As a modified X Games Aspen kicks off today with no spectators amid Covid-19, ESPN is shopping the franchise as part of a broader review of its assets.
Tom Dotan and Jessica Toonkel of The Information reported that ESPN is considering two scenarios for a potential sale of X Games: in one, ESPN would sell the broadcast rights to X Games events and retain handling the production; in the other, ESPN would sell the intellectual property to X Games.
In the former scenario, according to the report, ESPN had hoped for a deal in the neighborhood of $100 million. But the second scenario is now more likely and only estimated to net around $50 million.
ESPN declined to comment on the report.
The move comes as ESPN is reevaluating its cable TV business, which has taken a hit as the rise of streaming continues to grow, and prioritizing its ESPN+ streaming service. Parent company Disney
Currently, it does not seem that Disney will shed ESPN altogether, though there has been speculation to that effect. In October, CNBC investment strategist Jim Cramer told TheStreet.com ESPN may be too expensive for Disney to monetize effectively. However, Disney CEO Bob Chapek praised ESPN+ as outperforming all the company’s projections.
Primetime X Games events are aired on ESPN or ESPN2 and its sister network ABC. In recent years, however, ESPN has expanded viewing options for X Games events to meet viewers where they are; this year, for example, competitions will be available on any of X Games’ YouTube channel, Facebook, Twitter, TikTok and the ESPN app.
X Games Aspen 2021 will certainly be a test for ESPN to see if it can dramatically grow its viewership on streaming platforms and its social engagement as fans have to follow along from home due to Covid-19. In January 2020, X Games had its largest single-day attendance at a winter event, with 49,500 in Aspen; its largest single-day attendance overall record of 79,380 was set back in 2004 when the summer event was held in Los Angeles.
The Olympics has historically provided a boost to X Games’ digital audience, and with the Beijing 2022 Games set for next January, a potential buyer for the franchise may keep that in mind. In the lead-up to the 2018 PyeongChang Games, X Games Aspen 2018 saw a 10 percent increase year-over-year in television viewership compared to 2017.
On the digital side, the number of minutes streamed on the X Games YouTube channel nearly tripled in 2018, up 185 percent.
Since the inaugural X Games were held during the summer of 1995 in Providence and Newport, Rhode Island, the event has expanded to include competitions in North America, Europe, South America and Asia.