Low-cost ‘X Games’ hitting ESPN’s target

Net expands franchise to 'Global Challenge' in sites outside U.S.

NEW YORK — “The X Games” are fulfilling the two mandates that prompted ESPN to create them five years ago: It’s pulling in more young male viewers to the network, and it’s saving the net tons of money in jacked-up rights fees imposed by outside suppliers.

“ESPN is tapping into the vein of young people who have developed significant purchasing power,” says David Carter, a principal in the L.A.-based Sports Business group. “That, in turn, has caused the “X Games” to grow in credibility among mainstream advertisers.”

“The 2000 X Games,” which ran from Aug. 17-26, encompassing two Saturday afternoons on ABC and a number of hours on ESPN and ESPN2, “ended up getting more viewers than any other ‘X Games’ in history,” says Arnie Bulgrin, VP of research and sales development for ESPN Networks.

ESPN shifted most of the primetime “X Games” cablecasts from ESPN to ESPN2, which turned out to be a good move because ESPN2’s primetime rating of a 0.55 in cable homes represented a 9% gain over the network’s primetime coverage last year.

Key demos

The Games are still nowhere near a runaway hit, however. ABC’s 90-minute “X Games” Saturday afternoon telecast on Aug. 19 managed only a 1.01 rating, 19% below last year’s equivalent “X Games” scheduling. But ABC did show big increases in the telecast among viewers 12-24 and adults 25-34, two categories that fetch larger ad dollars from Madison Avenue.

To put the “X Games” in perspective: Counting all of the airings on ABC, ESPN and ESPN2 in all dayparts, the final rating came in at a modest 0.3 rating. But modest or not, the number was 4% higher than last year’s overall 0.27 rating.

As more corporate underwriters sign up to sponsor the “X Games,” Carter says the young people ESPN is targeting as viewers could start to become jaded. “The games are supposed to be all about defiance and rejection of authority,” Carter says. “But massive infiltration by the beverage companies and the automakers and other industries could cause the games to lose their edge and personality.”

Don’t tell ESPN that: The network has just expanded the franchise into the “X Games Global Challenge,” which will take place every two years, starting in 2002, at locations outside the U.S. “X Games” qualifiers will come from Asia, Europe, Latin America, Japan and Australia.

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