Tuesday, January 26, 2016

X-citing, X-treme, X-travagant: The X Games

Andrew Gauthier
Launched in 1995 in Newport, Rhode Island, the X Games is an extreme sports competition encompassing skateboarding and motocross and, since 1997, winter sports including snowboarding, skiing and snowmobiling. It acts as an incubator for the latest, hip sports both for summer and winter.

Targeting Generations X and Y, the annual X Games competitions are put on by American sports broadcaster ESPN and also shown on ABC Sports. Since 2002, the winter event has been held at Aspen’s Buttermilk ski hill. The Summer X Games moved from Los Angeles to Austin, Texas in 2014.

Chris Schuster, President & Founder of the Association of Freeskiing Professionals (AFP), provides the management team for X Games under his company Event Production Specialists (EPS Events). Based in North Lake Tahoe, Andrew Gauthier is AFP’s Marketing & World Tour Manager.As a member of the EPS team, we manage all sports and competition at X-Games. We are responsible for coordinating between ESPN Live TV, the athletes, the judges, hospitality, medical, and the course builders,” says Gauthier. “As a crucial pivot point for these events to occur, we ensure that the timing, the safety, the competition process are all aligned. Furthermore, we also are responsible for coordinating athlete practices for each discipline.”

Executive Director for AFP, Eric Zerrenner, was originally looking for a couple of interns from Sierra Nevada College to do the work that Gauthier now does. At the time Gauthier was evaluating different marketing coordinator roles, going through interviews at various resorts such as Sugar Bowl, Kirkwood, Squaw Valley, and Northstar while finishing his MBA. When he saw the request for interns for AFP he came up with a novel idea. “The job description was extensive, but I thought two or three internships could potentially add up to one job,” Gauthier explains. After some negotiations, Gauthier’s new role was created.

Marketing and sales are his chief areas, with a wide involvement in sponsorships and partnerships, social media strategy, event promotion, athlete membership drives, and also basic video editing for exclusive AFP content. The AFP World Tour is another of his responsibilities. “I accept and review all event sanctioning applications, update athlete rankings with new event results and manage the AFP judging program,” he explains. This includes procurement, education and scheduling for all AFP Certified Judges. Along side Jeff Schmuck (Managing Editor of @SBCSkier Mag), he also manages all event media and content on afpworldtour.com and is responsible for athlete communications. Gauthier creates and distributes all formal AFP documentation, manages the inventory logistics including banners, signage, cameras, equipment etc. And he distributes and analyzes post-season surveys to both athletes and event organizers. Ironically, he also gets to manage new interns from Sierra Nevada College.

Despite this taxing tally of tasks, Gauthier thrives on the scope, the deadlines and the competitive nature of his work. And, it’s also a pretty glamorous job. Travelling to the premier North American ski resorts, he meets the world’s top freeskiing and snowboarding athletes. “It is difficult to pinpoint one star struck moment,” he says. “However, I believe when I finished my last powder run at
Whistler at the 2013/14 AFP World Championships, myself, Mike Atkinson, and Chris Schuster (ski sport organizer for Winter X Games) popped out of our bindings and there was none other than Mike Douglas. Basically, he was the leader of the Canadian Air Force, creator of the D-Spin and just a huge freeski star. We had lunch soon after with the AFP team, Mike, and Jeff Schmuck. What a day that was!”

The position comes with other perks, too, particularly living the winter sports lifestyle. “I did not grow up a skier, racer, or competitor. It was the environment, community and the people that attracted me to the winter industry. My love for skiing and snowboarding came later,” Gauthier says.

When it comes to marketing, AFP and the X Games are heavily weighted towards social media and online advertising. “In the past, many marketing campaigns have focused on product. Today we see many brands moving away from product-focused content and more towards entertainment and building a personality of their brand,” Gauthier explains. “See Salomon Freeski TV, The North Face’s The Rise, and Atomic’s recent video series, all live on You Tube. In addition, you find many brands have a dedicated online theater, if you will, to present this content. What’s particularly interesting here is that this is the most difficult type of campaign to track back to the bottom line, yet companies continue to invest.” 

Eric Zerrenner
Gauthier’s boss, Eric Zerrenner says content is king these days: “Brands - both hard goods and soft goods - are looking to create their own, unique content. Typically this has resulted in brands looking to their sponsored athletes to provide them with this content - whether it's action footage at a comp, lifestyle footage from the offseason, training, or travels or general free skiing content. Because of social media, and the scope and immediate reach via those channels, brands are able to tap into an athlete’s audience to help them get their brand/marketing message out to a relevant and receptive audience.” 

Media, both traditional and especially social media are paramount, says Zerrenner: “As the main source for competitive freeskiing, we want to be as informative as possible about the competitions, courses, athletes and results. If we're not able to be at an event - or even at every competition at an event - social media provides instant access. We rely on this information to keeps us informed and current on what's happening within our sport and culture.”


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