L.A.'s Extreme Team

For a competition that honors individual excellence, ESPN and Los Angeles-area MSOs are taking a team approach to putting marketing muscle behind the X Games.

Following a two-year stint in Comcast Corp.'s Philadelphia backyard, the summertime version of the extreme-sports franchise has dropped into Los Angeles for a two-year run.

X Games IX commenced on Aug. 9 with surfing and BMX qualifying, and will kick into high gear with the main events like skateboarding and Moto X from Aug. 14 through 17.

ESPN, ESPN2 and ABC will supply more than 20 hours of coverage from Aug. 16-21.

To reach the kids, teens and young adults who favor these activities — and now have other extreme-sports options like NBC's Gravity Games and Fox's fledgling Fuel network — ESPN has unveiled a new ad campaign valued at up to $5 million, with a like expenditure in on-air promos.

Cool connections

Further lifting the event's profile, ESPN has developed various programs giving Adelphia Communications Corp., Comcast Corp., Charter Communications Inc., Time Warner Cable and Cox Communications Inc. a piece of the alternative-sports action. Direct-broadcast satellite provider DirecTV is also in town, parking ESPN The Truck within the market.

"The X Games were a success for us and I believe for Comcast in Philadelphia," said ESPN vice president of affiliate ad sales and marketing Jeff Siegel. "In coming to Los Angeles, we decided to work with the various operators."

The Los Angeles Cable Marketing Cooperative, which facilitates about five events per year with programmers, is a key conduit through which operators hope to draw new customers or convince current ones to expand their service.

In addition to finding volunteers for the competition, the co-op has worked with ESPN on X Games materials and on-site stations adorned with its toll-free number, 1-800-800-Cable. Calls direct customers to their local provider.

To that end, co-op members will gain exposure from a full-page ad in the X Games program. An interactive village will be set up at the Staples Center, where MSOs and some of their employees can show high-speed and digital-cable wares.

"They'll be able to take orders there," said co-op director Skip Harris. Steered traffic patterns will expose attendees to this demonstration area.

Additionally, ESPN senior account executive for affiliate sales Jodi McCulloch said the number would be displayed on all on-site bags, postcards, posters, the United Airlines baggage carousel at Los Angeles International Airport and a 140-by-18-foot banner strung across the Staples Center entrance.

Operators are also airing customizable cross-channel spots, said McCulloch. One set of promos proffers an X Games CD case as a gift to those who buy high-speed data service.

X Games
cross-channel efforts commenced in July, weeks before the competition arrived. The reason was twofold: to let people know about the Games and its $5 price (via Ticketmaster) for tickets to events at the Staples Center and Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

This marks the first time ESPN has charged for the X Games, which previously had relied on ad support. A portion of the proceeds will go to its cancer-fighting charity, the Jimmy V. Foundation.

Downhill BMX biking (in Tehachapi), wakeboarding (Long Beach), surfing (Huntington Beach) and street skating (Staples Center) will remain free.

The cable community also figures to have a huge presence at the L.A. Coliseum on the night of Aug. 15, when MSO employees are invited to attend an exclusive Moto X practice session.

Broader platforms aside, area MSOs have also conducted an array of tailored X Games-related programs.

Op options

Comcast, via a customized wrap around ESPN The Magazine, offered a high-speed data service offer to 25,000 existing customers, under the heading of "extreme speed, extreme sport," said spokeswoman Patty Rockenwagner. Those signing up received free tickets to the X Games.

The MSO also tied the competition to its "Comcast Reading Rewards" program, incenting 1,100 children from three groups to read in return for X Games ducats.

From July 8 through July 24, Cox distributed some 158,000 X Games-themed door hangers to non-digital customers in Orange County, promoting the games and Xperience at Disney California Adventure, according to spokeswoman Ayn Pillsbury.

From July 1 through Aug. 10, the theme park hosted X Games athletes in training.

The MSO also used the door hangers as an invite to a half-price acquisition and free offers from Showtime and HBO.

Additionally, the MSO ran X Games and acquisition elements on Cox.net, offering online sweepstakes winners tickets to California Adventure and a grand prize of a hotel accommodations, a limo ride and VIP treatment at the Games.

BMX bikers visited the Time Warner Cable store in Cypress, Calif., on Aug. 2. Over two hours, the athletes provided demonstrations, signed autographs and took photos with hundreds of customers and children, according to division vice president of community relations Dean Leavenworth.

The MSO also ran a CSR sales-incentive programs tied to the X Games for various products.

Adelphia, which has the largest customer base in L.A. with some 1.2 million subscribers, brought hundreds of its employees to Edison Field on Aug. 1, when bike stunt athletes provided demonstrations before that night's Anaheim Angels baseball game.

Spokesman Bob Gold said exclusive premiums were disseminated and Adelphia manned a sales booth, from which the company touted its Power Link cable-modem service. The MSO is also pleased by its deployment of cobranded cross-channel spots.

Gold said X Games tickets are also part of the MSO's Ambassador Program, in which up to 20% of approximately 2,700 eligible employees have signed up to seek out customer comments about how the company is performing.

For its part, Charter hosted an X Games clinic for a children's group in Whittier, Calif., and ran a CSR sales incentive program, with competition tickets as the draw, according to McCulloch.

Last year, X Games VIII in Philadelphia attracted 220,000 attendees over four days. Siegel expects a strong turnout considering many of these alternative sports were created or popularized in California. But he's already looking ahead to next year.

"We're going to see what works and doesn't, learn from what we did this year and go bigger next," said Siegel. "We want to walk before we run."