SBJ/March 27-April 2, 2017/Events and Attractions

U.S.-based World Pro Ski Tour seeking sponsors for relaunched head-to-head racing series

A one-off event drew top competitors and sponsors to Sunday River, Maine, earlier this month.
Photo by: GETTY IMAGES
Owners of the relaunched World Pro Ski Tour are in the market selling sponsorships for the 2017-18 season, hoping to prove there’s still room for ski racing in the U.S. outside of the FIS World Cup circuit.

Eighteen years after the made-for-television tour ended following a sale, original owner Ed Rogers and three other investors brought the concept back with a one-off event March 10-12 at Sunday River, Maine. They want to host four to six stops next year.

The three-day event drew several marquee athletes and sponsorships from Tito’s Handmade Vodka and Greenhead Lobster, but it’s an open question whether expansion will succeed, experts said. Executives originally set out to launch with six events this year before paring back ambitions, and they’re competing for talent and brands with World Cup races and the 2018 Olympic cycle.

A top sponsorship of the entire tour will be valued in the mid- to high six figures, while a single event will sell for about $100,000, said Craig Marshall, an investor and executive director of sales and marketing. The operational budget for each event is about $100,000 in cash and $50,000 in in-kind contributions, Marshall said.

The World Pro Ski Tour’s pitch is twofold: First, its format is more digestible to casual fans and a television audience than classic ski racing. Rather than competing for time, skiers are organized into a tournament bracket and race head-to-head down a slalom course with the winner of each run advancing.

Also, it will be held entirely in the U.S., with its shorter courses making it more feasible for a wider range of resorts. The pilot event aired one week later on CBS Sports Network, with the tour providing the production crew.

“Our event is very North American-based, whereas the U.S. Ski Team and the World Cup are very European-based,” Marshall said. “We know skiing is a valuable demographic for a sponsor, but we want to provide a North American-based property.”

Ultimately, the pro tour’s future depends on how well it sells sponsorships, said Ken Sowles, an agent who represents David Chodounsky, a 2014 U.S. Olympian who won the Sunday River event, collecting $10,000. (Organizers hope to increase first-place prizes to $20,000 next season.)

Sowles said that both the old U.S. Pro Tour in the 1980s and ’90s and recent pro events in Paganella, Italy, prove that skiers are open to non-World Cup events, if they can find gaps in the World Cup schedule and can raise sufficient prize money.

“They had a tour that lasted a long time, and if they can work with major sponsors it can work as a parallel tour to the World Cup again, because it has in the past,” Sowles said. “Whether they can attract guys off the World Cup like they did this last weekend, that’s probably schedule specific.”

But, Sowles thinks, the tour doesn’t necessarily depend on having the world’s best skiers at every race. The old pro ski tour thrived with a combination of Olympic-level technical specialists and journeymen, and part of the appeal to sponsors is the chance for on-site hospitality at desirable resort locales, with pro-am-style ski runs with athletes.

Peter Angus, vice president of sales for Tito’s, said he was reluctant to sign with a startup. But, he said, they delivered a high-quality event at Sunday River that attracted a good local audience to Tito’s.

“They got some really talented folks from the U.S. Ski Team there, which is a challenge because of conflicts,” Angus said. “It gave me strong encouragement that they have the ability to pull this off again. Obviously now they must get a much deeper pool of sponsors involved, and be able to deliver on all the different programs.”

Trying to launch in an Olympic year adds to the challenge — “Everything plays second fiddle to the Olympics,” Marshall admitted — but they have reason to believe the 2018 Pyeongchang Games could be an asset, too, because the Olympics will debut a team event that includes head-to-head racing.

The tour’s other investors along with Rogers and Marshall are Barrett Stein and Kevin Clarke.


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