Fenway Park To Host Snowboarding, Freeskiing Event, Complete With 100-Foot Ramp
The venerated Fenway Park outfield once patrolled by Fred Lynn and Johnny Damon may take a turn toward the non-traditional this winter: A 100-foot-tall snowboarding and skiing ramp. Fenway Sports Management and the U.S. Ski & Snowboard Association have agreed in principal to bring a big air snowboarding and freeskiing U.S. Grand Prix tour stop to Fenway on Feb. 11-12. The event is the culmination of a two-year effort by the winter sports’ NGB to attempt a large-scale urban event. “Our intentions are to stage the biggest and best big air competition in the history of the sport at Fenway Park,” said USSA CMO Michael Jaquet. A contract has not yet been finalized, but the USSA is in the market for sponsors and both sides say they are enthusiastic. A formal announcement is expected later this summer. In big-air snowboarding and freeskiing, athletes perform mid-air tricks after launching from a man-made ramp, distinguishing it from spectator-unfriendly mountainside disciplines. USSA brass first began pursuing a stadium event in '13 to demonstrate big air snowboarding’s commercial appeal to the IOC, hoping to get it included in the Olympics. They could not get a deal done before the June vote on the '18 PyeongChang Games program, but the IOC nevertheless included the discipline. “This event now is to celebrate that decision,” Jaquet said. Under the terms of the agreement, Fenway Sports and the USSA will split the costs and revenue, with both promising to sell and activate sponsors, promote the event and tackle planning together. The USSA walked away from other offers that did not involve as much support from the venue owners. “If you’re just renting the park, you’re not taking full advantage of their capabilities, which was the deal we do not want,” Jaquet said.
TAKING THE PLUNGE: Fenway Sports Management President Sam Kennedy said the company and the city of Boston are excited about the opportunity but admits they are not sure what to expect. “We think there will be demand for these tickets. Just how much, we honestly don’t know right now,” Kennedy said. “It’s still too early to say. I could see a scenario where there is extremely high demand, considering it’s a once-in-a-lifetime thing. Fenway’s been around for 103 years now, and it’s never happened.” NBCSN will air the event live, with a tape-delayed showing on NBC on Saturday, Feb. 13. Discussions with Fenway took on new urgency after the IOC vote in June, Jaquet said. The NHL’s decision to play the Winter Classic at Gillette Stadium instead of returning to Fenway helped align both the USSA and Fenway’s interests in developing an alternative winter event. The stadium was unlikely to host two major winter events, with Fenway already reserved for the Notre Dame-Boston College football game on Nov. 21. A turning point in the negotiations was when Fenway dropped its request for the USSA to pay to replace the ballpark’s grass, Jaquet said. Kennedy declined to comment on that. The USSA will begin selling the event to sponsors in earnest today at its partner summit in Park City, Utah. Jaquet said they will make up to 12 sponsorship positions available for the event, and he expects half the slots to be filled by existing sponsors of the Grand Prix tour. Bose, Paul Mitchell, Visa and GoPro are among the tour’s sponsors. Precise seating plans are not finished yet for the ski/snowboarding configuration, but Kennedy said the ballpark probably will look much like it does for concerts, with outfield seating not sold and some field-level standing access available. It is not yet clear how much the ramp itself will block certain sight lines, Kennedy said. “It’s going to be a little less than baseball but dramatically more people in the stadium than any other event we’ve ever staged,” Jaquet said. The USSA last attempted a major ticketed event at a city park in Denver. It was a modest success, Jaquet said, but it fell short of expectations, leading the NGB to insist on a stadium and a more active partner.