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How the X-Games Have Shaped the Sponsorship Industry

How the X-Games Have Shaped the Sponsorship Industry

6 minute read

  • The X Games has played a major role in popularizing action sports, which has influenced the sponsorship industry
  • While extreme brands have become synonymous with the X Games, there are opportunities for other tier-1 brands to reach and communicate to a young audience
  • The X Games continues to innovate and evolve, offering a wide array of sports, music and interactive experiences for fans and brands alike 

For 22 years, the X Games has been the world’s premier competition for fans, athletes, and sponsors of action sports. Created by American sports broadcaster ESPN in 1995, the event quickly became an immediate success among rebellious Gen Xers. Following the success of the summer events, the first ever winter X Games was introduced in 1997, and was televised in 198 countries in 21 different languages.

Since the 1990s, the X Games has played a significant role in the global expansion and popularity of action sports. With the upcoming 20th edition of the Winter X Games taking place January 26th-29th, MKTG examines the significance of the X Games, and explores the impact they have had on the sponsorship industry.

Significance and Impact of the X Games on the World of Sponsorship

Taking Sports from the Fringe to the Mainstream - Both the Summer and Winter X Games have become somewhat of a proving ground for niche sports, legitimizing sports like skateboarding and snowboarding who have now become mainstream. Due to the growing success of the X Games over time, the International Olympic Committee has included as many as a dozen disciplines originally showcased in the X Games, including snowboarding, skier cross, mountain biking, and BMX. In fact, the IOC recently voted unanimously to include skateboarding at the upcoming 2020 Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo. Sponsors who invested in a sport at the X Games level while the sport was still niche and early in its life stage can be seen as “builders”, earning increased affinity from their fanbase. As the sport grows to be included in other events, new sponsorable properties emerge, meaning sponsors in this space have the opportunity to extend their presence.

Launchpad for Athlete Endorsers – The X Games has not only reshaped the way the public views action sports, but has created a major platform for its athletes. Professional skateboarder Tony Hawk, for example, has become a household name thanks in part to his success at the X Games. Hawk’s popularity skyrocketed after landing the first-ever 900 flip at the X Games in 1999. To date, Tony Hawk has worked with major brands like Mercedes-Benz, BMW Mini, Nixon, Sony, and has as many as 19 video game titles through a partnership with video game publisher Activision. Similar to Hawk, freestyle motocross rider Travis Pastrana's popularity skyrocketed following a mid-air double back flip in 2006. Video footage of his trick has amassed over 2.5 million views on YouTube, and has led Travis Pastrana to partner with brands like ACT Nitro Circus (previously Red Bull), Oberto, Boost Mobile, Kicker, Nixon, Samsung Electronics, and Sony. Prior to the X Games, many of these athletes had not been broadcast to a large viewing audience,  creating a mass awareness platform for athletes which did not previously exist. 

A Platform for the Emergence of New Categories – Energy drinks have grown to become a thriving sponsorship category, thanks in part to the success of the X Games and other properties in the extreme sports space. As a new and emerging product category in the 1990s, seeking both awareness with consumers and an association with action/adventure attributes, energy drinks leveraged sponsorships upon their emergence in the marketplace.  Red Bull, for example, became the official beverage sponsor of the X Games following a global X Games expansion. At the time, the international potential of the X Games, and the resources ESPN was putting against its expansion appealed to Red Bull. Red Bull is no longer an official sponsor (Monster Energy is the incumbent), and they have since evolved their strategy beyond action sports to a multidisciplinary portfolio approach. However, the X Games provided a testing ground for brands in the Energy Drink category to understand and embrace sponsorship, shaping their marketing strategy for years to come. 

Why Sponsor the X Games?

While energy drink brands are highly aligned to the X Games, there are multiple sponsors associated with the X Games, spanning multiple product categories. In addition to Monster Energy, official sponsors of the X Games include America's Navy, AT&T, Coors Light, GoPro, Harley Davidson, Intel, Jeep, LifeProof, Oakley, Polaris, Skype, and Xbox. MKTG examines and explores reasons why the X Games remains a viable property for sponsors today, and why brands may wish to associate with the X Games:

More than Competition – In addition to the competition highlighted at the X Games, fans have access to multiple fan villages and a music festival offering live music, athlete autograph sessions, and several interactive elements. The opportunity to explore the festival grounds provides brands a chance to interact with fans through exciting and engaging activations. Last year, for example, X Games’ sponsor Xbox hosted a Halo 5 Tournament, and was the hub for all things gaming during the festival. Music and gaming have become core to the youth and action sports lifestyle at the X Games, and offers not only an interactive component for fans, but brand partners as well.

Innovative Spirit of the X Games – Since its inception, the X Games have embraced change, introducing new sports and events year-to-year. This willingness to change and adapt to new trends is not limited to the disciplines at the X Games, but also the technology associated with the event. During 2015's Winter X Games, for example, ESPN used camera drones to capture aerial views of the athlete's runs, representing a first for ESPN across any of its broadcasts. Similarly, Intel has used the event to demonstrate their latest technology, providing real-time data on athlete performance. Brands looking to be associated with innovation and adaptability may look to the X Games as a property that demonstrates those values.

Opportunity for Eco-Friendly Sponsors – As a pioneer in eco-friendly action sports, the X Games has declared itself “the world’s greenest action sports event.” In recent years, the X Games has planted trees in honour of participating athletes, switched to FSC-certified wood for competition ramps, and printed athlete trading cards on 100% recycled paper. In 2013, official sponsor REPREVE committed to turning more than 100,000 recycled plastic bottles into ESPN course signage and lanyards at the event. As a competition strategically targeted toward a younger demographic, which are generally viewed as being more invested in environmental issues, brands have an opportunity to increase environmental education and help raise awareness among future generations through the X Games.

More than a niche sporting competition, the X Games proves to be a valuable way to reach a young demographic. While brands whose values are synonymous with thrill-seeking and adventure will always be present at the X Games, there are additional opportunities for brands to reach and communicate their values through a partnership with the X Games.

Picks of the Week: January 9, 2017

Picks of the Week: January 9, 2017

Pepsi & The NFL