Seeking to anchor its year-round lineup with marquee events, Outdoor Life Network last week purchased the Gravity Games extreme-sports franchise.
OLN will look to add a winter version to its existing summer-and-fall games in 2005. Both iterations will complement the network's coverage of its most high-profile event, the Tour de France cycling competition, said network president Roger Williams.
The Comcast Corp.-owned network purchased the five-year-old franchise from Octagon Inc., which had partnered with NBC Sports to air the games, featuring events in such sports as vert biking, inline skating, skateboarding, wakeboarding and freestyle motocross. Terms of the multiyear deal were not disclosed.
OLN has retained Octagon to aid in the marketing of the Gravity Games.
Acquiring the Gravity Games allows Outdoor Life to go head to head with ESPN's X Games in the action sports cable arena. ESPN's alternate sports franchise, which has a broadcast outlet via sister network ABC, has both a winter and a summer version.
Fox Sports Net is also offering programming targeted to action-sports fans, and last year launched Fuel, a 24-hour extreme-sports network.
The acquisition represents another high-profile event for OLN, which broke ratings records with its telecast of the Tour de France last July, when it finished 400% above its average of 0.1. All told, the network finished 2003, its first year as a Nielsen Media Research-rated network, with a 0.2 primetime average.
"It gives us two marquee events outside of the Tour De France and viewers a reason to keep coming back," he said. Williams said. "We think it's a marquee name in the action-sports category, and it's fairly seldom that you have the opportunity to acquire an event that has this type of prestige and brand recognition."
Williams expects Gravity to draw a younger, 18-to-34 male demographic to the network. To appeal to younger viewers, OLN will showcase a variety of lifestyle components catering to action aficionados, including interactive elements, live music film and product displays and entertainment showcases.
He also expects advertisers to gravitate to the events.
"It provides wonderful opportunities for sponsorship," Williams said. "Advertisers love events and to be able to integrate their products not only their advertising on television but on site; it just gives us a terrific opportunity."
OLN will telecast 20 hours of the September 2004 games. Williams said he's planning to talk to NBC about continuing to carry the competition.
"I still want to have a network component for the games, and I would naturally look to NBC first because they've had such a good involvement and participation in the past," he said.
But NBC Sports vice president of business development Kevin Monaghan said the network is not interested in carrying the Gravity Games, opting instead to concentrate its efforts on launching its own action sports programming initiative sometime in late 2004 or early 2005.