Public money sweetens X Games bid 

Politicians pitch to federal and provincial ministers for financial support

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Whistler has upped the ante to entice the X Games north, pledging more than double what Aspen has contributed from the public purse for the past nine years.

Council unanimously approved a three-year commitment of $250,000 Tuesday night to the Local Organizing Committee (LOC), the organization designed to bring ESPN's X Games to Whistler.

Whistler's bid is not to take the X Games from Aspen, Colorado, but rather to host a spin-off as ESPN expands the X Games globally and seeks to put action sports on the map year round.

With significant resort funding now on the table — a quarter of a million each from Whistler Blackcomb, Tourism Whistler and the Resort Municipality of Whistler — Whistler must now wait for a decision from ESPN, due in April, about whether its bid is successful or not.Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden called the municipal contribution a "no-brainer."

"This is exactly what the RMI monies are for," she added, of the municipal funding source — the Resort Municipality Initiative grant, a $7.5 million annual grant which comes from the province, and is designed to bolster tourism.

The ask from the LOC to the RMOW is two and a half times more than the city of Aspen, which has hosted the games for more than a decade, has given to X Games organizers in the past.

This week Don Taylor, Aspen's director of finance and administrative services, confirmed the city has given Aspen Skiing Co. $100,000 annually since 2004 as part of the incentive package to host the X Games.

David Perry, chief operating officer with Aspen Skiing Co, the organization that negotiates with ESPN for X Games, confirmed that in addition to the $100,000 for Aspen, there has been an $85,000 contribution from Snowmass Tourism and a $50,000 contribution from the local transportation authority.

SkiCo too contributes, but he would not say how much.

But these are different times now, said Perry, as Aspen works to keep the X Games.

"ESPN, in going out for international bids, have been asking for more than they've had in the past," said Perry.

"They keep growing their television audience and growing their commitment to X and so they want to get greater contributions from their host towns and cities and that includes Aspen and Los Angeles which are the two domestic ones."

Like Whistler, Perry is waiting on an ESPN decision that would see the X Games stay in Aspen. As of right now there is no contract in place past the 2012 games, held on Buttermilk Mountain last month.

It's clear why Aspen wants to keep it: last month's event saw the valley fill up to capacity with more than 108,000 attending the venue.

A Whistler delegation was in Aspen for the Jan. 26-29 games.

Councillor Jayson Faulkner happened to be in Colorado at that time and joined the delegation.

He said the event was missing that festival vibe, "that we do so incredibly well here."

If Whistler wins the bid, he added, it could take the X Games to a whole new level.

Whistler has pitched its bid as the Whistler X Fest — taking the renowned sporting events of the X Games and combining it with the cultural and festival components of the resort's iconic Telus World Ski and Snowboard Festival. The festival would continue to run over 10 days, while the X Games component would likely be four days.

As to whether it would be an economic boon to the resort and put more heads in beds Faulkner said: "In my mind, no question."

Any question that Whistler was not serious about this bid was put to rest last week when an entourage travelled to the Lower Mainland to speak to federal and provincial ministers and ask for financial support.

It included the mayor, Councillor Roger McCarthy and municipal CAO Mike Furey.

First they visited the office of Canada's minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages James Moore. He was not there, said the mayor, but the Whistler delegation met with his senior political advisor.

Next the group called on provincial ministers — Ida Chong and Pat Bell, the minister of community, sport and cultural development, and the minister of jobs, tourism and innovation, respectively.

"There certainly was positive interest in bringing the X Games," said Wilhelm-Morden of those meetings.

"We were pushing against an open door as far as selling the idea. Of course, both levels of government are challenged by lack of finances so, we'll see what happens."

ESPN representatives will be coming to Whistler March 1- 4 for a site inspection.

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