SBJ/20100125/This Week's News

Sponsors have more flexibility at X Games

After more than a decade of defining sponsors as gold and associate-level partners, the X Games has dropped those categories and will define partners as media and X Fest sponsors.

The change, which will be visible when Winter X Games opens in Aspen, Colo., on Thursday, reflects an evolution in how ESPN approaches sponsorship sales for the X Games property. The company is eschewing categories in favor of designing more customized partnerships that meet the needs of individual brands associated with the X Games.

“As part of our effort to provide more custom solutions for clients, we’re allowing more flexibility,” said Eric Johnson, ESPN’s executive vice president of multimedia sales. “At Winter X you will see a glimpse of the transition to a broader base of sponsors, levels and categories. Sponsors can choose to be involved on-site, online, in program, depending on which of those executions meets their specific objectives.”

Media Sponsors
Taco Bell
X Fest Sponsors
Guinness World Records
Warheads candies
Lemonheads candies
Polarmax underwear
Muscle Milk
Kleen Kanteen
Perky Jerky
Disney XD
Hospitality Suites
Media partners will have high
visibility and on-site activation.

Marketers praised the move, saying the property is moving from what has amounted to a fixed menu of sponsorship assets to an a la carte menu from which sponsors can pick and choose. As a result, sponsors will be able to be more efficient with their spend against the X Games and better use the property to meet their brand goals.

“This is a smart decision that meets the needs of sponsors who are looking for customized marketing,” said Issa Sawabini, a partner at youth marketing agency Fuse. “It will help the property continue to grow and attract new sponsors.”

ESPN lost several longtime sponsors for this X Games. Edge Shaving Gel, PlayStation and Totino’s pizza rolls all discontinued their partnerships. Totino’s dropped its X Games association in favor of a new partnership with NBC’s Dew Tour, and PlayStation declined to renew its ad buy around the property. Details about Edge’s decision were unavailable at press time.

The X Games sales team made up for the lost sales revenue by signing four media sponsors, 13 X Fest sponsorships and selling four hospitality suites (see chart). The four media partners — Navy, Taco Bell, Jeep and Axe — will enjoy the highest level of X Games rights, including on-site signage, on-site activation, rights to the X Games marks, and media across ESPN’s print, digital and TV platforms.

Terms of those deals were unavailable. Gold and associate-level sponsorships that included similar rights in the past were valued at more than $2 million and $1 million, respectively.

X Fest sponsors receive a mix of rights including video board exposure, branding in a spectator guide, and on-site activation rights in a specially designed area that also features a snow park for spectators. Some X Fest sponsors supplemented their packages with media. For example, Oakley will activate on-site and have online advertising.

ESPN also sold hospitality suites again for Winter X. Last year it sold three hospitality suites for the first time. This year it sold four suites, which are located on-site and provide the same food and beverage offerings as suites at professional sports arenas.

Some hospitality buyers such as Target, which sponsors Shaun White, Simon Dumont and other action sports athletes, simply bought an unbranded hospitality suite on-site where it can entertain clients and guests. Others, such as Vitaminwater, will supplement its suite presence with signage around the venue.

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