An Outdoor Charter

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Charter Communications Inc. loves the great outdoors — especially ESPN's Great Outdoor Games.

ESPN is moving its Great Outdoor Games franchise to Madison, Wis., next July, and Charter will provide affiliate support to the event both locally and throughout its footprint.

The fifth annual event — featuring target shooting, sporting dogs, fishing and timber competitions — will be held in Madison July 8 to 11. Previous games had been held in Lake Placid, N.Y., where Adelphia Communications Corp. served as an affiliate sponsor, and last year in Reno/Lake Tahoe, Nev., where Charter was involved.

ESPN, ESPN2 and ABC are scheduled to air more than 20 hours of the competition.

Charter president and CEO Carl Vogel, speaking last week on a conference call while attending the Western Show in Anaheim, Calif., said the MSO will devote significant cross-channel avails to tout the games, and will use bill stuffers and other materials to help generate awareness and tune-in nationally.

The games could use the boost. The 2003 competition registered a 16% rise in household ratings to a 1.76 over one hour of coverage on ABC, according to Nielsen Media Research data. However, the household average declined to a 0.48 for 11 hours on ESPN, versus a 0.76 average for the 2002 event, while ESPN2 was off to a 0.53 mark for 6.5 hours, compared with a 0.71 average the year before.

Vogel also noted that Charter would participate in a number of promotional programs in Wisconsin to help build attendance there. The 2003 games drew nearly 60,000 spectators over the four days, according to Christine Godleski, vice president and general manager of ESPN Outdoors.

Vogel also spoke about opportunities to help buttress Charter's local ad business not only through the selling of Outdoor packages, but by bringing key clients to the Games. "This is not a huge money-maker for Charter, but it is the right thing for us to do in the community," he added.

"We see tremendous opportunities ahead by working with Charter and bringing the Outdoor Games to Wisconsin," Godleski said, noting that the state had the largest contingent of participating athletes, with more than 20 in 2003. All told, more than 200 athletes from the U.S., Canada, Australia and New Zealand competed in Nevada.

For last year's games, ESPN offered Charter opportunities in ESPN the Magazine, the ESPN Zone and ESPN's local Clubhouse Web sites, as well as inventory in ESPN's in-flight deals with airlines and signage around the events. An ESPN Outdoors spokeswoman said similar components would be available to Charter this time around.

Nationally, the games return Dodge as presenting sponsor, while Schering-Plough's Tinactin brand and Valvoline are also on board again.

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