Outdoor extremes

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Espn is taking things to extremes again with its Great Outdoor Games, but this time the sports cable network is targeting men ages 25 to 54, not just the younger guys who watch its X Games franchise.

The new event will pit hard-core outdoorsmen against one another in Olympic-like competitions staged at Lake Placid, N.Y., this month. Contests involve fishing, target shooting, timber sports, and acrobatics and obedience contests for dogs.

"Women and families will be among our viewers, but we're mostly targeting men, the kind of people who watch Nascar," said Tom Hagel, VP-director of event marketing for ESPN-ABC Sports. "The viewers we're going after have a broad interest in the outdoors, and we're showcasing some of the most traditional sports in America," he said.

Added Ed Erhardt, president of ESPN/ABC Sports Customer Marketing & Sales: "Our goal is to shape this event as the Olympics of outdoor sports, presenting these activities in a dramatic and extreme way."


The Great Outdoor Games, involving 200 male and female competitors, runs July 20-23; the competitions will be telecast July 27 through Aug. 4. Sponsors include Castrol North America, Land Rover, Lowe's Home Improvement Warehouse, Pep Boys, Stihl and WorldCom's 1-800-COLLECT.

ESPN expects more than 50,000 spectators to be on hand at the Great Outdoor Games, thanks to local publicity, with broad sampling and marketing opportunities for sponsors. (ESPN typically attracts crowds of 270,000 at its X Games events, which began in 1995.)


The Great Outdoor Games will be hosted by Mark Malone, an outdoorsman and former National Football League player who also works as a sports announcer. Through a partnership ESPN has inked with Times Mirror Magazines' Outdoor Co., Field & Stream also will provide coverage of the event, which is expected to become an annual affair.

Mr. Erhardt said he hopes the Great Outdoor Games eventually will become "a consumer showcase for outdoor sports equipment."

Being among the first-ever sponsors of a new event was a lure for Pep Boys--Manny, Moe & Jack.

"This program offers a very interesting mix of sports that target our exact demo, and it gives us a chance to leverage the interest with on-site marketing activities and in-store signage that we hope will bring more attention to our new truck accessories area," said Bill Furtkevic, director of communications.


Pep Boys is backing its Great Outdoor Games sponsorship with an in-store sweepstakes to win a four-wheel drive pickup truck.

Lowe's is using its sponsorship of the Great Outdoor Games to help spread its awareness in more markets, as the 602-store chain prepares to add 95 units this year and 125 next year, said Dean Kessel, manager of sports and event marketing.

"The outdoors enthusiast matches our audience very closely, and not just the do-it-yourselfer but the professionals in the construction trade, who tend to spend a lot of time and money on outdoor activities," Mr. Kessel said.

The 21 events at the Great Outdoor Games include target sports involving shotguns, rifles and archery, testing a wide range of shooting skills. There will be 105 dogs competing in five events at the Games, in contests such as Big Air, where dogs must jump at least 15 feet high to qualify; Flyball, where they will leap over hurdles and catch balls; and bird fetching, where they will be tested on their ability to retrieve birds over a 3.5-acre field.

Timber events include a hot saw contest, log rolling and chopping. The Games also include a wide range of fishing events, such as bass fishing and fly fishing.

National champions in each sport have been identified and invited to the competition, with cash and merchandise prizes awarded to winners.


Unlike previous ESPN fishing shows, the Great Outdoor Games will be a faster-paced type of TV program, with 17.5 total hours of viewing planned, Mr. Hagel said.

"Traditionally, we have kept things pretty simple when we're covering outdoor events like these," he said, "but for the Games we're doing a high-tech production that will present basic sports like fishing and target shooting in a whole new dimension."

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