Aspen Skiing Co. has hosted the Winter X Games since 2002 and has a contract through 2024
ESPN is selling the X Games franchise to a New York private equity firm invested in auto racing and European soccer teams.
MSP Sports Capital announced that in late October it acquired a majority stake in Disney-owned network X Games, which includes the Winter X Games Festival hosted by Aspen Skiing Co. since 2002. MSP Sports Capital, founded in 2019, is invested in Formula 1 McLaren Racing and four football clubs in Belgium, Germany, Portugal and Spain.
MSP Sports Capital will own the majority of the X Games franchise and ESPN Productions will retain a minority interest while serving as broadcast partner for the summer and winter events. MSP will lead day-to-day operations at Aspen X Games.
MSP co-founder and CEO Jeff Moorad said in a statement his company is thrilled to be “the new custodians of such an important part of sports history and its reimagined future.”
Aspen has hosted the Winter X Games from sporting events to annual festivals, with tens of thousands attending both concerts and competitions. The X Games has matured in Aspen, evolving from daring competitions – like shovel races – to sports featuring Olympic athletes. Many of the most famous action sports and athletes from the New School Olympiad competed in the Aspen X Games. The Olympics have embraced the new generations of X-Games veteran athletes and created more X-Games-like events with each Olympics.
Aspen Skiing Co. Vice President John Rigney visited the heads of MSP Sports Capital at the X Games event in January and “they were very friendly and seemed excited about how the events were going,” he said.
“I’m very excited about their vision for the X Games brand and specifically what they hope to do in Aspen,” said Rigney, who has worked with ESPN on all Aspen Winter X Games since 2002. “I think it’s going to be exciting to have some renewed energy and some fresh perspectives. And I think it’s good that ESPN has a hand in it and will stay in the mix. They have the institutional knowledge and expertise that makes the X Games shine.”
In a column in Sportico magazine this spring, Moorad tracked the development of investing in sports organizations as an asset rather than just a selfish pursuit of over-wealthy individuals. A growing number of private equity and venture capital funds like MSP Sports Capital are investing in sports teams, and values for teams and leagues are outperforming more traditional investments, Moorad wrote.
“We believe the combination of competitive dynamics, cultural significance and increasing managerial excellence positions teams, leagues and sports-related companies for continued revenue, income and valuation growth,” wrote Moorad, who owns MSP Sports Capital with Jahm, the minority owner of Phoenix Suns. founded Najaf and Arne Rees, the North American head of sports technology company Sportsradar.
ESPN founded X Games in 1995, providing a platform for a new generation of action sports enthusiasts. The summer and winter events have also created a new way of watching action sports, offering never-before-seen views of skiing, snowboarding, motocross, snowmobiling, BMX and skateboarding.
A statement from MSP Sports Capital announcing the acquisition said the company will be “focused on re-energizing the X Games brand” by prioritizing “premium experiences for athletes and fans” and investing in new technologies, “to lead the brand into the future”.
Aspen Skiing Co and the communities of the Roaring Fork Valley are key partners with ESPN, which has hosted the Winter X Games at Buttermilk Ski Resort for 21 years. ESPN and Aspen Skiing Co. signed a deal in 2019 to host the X Games through January 2024.
ESPN explored other venues to host the Winter X Games but has always returned to Aspen, renewing agreements with Aspen Skiing Co. in 2004, 2007, 2009, 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2019.
Aspen is part of the “original DNA of what became the Winter X Games,” said Steven Flisler, the newly appointed CEO of the X Games, who attended his first Winter X Games in January. Most recently, he was vice president of content at live streaming service Twitch.
According to Flisler, MSP Sports Capital is focused on making the X Games more accessible to more people, both in live events and on digital platforms. MSP Sports Capital is still evaluating expansion plans for the Winter X Games.
“We’re going to be really smart,” Flisler said. “We want an event that makes the most sense when we expand it and make it more accessible and find the right fit. It has to make sense. The Aspen legacy is an opportunity for us to have a starting point.”
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