SBJ/Feb. 17-23, 2014/People and Pop Culture

Bill Marolt, U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association

He’s taken USSA to top of the mountain

Photo by: USSA
After 18 years leading the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association, Bill Marolt will step down as CEO after the Sochi Games. He joined USSA, where he had been a member of the 1964 Olympic ski team and later the alpine skiing director, after working as the athletic director at University of Colorado. He set a goal of making the organization the best in the world in Olympic skiing and snowboarding. It achieved that goal at the 2010 Vancouver Games when 17 of its athletes won 21 medals. SportsBusiness Journal writer Tripp Mickle spoke to him before his final Olympics.

When I graduated from the University of Colorado, my professional plans were to go into ski area management and ski area development, but the job as ski coach at CU was open. I took the job thinking it was a transition job, and two years turned into seven.

People encouraged me to take the AD job. It was a weird change of direction. The athletic program at CU at the time needed leadership and it needed some attention. I knew what the challenges were and what the solutions were so I just jumped in.

I came from the coaching side. I didn’t know a lot about the business side. I didn’t know about television, sponsorship, fundraising. All of those things I learned on the fly.

“Bode is, at core, a really good person,” Marolt says of U.S. skiing star Bode Miller.
Photo by: SARAH ELY / USSA
KOA radio booms all over the West. They approached me about broadcasting CU football and basketball. I walked into the meeting and I didn’t know what a 30-second spot was, and when I walked out of the meeting, I was selling them. That’s how naïve I was. The whole idea was KOA would put together the network and provide the talent. We would sell it. That’s where I learned about packaging radio and television.

My first year as AD we were a 1-10 football team. The biggest decision I made in my first year was to extend Coach [Bill] McCartney’s contract and give him two more years. That was probably the most key decision the whole time there. That gave him a chance to continue to recruit and improve. We went from 1-10 to a 7-5 team going to a bowl. By 1990, we won the national championship.

We had gone through a period of time with the football program where you get in a cycle of hiring and letting guys go. When I looked at where we were, Coach McCartney had a good coaching background. I looked around the country and couldn’t see a better guy to do it. A lot of ADs would want to find their own guy, but I had a lot of confidence in him.

Marolt stuck with McCartney, who delivered a national title.
Photo by: UNIVERSITY OF COLORADO
We talk about goal setting and that’s one of the things I brought [to USSA] from Colorado. This is a McCartney-ism, so to speak. Mac always said, “If you have a goal, you’re not committed to it unless you write it down and put it on the wall for everyone to see.” That’s what I brought to USSA. I brought a goal and when we put it on the wall, few thought it was attainable. But when you have a goal and are focused on the goal, it works. It has served us and will continue to serve us.

Before I got here, we had a foundation. The foundation board still exists. But we weren’t sure who we were when I got here. We weren’t sure if we were a fundraising org or an event org. Really what we are is an athletic org. We’re an org about winning. But we have to do all of those things well. We have to do a great job in sales and marketing. We have to do a great job in fundraising. We have to do a great job in managing events. That’s all to support the organization. And as we’ve found success, our sales have gotten better, our fundraising has gotten better.

The key is having the stars that are easy to identify with. It doesn’t matter if it’s fundraising or sales but having the stars there — whether it’s Julia [Mancuso] or Lindsey [Vonn] or Bode [Miller] or Lindsey Jacobellis — those personalities and the results they get motivate people. What our public wants to hear, a corporate sponsor or a donor, is excitement. They want to hear that we have a chance to have someone standing on the podium. We have to stay focused on athletic results and winning.

Marolt celebrates a strong run by Ted Ligety at Soelden, Austria, in 2009.
Photo by: USSA
Bode is, at core, a really good person. He is a challenge because he’s a contrarian. But he’s a really good guy. He’s not arrogant. He’s just looking for opportunities to win.

One of our values is team. We believe we’re stronger if we have everybody working together. But all of these sports are individual sports. When they get in to the starting line, they’re individuals. But getting them there takes a community and a team. It takes not only coaches but the teammates, the nutritionists, doctors.

We had conversations with [Miller] and his agent [after Miller left the team in 2007]. We opened the doors and said, “Look, we’d like to have you back.” We didn’t put any conditions on it other than, “You have to be part of the organization and what we do going forward.” He was fine with all of that. It wasn’t a complicated situation because I didn’t make it complicated.

[After Torino] we felt that as a staff and an organization we needed to put a better face on the organization. That’s when we sat down and thought about values. You talk about what competition teaches you, but a lot of organizations don’t write that down. Out of 2007 came a recommitment to values and what we wanted to be and look like. It was important we did [create a new code of conduct] because it sent a message to the public about what we were. It made a difference leading up to ’10.

Marolt in the U.S. Ski Team Day pro-am race in 2012 at Squaw Valley
Photo by: KATE PERHAI / USSA
All the success we’ve had at world cups and the Olympics — those moments are the greatest.

I grew up in Aspen and had a super opportunity to get involved in skiing. My mom and dad and family were supportive. But I had a coach named Gale Spence who coached me from fourth grade to high school. He was a competitive skier. He started me in it, and that’s where a lot of my philosophy started.

I want to stay involved in skiing. I’m on the board of directors of the USOC, I’m on the FIS council. I’ll do that the next few years. I’ll do some fundraising for USSA. I’ll be involved from a distance. I’d like to stay involved through membership on those boards and fundraising.


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