SBJ/Jan. 24-30, 2011/In Depth

Hopes soar on prospects of joining Olympics

Minutes after watching Shaun White clinch a gold medal in snowboard halfpipe in Vancouver with a crowd-captivating, Double McTwist 1260, International Olympic Committee sports director Christophe Dubi sent a clear signal about the potential addition of other action sports to future Olympics.

Snowboard slopestyle was already on the sports program for the first Youth Winter Olympics in 2012, Dubi said, and he expected snowboard slopestyle and ski halfpipe to be considered for Sochi 2014.

In the year since Dubi made that prediction, the IOC and International Ski Federation (FIS) have moved from merely considering adding those disciplines to practically guaranteeing the events will be added to the 2014 Olympics program.

The final decision will be made by IOC President Jacques Rogge, and the expectation at the U.S. Ski & Snowboard Association and throughout the action sports industry is that freeski and snowboard slopestyle will be part of the Sochi Games.
Simon Dumont is among a handful of freeski athletes with ties to non-endemic sponsors, but others could be exposed to marketers if freeski and slopestyle are added to the Olympics.

"This is something we're very excited and bullish about," said Andrew Judelson, USSA's chief revenue and marketing officer. "It is highly likely they will be included in the 2014 Olympics and beyond."

Athlete representatives and organizers of action sports events expect the addition of the sports to the Olympics to further legitimize them and usher in a new level of mainstream media exposure and mainstream sponsor opportunities for a host of athletes left behind years ago when the Olympic spotlight began to shine on halfpipe snowboarder stars like White and Hannah Teter.

"The sport (freeski) has been living without the Olympics, but this will open up doors," said Michael Spencer, a Utah-based sports agent who represents freeskier Simon Dumont.

Spencer said many freeski athletes already have six-figure incomes but acknowledged that only a handful have relationships with non-endemic sponsors. Dumont, who has deals with Target and Toyota, is one of the exceptions. Spencer anticipates that other freeskiers will have similar opportunities in the future as Olympic sponsors, such as Visa, which has a history of endorsing athletes competing in new sports disciplines, sign deals with freeskiers and snowboard slopestyle athletes.

What is freeski and slopestyle?

Freeskiing is a term used to describe twin-tip skiers who perform tricks in the halfpipe or terrain parks at ski slopes. If added to the Olympics, freeskiers will compete in halfpipe and slopestyle disciplines.

is a competitive event for snowboarders and freeskiers that showcases athletes performing tricks off terrain features such as jumps, rails and boxes. Judges score for style and difficulty.

Some companies already are stepping up their investment in freeskiing. After a long history of sponsoring mostly big mountain skiers, The North Face recently signed its first full park and pipe team and sponsored two park and pipe events. Other brands such as Nike and Oakley have followed suit.

"They've [The North Face] totally stepped up in a market where they've never been players before and they've done it in the right way," said Tom Yaps, an Evolution Management agent who represents freeskier Tanner Hall. "It's forced other companies to step up as well."

The USSA is positioning itself for a similar freeski windfall. The organization plans to create a new division, U.S. Freeskiing, which will operate independently the same way U.S. Snowboard and the U.S. Ski Team do. As a result, USSA will be able to sell separate sponsorship agreements to the U.S. Freeskiing team the same way that it does for its ski and snowboard teams.

Though no one doubts that new money and opportunities will flow into freeskiing and snowboarding slopestyle when they join the Olympics, some question if the disciplines will enjoy the groundbreaking moment that snowboarding did in Nagano in 1998 or Salt Lake in 2002.

Octagon Managing Director Peter Carlisle said snowboarding had the benefit of being a novelty when it joined. It was a pioneer that introduced the lifestyle and culture of action sports in a way freeskiing and slopestyle can't as followers. He also noted that Sochi will be a difficult Olympics for those sports to gain immediate exposure because of the time zone difference.

"I don't expect it to be the same game-changer for those sports in Sochi as we saw for snowboarding in Salt Lake," Carlisle said.

Yaps acknowledges that joining the Olympics may not transform those businesses immediately, but he's confident it will boost exposure and sponsor opportunities for athletes and events long term.

"We're ready to make this a reality," he said.

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