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Volume 21 No. 2
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Global expansion plans, Red Bull partnership boost X Games sponsorship revenue

Despite signing fewer X Games partners than a year ago, ESPN has increased sponsorship revenue around the event and signed Red Bull as its first beverage partner in four years.

The property signed four official partners and 11 sponsors across its multimedia, TV, print and digital platforms for X Games 17, which begins this week in Los Angeles. Those numbers are down from five official partners and 27 total sponsors in 2010.

Mobil is among 15 sponsors signed for the event, which begins this week in Los Angeles.
“It’s a shorter list, but we’re a little deeper with the sponsors that are on the list,” said Eric Johnson, ESPN’s executive vice president for multimedia sales. “It’s a positive story for us.”

Johnson said the Summer X Games sales efforts benefited from ESPN’s decision to discuss the event during its upfront presentation in May. The network used the upfront to announce a new global X Games initiative that will see it expand to six international events and visit three new markets in 2013.

That announcement played a critical role in the X Games signing Red Bull as its first beverage partner in four years. The international potential of the property and the resources ESPN was putting against its expansion appealed to the energy drink company, Johnson said.

The signing is a significant achievement for the sales team at ESPN. The X Games had been without a beverage sponsor since 2007, when its longtime partner in the category, Mountain Dew, dropped the property to sponsor the Winter Dew Tour. Energy drink companies like Red Bull historically favored signing action sports athletes rather than properties in order to get exposure.

“It’s an amazing property with the best athletes in the world,” said Chris Mater, Red Bull’s U.S. sports marketing chief.

In addition to Red Bull, ESPN signed Ford, U.S. Navy and BF Goodrich as official partners. Each are returning: Ford and US Navy from the 2010 Summer X Games and BF Goodrich from the 2011 Winter X Games. They will receive on-site activation rights and television, digital and print advertising.

The X Games’ other significant signings included Apple, which bought TV spots, and Nike, which bought print advertising. Both are first-time summer sponsors.

This week’s X Games will be the first to be concentrated in downtown Los Angeles since 2003. Every event will be held near the Staples Center, and the partner activation village will be located adjacent to all the competition venues for the first time since it moved to Los Angeles in 2003.

ESPN will host a summit this Friday on its vision for international expansion of X Games. More than 100 guests representing prospective sponsors are expected to attend.

Johnson said the company is still defining how it will sell its marquee X Games events — the summer and winter competitions in Los Angeles and Aspen, Colo. — with its international competitions in France and three new markets. He added that some of those details will be revealed this week.

“Our goal is to get global sponsors involved in particular categories and create opportunities to sell locally based on whatever regions of the world we’re in,” Johnson said. “We’re going to open up the model with Global X in terms of opening up the possibilities of developing and sharing content.”