ESPN sells majority stake in X Games to private equity firm
ESPN is selling a majority interest in X Games, the event that helped bring extreme sports such as snowboarding and Moto X racing into the mainstream.
The Walt Disney-owned sports media company announced Wednesday that MSP Sports Capital, a private equity firm, will become the majority stakeholder in the property founded in 1995. ESPN will retain a minority share and extended its deal to carry X Games events on cable and broadcast TV.
Ratings for the first four Thursday-night games shown exclusively on Prime have surged in viewing among the streaming generation.
New York-based MSP Sports Capital will take over the day-to-day operation of X Games and plans to expand its presence across streaming properties, where younger consumers have migrated to watch video. X Games will no longer appear on ESPN+, the direct-to-consumer streaming service.
Financial terms of the transaction were not disclosed.
The sale of the niche property points to ESPN’s focus on major sporting leagues and events that continue to draw large live TV audiences, such as the NFL, NBA and NHL.
It also reflects how sports with small but rabid fan bases are likely to move to streaming, which is how MSP hopes to build X Games.
Earlier this year, ESPN passed on a new deal with Major League Soccer, which signed an exclusive streaming pact with Apple TV, taking most of the league’s games off traditional television.
“MSP Sports Capital is excited about the future of X Games and being the new stewards of such an important part of sports history and its reimagined future,” Jeff Moorad, founder and chief executive of MSP Sports Capital, said in a statement.
X Games was created by ESPN to provide a TV platform for such events as snowboarding, Moto X, BMX freestyle and skateboarding, which grew in popularity in the 1980s and ’90s and attracted a younger audience than traditional sports.
The next edition of the twice-yearly X Games will be staged in Aspen, Colo., in January 2023, airing on ESPN and ABC. The summer edition, held last year in Southern California, is typically presented in July.
MSP said Steven Flisler will be the new chief executive of X Games. Flisler recently served as the vice president of original content for Twitch, the Amazon-owned streaming service aimed at gamers.
Flisler also twice served as executive producer of Twitch Rivals, a live gaming competition presented on the service.
While the X Games brand was created and nurtured by ESPN, the company believes MSP is better suited to take the property into the digital future.
“We’re proud of what we’ve created with our employees and the athletes over nearly 30 years of world-class X Games events and content,” said ESPN Chairman Jimmy Pitaro in a statement. “We now look forward to an exciting next chapter with MSP Sports Capital, which has a proven track record of excellence in sports and a dynamic vision for the continued growth and progression of the industry-leading action sports brand.”
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