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Comcast, ESPN Go to Extremes for X Games

When hundreds of thousands of extreme sports fans descend upon Philadelphia this week for ESPN's Summer X Games, the network and local cable affiliate Comcast Corp. will welcome them with aggressive promotional messages.

Comcast and ESPN have spent millions of dollars — and have planned for many months — to attract what they see as a desirable and hard-to-reach audience: 12-to-24-year-old males.

"For Comcast, the games speak directly to a younger demographic," said executive vice president of sales, marketing and customer service Dave Watson. That group tends to be interested in emerging technologies, such as cable modems, he added.

Reaching the type of young, active athlete most likely to be interested in the X Games poses a challenge because they're likely to be outdoors "doing stuff," said ESPN senior vice president of marketing Lee Ann Daly. The X Games run on ESPN from Aug. 17 through Aug. 22.

To reach extreme-sports fans, ESPN is placing its message in spots where they're likely to hang out, such as skateboard parks, hard-rock music tours or convenience stores.

The theme of ESPN's current X Games marketing campaign is the "ultimate convenience store." TV spots show top athletes gathered in front of a shop. Outdoor ads also play on that theme, employing the message, "No shirt, no shoes, no X Games."

"We need to be where the fans are, wherever sports are played or discussed or debated," Daly said.

At some venues, ESPN has distributed samples of beef jerky with X Games tune-in information printed on the wrapper. The tactic didn't go over big at convenience stores, however, because they sell that product, Daly noted.

Instead, ESPN placed posters and branded floor mats in those retail outlets.

Because X Games fans are younger than ESPN's typical target viewer, "we really do have to go elsewhere to spread this word," Daly said.

An extreme-sports fan probably watches MTV: Music Television or Nick at Nite in primetime, she said.

Daly noted that parents who attend the games with their children find a way to better connect with them.

Comcast served as more than just an affiliate-marketing partner — it also helped to bring the X Games to its headquarters city, which will also host the 2002 event.

"First and foremost, this is something we wanted to bring to the community," Watson said.

Though the MSO doesn't look at the event as a revenue generator, it does hope to sell some products. The cable industry's recent trend toward system clustering allows MSOs to attract a large number of potential customers through high-profile events.

Most of this summer's X Games competitions will be held in the Comcast-owned First Union Center, which Watson said is expected to host up to 60,000 fans each day.

Comcast will pitch a tent at the arena to showcase digital cable, high-speed Internet access and video-on-demand, which has already been introduced in the MSO's Willow Grove, Pa., system. Comcast expects to expand VOD to other parts of its Philadelphia cluster soon.

"We wanted to talk about the potential for new technologies," Watson said.

To help promote both attendance and tune-in, Comcast is producing original behind-the-scenes programming on its regional network, CN8: The Comcast Network.

And as part of its community-outreach effort, the MSO will host a "Comcast Day," bringing more than 1,000 children from various recreational programs throughout Philadelphia to the First Union Center to meet some of the star athletes.

The MSO has also sent its recreational vehicle across the region, raffling off prizes such as video game systems and DVD players. Comcast's advertisers will have a chance to meet with clients or promote their services in the Comcast tent at the X Games.