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X-Games Excel Hot

XGAMES2The X-Games took place in Aspen, Colorado this past weekMassive crowds converged on Aspen’s Buttermilk Mountain to watch Winter X-Games 15 from Jan. 27-30, breaking the all-time attendance record for the event.

ESPN and Buttermilk reported an estimated total gate of 114,200 people over four days in Aspen – a 40% increase over the previous high of 84,100 from last year.

Three daily attendance records were shattered as well; Thursday’s 15,400 set a new mark for the first day, with the weekend days following suit. On Saturday, attendees bulged to 41,800 – the highest single day figure ever, while another daily record 33,400 fans congregated on Sunday, mostly to see the Shaun White in the Men’s Superpipe and nine total medal events.

Aspen Ski Company Vice President John Rigney is more than pleased with these figures, “It reinforces Aspen's reputation for hosting world-class events on a global scale to millions of youngsters, athletes, families and influencers.”

While television ratings are yet to be accumulated, all accounts point to an increase over last year’s record-setting 43-million viewers and 1.2 rating. This year, ESPN and its family of networks presented 24 hours of live high-definition broadcasts. ESPN’s online platform, ESPN3, presented 18 hours of competition for a combined 42 broadcast hours.

The network also reached a reported 382-million homes with live broadcasts reaching 154 countries and territories including the far reaches of Africa, Australia, the Middle East and New Zealand, along with more traditional markets such as Canada and Europe.

The longevity of the Winter X-Games is also leading to a change in demographics as the average age of viewers and attendees continues to increase.

According to ESPN’s Chris Stiepock, “On site, we’re all about families. On air, the sweet spot is 12 to 24 and more males. But what we’ve seen is that over the years, a kid that was 16 when we first came to Aspen is now 26 and still watching. As we grow older we still retain the audience.”

Despite the trend toward a slightly older audience, Rigney notes that teenagers are still the property’s niche, “Roughly one out of every four teenagers in the U.S. watches Winter X live,” he said.

The number of companies willing to sponsor the Games is also increasing, in 2011 ESPN reported a total of 25 sponsors across five categories including: official sponsors, multi-media sponsors, TV-only sponsors, digital-only sponsors and general sponsors.

A large portion of the increased interest is credited to the alternative sport rockstar Shaun White – arguably the biggest single figure in any given sport today. Bloomberg News ranks him the second most powerful athlete in sports, utilizing a formula of aggregated endorsement, name recognition, favorability and competitive success figures.

The nature of extreme sports is another major factor leading to Winter X’s popularity. Athletes attempt, and spectators expect new tricks and gravity-defying maneuvers every year in order to push the sport forward. On any given run, history can be made, adding to the intrigue of the event. In 2011, spectators witnessed Torstein Horgmo become the first to land a triple cork in Snowboard Big Air, while Kelly Clark became the first woman to land the 1080 in Superpipe competition.

This year marked the 10th year Aspen has hosted the event and the city is scheduled to host again in 2012. No new agreements or contract extensions have been announced.

Ryan O'Leary

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