ESPN eyes global X Games expansion with new production model
By Jonathan Rest in San Francisco
ESPN, the US cable sports broadcaster, could be set to roll out a global calendar for its X Games extreme sports series once again, after stumbling upon a viable commercial model.
ESPN this month announced the return of X Games Norway in May, the third successive edition of the event in the capital Oslo, while in October the inaugural X Games Australia will take place in Sydney.
These will co-exist alongside the main annual X Games in USA, in Aspen, Colorado (winter) and in Minneapolis, Minnesota (summer).
The broadcaster previously ran a global calendar for the X Games, but announced in late 2013 that it would concentrate on the US market, saying it could no longer continue with events in Barcelona, Munich, Foz do Iguaca and Tignes because "the overall economics of these events do not provide a sustainable future path."
However, the decision to partner with TV2, the commercial broadcaster in Norway, and latterly Seven, the commercial network in Australia, for the local events has reinvigorated global ambitions.
Speaking at the Sports Performance Data and Fan Engagement Summit in San Francisco, Neil Bandoni, director of digital video strategy, ESPN X Games, said: “The Global X Games with us producing all the content ourselves was just not sustainable.
“We changed that with X Games in Oslo and will replicate it for the first X Games in Sydney. We want to get the brand out there internationally and this model, which essentially involves a licensing fee with all the production risk residing where the event is being held, works.”
Bandoni said ESPN is set to roll out live virtual reality streaming more widely, after partnering with Samsung and Digital Domain, a VR production company, on last weekend’s winter X Games event in Aspen, and will continue to work with Intel to refine how data mined from athlete chips can be better displayed on TV.
Between live events, ESPN’s focus is on short-form, shareable content.
He explained: “Content is key. Our core audience is millennials, the cord-cutters, so we need to work on how to engage with them on phones via Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook etc. It’s about small chunks.
“In the past we produced six-to-eight longer form features, perhaps three minutes long on a particular athlete. Now we’re doing 60 features that are one minute long, and we are successfully monetising that.”