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ESPN will expand its burgeoning extreme sports empire this summer with B3, a companion to its X Games franchise that will have Rollerblade and MCI Communications Corp.'s 1-800-COLLECT as presenting sponsors.

Pepsi-Cola Co.'s All Sport sports drink and Colgate-Palmolive Co.'s Mennen antiperspirant/deodorant will be associate sponsors.

B3 will consist of two late-summer events, the first in New York City, the second in Long Beach, Calif., that feature the world's top "bikers, bladers and boarders"-hence, "B3."

Such wheel-based activities have come to be recognized as the signature sports within the extreme sports genre. The two events will yield a total of 8 hours of programming on ESPN and ESPN2.


"Our aim is to be the dominant player in the extreme sports field," said Tom Hagel, ESPN's VP-integrated sales and marketing.

B3 helps to give ESPN more of a year-round presence in extreme sports, helping to fill the gap between its summer and winter X Games, Mr. Hagel added.

Also in the mix: the recently concluded Ultimate In-Line Challenge; the springtime X Games Xperience, a 10-city grass-roots program that leads up to the summer X Games; and the wintertime ESPN FreeRide Snowboard Tour, which will expand in its second year from one to three events.


The success of the first B3 events will determine if ESPN expands B3 next year. But evangelizing the genre of extreme sports and the network's involvement in these activities is at the heart of these programming extensions.

"With B3, we bring the events to the people instead of taking the `build it and they will come' approach like we do with the X Games," said Paul Slagle, ESPN's director of integrated sales and marketing.

Producing a plethora of events also builds ESPN's image as the driving force in the field by solidifying the network's relationships with athletes.

B3 also allows ESPN to expand its reach among the sports' rabid teen and Gen X followers for its sponsors, which often find these demographics to be elusive.

Rollerblade and 1-800-COLLECT will sponsor separate hours of the programming produced at these events. 1-800-COLLECT gets the hours devoted to bikers and boards, while Rollerblade gets the hour covering blades and an hour featuring all three sports.


Both will receive extensive on-air identification as presenting sponsors, as well as commercial inventory and opening and closing billboards. At the event, both will get considerable signage.

Rollerblade is planning to stage an adjoining interactive skate park, where spectators can blade and board themselves; 1-800-COLLECT's on-site plans have yet to be finalized.

As associate sponsors, All Sport and Mennen will also get on-site signage, sampling opportunities and TV time.

ESPN is currently shopping for two additional associate sponsors; it wouldn't disclose pricing on the sponsorships.

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