Disney) is set to expire after the 2014 huck fest. Will they stay or will they go? The emotions seem mixed.
ESPN and Aspen Skiing Company have gotten to know each other pretty well by now. They have been in bed together for 13 straight years. The relationship between them is sort of like Godzilla vs. King Kong. Disney has a market cap of $130 billion and Ski Co. is privately held by the Crown Family who also control General Dynamics which has a market cap. of only $33.5 billion. The two behemoths are deep into negotiations for a renewal. Maybe it'll happen.
The following is pure speculation on my part. Call it an educated guess, but I don't think ESPN will renew X Games in Aspen. Most will disagree. I don't even know who, if anyone is bidding against Aspen. But I'm going with the rogue idea that X Games will be sending it's last nose-butter triple cork 1620 in Aspen in 2014. Here's why;
ASPEN has NOTHING LEFT to GIVE.
The City of Aspen and Aspen Skiing Company have already pulled their pants down. They've given away everything they have to give in order to keep Disney happy for 13 years. Ski Co. has already given them Buttermilk. RFTA brings in special busses. The City is willing to close off roads and fence in the park. Basically, we have nothing left to offer. Disney is a gargantuan company. "The Mouse" is used to getting what they want in Hollywood, on Wall Street and on Main Street. For the past 13 years we've rolled out the red carpet and accommodated almost every X Games request under "the benefit of the community" jurisdiction. It's been a good ride for both sides...but Aspen's barrels are empty. ESPN offers up "priceless" TV exposure to a younger demographic. But Aspen has no more negotiating points to concede. The reality is Aspen can't help X Games get any bigger.
BEEN THERE DONE THAT.
Change is good, so they say. We've watched as the events and tricks and athletes and the entire spectacle has evolved. The X Games is a huge media property now. We witnessed Shaun White progress from a punk-a$$ teen into an international conglomerate. X Games just seems a wee bit played out here in Aspen. Last year X Games mis-judged their world-wide dominance. They failed in their attempt to expand internationally holding six X events around the globe. X Games has pulled in their horns a smidgen and are now re-focused on their original 2 event, Summer / Winter strategy. Summer X Games will be moving to Austin, Texas in 2014 after an 11 year run in L.A. Austin beat out Detroit for Summer X Games. Detroit has 50 square miles of vacant land that they were willing to devote to X Games.
The ASPEN PREMIUM.
Those of us that live here and anyone who visits realizes that everything is more expensive in Aspen. Lodging, transportation, meals, pay roll costs, security, logistics, staging, venues...everything simply costs more in Aspen. That's not a new phenomenon, but the cost spread between Aspen and anywhere else is measurable. The sled heads (snow mobile events are a huge part of Winter X) are not exactly shopping at Prada and Gucci. X Games core demographic might be impressed by aspirational Aspen...but does Aspen really move the needle on TV ratings and advertising rates. I think not.
SIZE MATTERS (accessibility too)
Aspen is not getting any bigger or any easier to get in and out of.. The unpredictable weather, the one lane drive on Highway 82 and our right-sized Airport are constants. In a perfect scenario, X Games needs a stadium and a major airport to satisfy their hunger for growth. In the world of action sports...bigger is always better, right? Aspen has style which counts for a lot...but progression dictates growth. Last year ESPN reported that 114,500 people attended the X Games in Aspen. That may or may not be an accurate count, but no matter what it feels as if Aspen is at capacity. The stakes are high, this year's prize purse will exceed $1 million for the first time.
So the town of Aspen waits. Will they or won't they strike a deal? Will they or won't they make an announcement at the 13th annual X Games Aspen press conference this Wednesday?
I'm not afraid to be wrong. Aspen Ski Co. has put up a very confident front. The City of Aspen is willing to do almost anything to placate big money. So maybe we can pull a rabbit out of our hat and Aspen will continue to host Winter X Games moving forward beyond 2014.
Either way...it's been a helluva ride and some great times.