In a new era of X Games, new CEO Steven Flisler spoke to Boardroom about what to expect moving forward.
Last year was one of significant change for the X Games.
First, ESPN — the Games’ founder — sold a majority interest in the action sports franchise to MSP Sports Capital. Then, the company gained a new CEO in Steven Flisler. He arrives after stints as Twitch’s vice president of original content and executive producer of Twitch Rivals.
With Flisler leading the way, X Games is tasked with returning to its roots while also launching into the future. One thing that Flisler hopes will help bridge that gap is bringing back longtime host Selema “Sal” Masekela. More on that later.
Ahead of the first X Games under new management, Boardroom caught up with Flisler about what to expect.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Griffin Adams: What has the transition been like from Twitch to X Games?
Steven Flisler: For me, I’ve always been chasing all competition without discriminating. Is it football or baseball, which I played growing up, or is it eSports, or is it action sports? So for me, it’s just competition. And then the story and the riveting kind of drama that goes with it is something for me that I see as transitive and I can’t wait to learn more about the sport and get into the technical — whether it’s the gear, the competition of the athlete community. So that’s the first thing that’s been new in terms of the exact sports. I mean, I’ve skied and biked for a long time, but really the competitive depth there.
The second part is there are a lot of commonalities around the storytelling, the content, and also certainly the opportunity to advance how we distribute programs and do things. So for me, that’s actually been one of the most exciting parts because we have this world-class property and brand that’s been 27 years in the making, but storylines embedded global in nature. And now we get to say, ‘All right, how are we gonna get this into the hands of our audience? How are we gonna get them more and get them the right style of content on the right platform at the right amount of time?’
So for me, that’s actually just been a continuation of a lot of the principles and learnings that I’ve been a part of at Twitch. And even at my tail end working at NBC.
The thing that is comfortably intimidating there is, I feel like the whole industry is trying to figure a lot of these things out. So whether it’s Thursday Night Football on Prime Video with Dude Perfect, or Monday Night Football with the ManningCast, or the collection of how F1 complements its flagship broadcast. So those things have been actually challenging but also comforting because I’ve been caught on the case for a long time.
The last part of it is this is a fully owned event and company now, so we’re responsible for everything from the shaping of the halfpipe to the security to making sure that everyone gets fed along the way. So, there’s just been a normal amount of ridiculous heavy lifting that comes along with producing any event. Over the years, everything from working on different portions of the Olympics with NBC to the Thanksgiving Day parade to running Twitch, a lot of that … you just gotta build the event.
*During Boardroom’s interview with Flisler, a familiar X Games face walked in — Selema “Sal” Masekela. Anyone who knows X Games knows Sal is a staple who hosted the X Games for over a decade before leaving in 2012. A decade later for Aspen 2023, he’s back, so Boardroom snuck in the below question.*
GA: If anyone knows the roots of the Winter X Games, it’s you. How are you feeling about being back and what excites you most about the future?
Selema Masekela: I’m super excited to be here. It’s super surreal. I mean, it’s been a decade and it’s very humbling to leave something for 10 years and still be considered synonymous with it. It’s crazy. I’m walking around town, just being around the venue, people letting me know that they’re stoked that I’m back with ’em. It’s been fun.
The energy of X Games is different than any other event. I’ve been spending time riding with a bunch of the riders and it’s just cool to be a part of this next generation. I’m looking forward mostly to just telling new stories, seeing, being at this point within snowboarding and freeskiing, the elevation of where the sport is, and then seeing that take place at X Games.
This is a legacy event, right? I think that the size and the impact from a pop culture standpoint that X Games can have, I think we’re challenged to bring it back to make the world care, make people feel like, well, if you didn’t see or you haven’t been a part of this X Games, you missed out. And I think that’s what I’m stoked to be a part of as far as the future is concerned.
*Back to Flisler*
GA: Speaking of Sal, I was going to ask about him. What was that process like? Did you have a relationship with him prior?
