On the heels of its successful "X Games"
franchise, ESPN announced last week that it will create and debut the first ever
"Great Outdoor Games" in 2000.
The Outdoor Games will feature competition among the best
in the world in five sports and 17 events -- including fishing, timber events, shooting,
archery and sporting dogs --- for a prize fund of nearly $300,000. The four-day event,
scheduled for July and August 2000, will originate from Lake Placid, N.Y.
Jeff Ruhe, senior vice president of event management for
ESPN, said the games are an outgrowth of the network's popular outdoor-sports shows.
"ESPN Outdoors," a three-and-one-half-hour block
of Saturday-morning programming, has been a staple on the network since 1981. Also, ESPN2
televises 14 hours of outdoors programming each week, including a four-hour block Sunday
Ruhe said ratings for the two blocks combined are up 8
percent over last year's numbers, although he would not reveal specific figures.
Further, he said, outdoor activities are very popular and profitable: The shooting and
fishing industries alone generated $35 billion and $28 billion, respectively, in 1998.
"I think that we have an opportunity to explore and
develop a world-championship-type event, where we will bring together a lot of the sports
that we have on-air on Saturday and Sunday mornings," he said. "It's an
opportunity for ESPN to create more proprietary product that benefits us, as well as our
affiliates, viewers and advertisers."
ESPN said it will work with outdoor organizations and its
program suppliers to organize the competitions. The network expects to draw interest from
a number of advertisers for the games, including companies within the automobile, apparel,
beer, soft-drink and telecommunications industries.
"We think that these games will reach a very desirable
male demo that will attract advertisers," Ruhe said.
The Great Outdoor Games follows in the footsteps of the
network's Summer X Games franchise, which has been very successful to date, spawning
a Winter X Games version and a similar NBC project called the Gravity Games.
John Mansell, sports analyst for Kagan Associates Inc.,
said that much like auto racing, outdoor sports has a strong following outside of the
"It gets great ratings when it's on and, with the
marketing strength of ESPN, there's no reason why the franchise won't attract
viewers," he added.