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Volume 6 No. 211
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FIS President Gian Franco Kasper Talks About Sochi, Safety Concerns and Sponsorships

The alpine ski world cup season starts on Saturday with the women's giant slalom race in Sölden, Austria. The highlight of the '12-13 winter sports season is the FIS Alpine World Ski Championships in Schladming, Austria in February. FIS President Gian Franco Kasper took time to talk with SBD Global Staff Writer HJ Mai about what fans can expect from the '12-13 season, the progress of construction for the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi and the organization's challenge to increase safety.

Q: What are your expectations for ‘12-13 winter sports season?
Gian Franco Kasper:
We have a world championship season ahead of us. In three out of four years we either have world championships or Olympic Games, and this year is one with word championships. We will have four big world championships this winter. We will start in Canada in the province of Quebec with the Snowboard World Championships. Then we will have the Alpine World Ski Championships in Schladming, Austria. This is followed by the Nordic World Ski Championships, which consists of ski jumping, cross-country skiing and Nordic combined, in Val die Fiemme, Italy. And in March, we will hold the Freestyle World Ski Championships in Voss, Norway, which is close to Oslo. In addition, we will have junior world championships in all our events and not to be forgotten int’l competitions that are controlled by us. During the upcoming winter we will oversee almost 7,000 events, which is once again a new record. Included in those almost 7,000 events are 330 world cup events that are all live broadcast on TV, however, not all of them in every single country. You can see it is an extremely tightly-scheduled season that is ahead of us. We expect an exciting season, especially due to our world championships in great places that will certainly put on an amazing event.

Q: FIS has already sold out all of its sponsorship and hospitality packages to the Alpine World Ski Championships in Schladming. Has there always been such a rush on those packages, or is this an indication for an increased interest in alpine skiing?
Kasper: In general, it has always been like that, however, we have sold out our packages quite early this time around, also for the Nordic World Ski Championships. This is in part due to Eurovision, which holds all rights including the marketing rights, teaming up with a new agency that helps simplify the work and has better connections. However, since Eurovision has become the rights holder, the sale of sponsorship packages has been roughly the same. In addition, local organizers receive national sponsorship packages that they are allowed to sell. Overall, the sale of sponsorship packages has been going relatively well at all world championships, the prices have increased at the normal rate, and it is nice to be able to always count on our “old” partners that return year after year. It is a good sign for us.

Q: What is FIS’ major selling point in negotiations with potential sponsors for its events?
First, I have to say that we as FIS only sell title sponsorships. Everything else at world cup races we leave to the organizers. However, two-and-a-half to three years ago we founded our own marketing agency together with two other big agencies, Infront and Tridem. We are the majority stakeholders of the FIS Marketing AG. The result is that many sponsorship deals are now signed on a global scale, meaning not for an individual event. For example, we have 70 alpine ski world cup events this winter, but that does not mean we have 70 different sponsors. Instead, we have certain sponsors that buy season packages or just for part of the season. This concept has proved to be effective. The reason why we again and again team up with our “old” partners is that we highly value our partnerships. We always kept our pricing reasonable to make sure that we generate the same amount of revenue the next time around. We have tried to increase our prices in a linear fashion, this is true for marketing rights as well as TV rights, and it has proven to be successful. We certainly could get more money, if we would sell each world championship individually and not over several years. We might would be make more money in a certain year, but we have to deal with new partners that do not necessarily know what is going on, especially in regard to TV coverage. If you have a 10-year deal with Eurovision, the whole thing simply becomes much easier and simpler.

Q: You recently returned from an inspection trip to Sochi, and you were reportedly worried about the construction progress. Is this true? And if yes, what’s the reason for your worries?
Kasper: I’ll travel at least twice or three-times a year to Sochi, therefore I see the progress of the construction. You have to realize that what was developed step-by-step in the Alps and in the U.S. over the past 200 years, Sochi has to build in five years. This automatically leads to the biggest construction site in the world. The progress is obvious, and I’m 100% convinced that everything will be perfectly completed when the Games start. What I criticized especially was the ski jumping area, which is still missing a lot of things, and will host a world cup event in December. I just had to put a little pressure on the organizers, so they will complete certain constructions such as a judge tower by the end of November, or if that is not possible at least build a temporary tower for the event in December. In addition, I criticized the low number of people who will be able to watch the competitions up on the mountains. This only applies to mountain events due to the limited transportation capabilities and the addition of new events that make it really crowded up there. Those are certain things that we are not thrilled about, however, I do not have any worries that Sochi could not be ready for the Olympics. President Putin [Russian President Vladimir Putin] holds his hand over Sochi, also financially, and if you know that 35,000 workers work 24 hours a day, seven days a week, I think we do not have anything to worry about. However, for the test events this winter, it will be a challenge to get everything ready in time.

Q: Ski Jumping Race Director Walter Hofer recently hinted at a possible world cup event inside a football stadium in Warsaw. How likely is it that such an event will actually take place?
Kasper: Such events have occurred every now and then, but Warsaw now had the idea to use an existing football stadium, build a jump tower outside of the stadium and locate the landing area inside the arena. It actually is not much different than a regular ski-jumping stadium except it is a football stadium. It is definitely an interesting idea, and it would get the fans closer to the action. It is not a new idea, but it is new that it is in Warsaw and that the athletes would jump into the stadium. It is a great advertisement for ski jumping, and it does not need a whole lot of preparation. However, it is still a long way from a funny idea to hosting the actual event.

What is FIS’ top event in regard to revenue and audience numbers?
It highly depends on the level of competitiveness of the individual nation. If you just look a few years back when Alberto Tomba was still skiing, the stadiums in Italy were completely overcrowded, and the enthusiasm was magnificent. After Tomba retired and no new champions followed, the overall interest and TV coverage started shrinking. The audience numbers are highly dependent on how successful a nation’s athletes are. We are simply lucky that our stadiums are sold out.

Read more of the Q&A.