ESPN sells X Games majority interest, will keep televising events

ESPN will remain a minority partner in the events and will continue to televise them.

ESPN sold its majority stake in the X and Winter X Games on Wednesday, marking the end of a nearly three-decade chapter in which the network helped push snowboarding, skateboarding and other action sports off the fringe and into the mainstream.

The terms of the sale to MSP Sports Capital, a sports-focused private equity firm that also owns shares in McLaren Racing and a handful of European football teams, have not been made public. ESPN will remain a minority partner in the events and will continue to televise them.

This season’s Winter X Games are scheduled for January 27-29 in Aspen, Colorado.

Born at a time when ESPN still craved programming of all kinds (ESPN2 was originally developed specifically to appeal to a younger audience), the Winter X Games has long been a trendsetter in snowboarding. It has a reputation for building the best halfpipes and slopestyle courses, and for finding new events (think, snowmobiling) and niches (think, knuckle huck) to keep the action sports fresh.

In addition to his three Olympic titles, Shaun White’s 15 wins and 23 overall medals at the X and Winter X Games are his sporting excellence. Just about every big name in the sport—Chloe Kim, Jamie Anderson, Danny Davis, Marc McMorris, and more—have won multiple titles at Aspen. Even at a time when the Olympics overshadow almost everything, few would argue that a great snowboarder’s resume isn’t complete without a win at Aspen.

RELATED: Shaun White writes a heartfelt thank you to end his snowboarding career

The first X Games took place in 1995 – a summer event known as the “Extreme Games” centered on skateboarding. Tony Hawk was among the gold medalists at the inaugural event. ESPN added a winter version in 1997 that eventually overshadowed its summer cousin in many ways, thanks in large part to snowboarding’s addition to the Olympic program a year later.

Building courses, selecting judges, managing athlete health and safety, and planning concerts, which have increasingly become a major draw for the events, requires more than 1,000 employees. By selling its majority stake while remaining invested in the company, ESPN will exit that part of the company while continuing to focus on its core mission — broadcasting sports on television.

“We’re proud of what we, with our employees and the athletes, have created over almost 30 years of world-class X Games events and content,” said Jimmy Pitaro, Chairman of ESPN and Sports Content.

Stepping in is MSP, which will handle the production of the competitions and is expected to revamp the digital offerings for an event aimed at a younger, content-hungry audience.

“Our vision for the X Games tomorrow, next year and ten years from now is simple – we want to create a global action sports community of athletes and fans where we push the boundaries of competition and entertainment,” said Steve Flisler, who will become the new CEO of X Games.

Flisler was an executive at Twitch, a streaming service best known for its live video game streaming, and has also held executive positions at NBCUniversal.

He said the mission at the X Games is to “create a content engine that gives fans more ways to interact and engage with athlete stories.”

“X Games athletes are first and foremost competitors, but are increasingly becoming some of the most influential content creators around the world,” said Flisler. ESPN sells X Games majority interest, will keep televising events

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