SF: As a fan, of course I knew of [Masekela], but I made it a priority. I messaged him on Day 1 and said, “X Games has new leadership and new focus, let’s talk about how to build something in the future.” So that’s how that was initiated. Jack Mitrani as well, who’s been pretty embedded in things. I messaged and spoke to him on Day 1 and then kind of built out from there. So for me, it’s been a journey.
GA: Much has been made about returning to the roots of the X Games. How do you balance tradition with forward thinking? The past with the future? How would you grade yourself thus far?
SF: All grades are pending this weekend. We’ve had a couple of quizzes along the way that I think our team has done well with. But certainly, the midterm exam is this weekend. And the audience will help us, grade us both on domestic television and all kinds of streaming. But I think the hardest thing or the thing that I’m spending the most time thinking about is really getting and identifying the core, right? And the style of action sports that we represent. Ultimately, what that means is, how do we get to the core of what a rider is?
Whether they’re a snowboarder, a skier, a biker, all those different things. Getting to the essence of what motivates riders and what role we can play inside of that. … So, I think that’s where I’m spending a lot of that opportunity space with the core DNA of what X Games has been. And it continues to be in a lot of people’s hearts and minds.
GA: Speaking of core DNA, Aspen has long been considered the home of the Winter X Games. Back there in 2023, what’s it been like?
SF: We’re in Year 22 in Aspen. The city has welcomed us back with open arms and I think encouraged us to do more, to lean in more. I’ve been here almost two and a half weeks now, so I’ve been to a lot of restaurants and bars in town, just meeting folks at different little music pop-ups and things like that. Everyone is remarkably excited. The style of the town here. [The local news has] been just wanting to ask questions, and learn, and they put it out, and it’s amazing because I’m walking into the coffee shops or high-end restaurants and there’s X Games on the cover.
It was pretty good last year, but it’s gonna be awesome this year. So it’s really exciting, and then that goes from the public to a lot of the town, the city officials. We’re gonna continue to collaborate with them. And we also have a lot of ideas of how to build this more organically into the city. To keep the core of what we have here in Buttermilk, but also bring some elements into the city. Because I think that’s something that we can do a lot more. And I think there are a lot of tasteful ways for us to participate in the city, celebrate the athletes, and give even more action to the weekend.
GA: How would you label your overall feeling heading into the X Games this weekend?
SF: I’m absolutely thrilled. I think this is the opportunity of a lifetime for me, personally, but also for the team, many of which came over from ESPN and have been working on X Games for 15 to 20 years. It’s an opportunity of a lifetime for them — to wake up and go to bed thinking about X Games and to be the mission-driven company that we have now. So for me and for my team, it’s the opportunity of a lifetime and I think we are incredibly excited and proud to showcase what X Games is, but also there’s a lot of elements that we’re gonna incorporate this weekend to signal what X Games will continue to be.
There’s no shortage of snowboarders, freeskiers, and all the other kinds of winter sports. There’s no shortage of participants. And I think the soul of action sports and all the excitement we get to now crack open and reposition across an incredibly wide landscape. So, those are some of the things.
And then, how we build out action sports/entertainment, how we shape action sports culture is awesome. It’s intimidating because it’s a really complex and layered opportunity. But how we think about that, and again, how we’re gonna do little things here where we integrate music throughout the day and we have someone like Kaskade over here. Yung Gravy MOD SUN and MADDS, that’s an awesome collective group.
One of the prompts I gave to the team was we don’t just want big artists, we want X Games artists. … So for me, it’s not cool who’s the music artist we can book at, you know, 8 p.m. and they’re a capstone. It’s, who’s a music artist that can play with X Games and be a part of it and actually push forward the culture.
But also, we have a lot of ideas for our content roadmap and events that we could do across back countries and mountains, skate parks across the country and the world. We also have excavated Japan popping in on May 14, that weekend. We have a lot of fun things that we’re gonna do to kind of make this summer season really peak.
That collection of action, sports culture, and entertainment, and then our content roadmap. It’s intimidating of course, but if you’re in the business, this is awesome.
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