Extreme Sports Go Corporate as ESPN Sells X Games to Private-Equity Firm

MSP Sports Capital will assume all day-to-day operations of the X Games though ESPN Productions will retain a minority stake

Kensuke Sasaoka of Japan competes in the X Games in 2019.
The X Games have a new majority owner.
Sean M. Haffey/Getty

As a (potentially) wise man once said, “It’s not selling out, it’s buying in.”

Once the bastion of punks, rebels and anti-establishment athletes who’d rather risk life and limb than conform to playing a sport that required a uniform or a referee, the X Games have been sold by ESPN to private-equity firm MSP Sports Capital.

ESPN, which will retain a minority, non-controlling stake in the franchise it has owned for 27 years, will continue to serve as the U.S. broadcast partner as part of a multiyear agreement that was signed in conjunction with the ownership deal. With the change in majority ownership, 10-time X Games gold medalist and former ESPN commentator Tony Hawk has joined  MSP Sports Capital as a brand steward.

“Skateboarding is part of my DNA and I support a community where change and advances in action sports is happening on a daily basis,” Hawk said in a statement. “Being part of the advisory board for X Games is an extension of my decades of competing and much more forgiving to the body.”

The financial terms of MSP Sports Capital’s deal with ESPN were not disclosed. The X Games will be MSP Capital’s sixth investment, adding to a portfolio that includes McLaren Racing Limited and four European soccer teams: Agrupación Deportiva Alcorcón (Spain), G.D. Estoril Praia (Portugal), FC Augsburg (Germany) and S.K. Beveren (Belgium).

“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. “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.”

There’s no way to know for sure, but ESPN selling the X Games could be a precursor of things to come, as the Worldwide Leader’s parent company Disney has been rumored to be considering a number of changes.

“ESPN’s X Games gave a platform to a new group of sports and allowed a lifestyle to grow into legitimate sports,” freestyle motocross icon Travis Pastrana told ESPN. “Before X Games, most of our sports were dead-end hobbies. Now, kids growing up on skateboards and BMX bikes are encouraged to chase their dreams.”

This season’s Winter X Games are scheduled for January 27-29 in Aspen, Colorado, a perfect haven for extreme athletes and private-equity peeps.

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