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The Winter Sports Events Drawing the Biggest Crowds

This article is published in collaboration with Statista

by Florian Zandt

From January 27 to January 29, the 27th edition of the Winter X Games will take place in Aspen, Colorado, the first edition without restrictions since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic. The event will see extreme sports athletes compete in eight snowboarding and eight skiing disciplines and could potentially lead to further world records like skier Alex Hall landing the first-ever 2160 in last year's Men's Big Air event or Eileen Gu being the first woman in X Games history earning three medals as a rookie in 2021. While the competition, which was first staged by US sports network ESPN in 1997, is a hallmark event for the action sports scene, its crowd appeal can't compete with other winter sports events.

As our chart based on data from various sports event organizers like the International Olympic Committee and the International University Sports Federation shows, the pre-pandemic edition of the Winter Olympics and Winter Youth Olympics were the highest-attended multi-sports winter games worldwide, with the former selling 1.1 million and the latter 640,000 tickets to their 2018 and 2020 events, respectively. While other Winter Olympics have taken place since then, they have been excluded from the analysis for better comparability.

Even when not looking at winter sports main events like the Olympics, the Winter X Games lag behind more niche competitions. For example, the Winter Paralympic Games were attended by 320,000 people in 2018. The Winter Universiade, an event pitting college athletes from around the world against one another in competition for the gold medal, drew a crowd of 255,000 with all event attendances combined. Only the Asian Winter Games, in which 32 Asian nations competed in Sapporo, Japan, in 2017, saw less audience interest than the extreme winter sports event.

ESPN hosted the first edition of the Summer X Games in 1994 in Newport, Rhode Island, and moved host cities across the country until landing in Southern California for its two most recent events. After a high of nearly 300,000 spectators at the end of the 1990s in part caused by a skateboarding boom in popular culture, attendance numbers began to decline. Now, the Summer and Winter X Games, which in recent years also included events held in Asia, Europe and Australia, draw similar crowd sizes with their US editions.

After years of ESPN looking for a buyer for both the broadcasting and the IP rights for the extreme sports institution due to increasing pressure exerted by the rise of streaming services, MSP Sports Capital acquired a controlling stake in the venture in October 2022. The private equity firm is headed by Phoenix Suns co-owner Jahm Najafi and Jeff Moorad, former CEO of the San Diego Padres of the MLB.

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