A constant feature of my ten years at ESPN, the X Games was one of my favorite subjects. The evolution of my involvement with X Games illustrates in a vivid way the ESPN Technology department as it rocketed from its small-company origins into a world-class technology powerhouse.
For my part, leveraging X Games as a platform, I was able to push for more brand involvement in our technology products, building cross-division relationships along the way.
The Wild West
When given the reins to keep the skins for X Daily Update (X Daily) and both of the X Games Registration and X Games International Registration (X Reg) websites updated, I did pretty much anything I wanted. I had to. There was absolutely no involvement from the branding or creative team for the X Games properties. I tried several times between 2007 and 2008 to connect with the brand managers, but to no avail.
Only for two years of X Games Asia did I have what I believe were 'official' graphics to work with, and these came from downloaded Flash files I found online which I tore to pieces so I could reuse the elements for my own redesigns.
In all, making up my own graphics was fun, but I was always left with that feeling that I probably wasn't supporting the brand in the best way possible.
Evites were the one exception to this. These VIP invitations, which our team set up and maintained, often came with promotional artwork, which I could then repurpose for our own registration websites. In each of the evite designs below, the piece in the top left is what I created the rest of the images from.
The ITK Incident
In December of 2008, Internal Communications asked me to create a Winter X Games skin for our intranet to promote the upcoming event. Of course, I jumped at the opportunity, but I also requested that they pass my design by our X Games branding teams to make sure we were in the clear. They tried reaching out but received no real feedback. Assuming 'silence is consent', we released the new skin over Christmas vacation to all 7000+ employees around the globe. Returning to work on Friday, after two years of trying without success to connect with the X Games brand managers, they came looking for us.
Yeah, apparently, I did a number of things incorrectly. We fixed a couple, but the rest stayed. It was too late, and since it wasn't public, the branding mistakes weren't critical. Still, this piece is probably my absolute favorite X Games piece. Completely digitally painted (using plenty of reference).
As a side note, my second favorite piece is the Archives design. Its the first item in the batch of images below.
Cooperation & Relationship Building
I leveraged the ITK incident to welcome the Brand team's participation on our other sites. They were surprised. They didn't even know the websites existed since they were for internal or business use.
Making things work wasn't easy, either. Most of our websites went up months before the Brand team started creative work for the upcoming event. So we compromised. We'd hold off skinning the websites as long as we could, and they'd get us art as soon as they could. It was usually preliminary and in progress, but still close enough to final that we could work with it to give our sites the right 'flavor'.
In addition, international events often had no branding other than a logo. So we worked together to find ways to brand these sites, often by repurposing art from the domestic events.
Over the next few years, we all got much better at working together, proving advantageous later when we launched the internal website, X Games Event Production, and then again in 2013 when we handled six full X Games events in one year in a campaign called the eXpansion.