SBJ/May 28 - June 3, 2007/This Weeks News

Miller still will wear U.S. ski team uniform despite departure

For the U.S. ski team, Bode Miller might be gone, but he won’t be forgotten.

Miller quit the team a week ago after years of friction and will ski independently as “Team Bode” next year. But he will still wear the U.S. ski team uniform because of an International Ski Federation rule requiring competitors to wear their nation’s equipment and clothing.

Miller will still wear the U.S. team uniform,
but will attempt to add sponsors beyond
those tied to the team.

The U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association, which is responsible for entering eligible skiers from the U.S., intends to enter Miller because he’s a product of the U.S. ski system, said USSA spokesman Tom Kelly. As a result, Miller will have to wear the full team uniform.

The scenario presents sponsors and Miller with a predicament. Team sponsors could be associated by default with the gifted skier, who is notorious for late-night partying and outlandish remarks, while Miller will attempt to add  sponsors without any additional inventory to offer.

In the past, major U.S. ski team sponsors including Visa, Chevrolet and Sprint, were featured on the team’s uniform. Those sponsors are expected to be on the uniform next year, as well. They may benefit from exposure when Miller is featured in competitive photos or videos, or they may be featured in photos associated with one of Miller’s off-color remarks or moments of bad behavior.

Some major ski team uniform sponsors dismissed the issue, saying it was not a concern.

“As a racer, ski team members, [the] president and coaches respect him,” said Bridget McCarville, national sales promotions manager for Chevrolet. “We have the ultimate confidence in (USSA president) Bill Marolt and his leadership.”

A spokesman at Visa, which severed its individual sponsorship of Miller after the 2006 Olympic Games in Turin, agreed, saying it is more focused on its current roster of snow competitors — skier Julia Mancuso and snowboarders Lindsey Jacobellis and Seth Wescott — than on Miller. Major corporate sponsors such as Visa, Sprint and Chevrolet make million-dollar-plus annual commitments for the USSA’s sponsorship and media packages.

Bode’s sponsors

Superfund
Briko sunglasses
Swix wax
Bretton Woods Mountain Resorts
Sportskool
Concorde Reisemobile (RVs)
Sirius Satellite Radio

Source: CAA

Though the corporate partners aren’t concerned, sports marketers say they should be. Former sponsorship executive Matthew Pace of GM Eventworks said association with Miller could be trouble, even if a company is not directly tied to him.

The rule requiring Miller to wear the ski team uniform is problematic for him, as well. After quitting the team, Miller will be forced to finance his own coaching, traveling and technical expenses next year.

Miller already has an annual helmet deal from international investment firm Superfund that sources put around $700,000 annually, but that is the only on-slope inventory he can offer to sponsors. The deal will cover all of the estimated $250,000 cost of his support staff, sources say, but adding additional sponsors without any other inventory to sell will be tough.

Miller lost several major sponsors following his medal-less 2006 Olympics performance. Both Barilla and Visa dropped him, and another, Nike, has limited its promotion of him, despite having rights to him through 2007-08.

The appetite in the marketplace for Miller has been tepid since the 2006 Olympics and leaving the team won’t help because he will lose out on potential relationships with U.S. Ski Team sponsors, said Scott Sanford, senior talent director for Davie-Brown Entertainment, which works with AT&T on its Olympic activation.

On the upside, Miller offers companies not in the sport a way in without the expense of backing the entire ski team.

“That’s where Bode and his agent should focus their effort,” Sanford said. “I’d go to Verizon or Motorola and get a guerrilla marketing scheme going.”

Miller’s agent, Lowell Taub of Creative Artists Agency, is exploring whether the skier can be freed of the rule requiring he wear the team uniform. If able, Taub will open Miller’s uniform up for existing and new sponsors.

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