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Volume 21 No. 2
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ESPN hires NBC’s Nolan to lead X Games sales

ESPN borrowed in part from the Olympics when it created a global sponsorship for the X Games, so it comes as no surprise that the network has turned to someone with Olympic expertise to lead that sales effort.

Mark Nolan, who most recently worked as director of Olympic sales at NBC, joins ESPN this week as vice president of X Games sales. At NBC, he developed sales and marketing plans for the 2010 Winter Olympics, the 2012 Summer Olympics, and the company’s winning bid for broadcast rights to the 2014 through 2020 Olympics.

“Mark demonstrated an excellent understanding of how to go to market, knowing we’re going after global partners with a combination of media and sponsorship rights fees,” said Eric Johnson, ESPN executive vice president of multimedia sales. “He clearly had an excellent understanding of that [local and international sponsorship model] from the Olympics.”

Nolan, who will report to Johnson, will manage a small marketing and sales staff and will play a role in hiring members of his team. ESPN is still in the process of determining how many people it will hire, Johnson said.

ESPN’s sales force has identified 14 categories and is looking to secure six to eight global sponsors in areas ranging from technology to quick-service restaurant, and beverage to credit card services. Those deals will be complemented by local deals.

The sales structure mirrors the one the International Olympic Committee developed 25 years ago to support the Olympics. The organization sells 10 to 12 worldwide sponsorships in its The Olympic Partner (TOP) program and complements those deals with local sponsorships in select categories sold by organizers of specific Olympics, like the 2012 London Organizing Committee.

Johnson said the ESPN sales staff already has reached out to several companies about its global sponsorships. Those companies will have worldwide marketing rights across the X Games after it becomes an integrated, six-stop global property in 2013.

“Getting non-U.S. companies involved in this is going to be critical,” Johnson said. “Once we get those in place we’ll start talking about local things to do and how to get endemic [action sports companies] involved.”