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Volume 21 No. 1
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USSA moves to show key alpine events live

For the first time in its history, the U.S. Ski & Snowboard Association will air portions of its marquee alpine events live.

The move represents a push by the organization to end a decades-old practice of tape-delaying 30-plus hours of competition. The U.S. Ski & Snowboard Association opted to increase its production costs by 10 percent during the 2012-13 season, so that it can offer two hours of live coverage of the women’s slalom Nov. 25 on NBC Sports Network from the Nature Valley Aspen Winternational and an hour of men’s giant slalom from the Audi Birds of Prey on Dec. 2. By paying more for production, USSA also will be able to turn around tape-delayed coverage of seven other events more quickly, so that broadcasts of those events air the same weekend they are held.

NBC Sports Network will show the Audi Birds of Prey men’s giant slalom live on Dec. 2.
“We’ve traditionally allowed the events to go next week on a delay basis or two to three weeks on a delay,” said Michael Jaquet, USSA’s new chief marketer. “As far as being able to market the sport and promote the results, you need to be as live as possible. That’s what we’ve done — become more live and relevant.”

The live broadcasts carry some risks. USSA plans to air the second slalom run, which typically takes 45 minutes for 30 racers. A delay for weather or an injured skier could mean that the scheduled time ends before a marquee skier such as Lindsey Vonn competes. But USSA officials believe going live provides enough credibility to make those risks palatable.

The organization has a time-buy deal with NBC Universal that gives it 22 hours of coverage on NBC Sports Network and 11 hours of coverage on NBC. It had the same number of hours for the 2011-12 season. The hours are spread over 10 weekends and across 10 events — three alpine events, three snowboard events, two freestyle events, a snowboardcross event and a freeskiing event.

Jaquet, who joined USSA two months ago from CBS Sports Network, worked with NBC Sports Network President Jon Miller to rework the USSA schedule so that nine of those 10 events would air on the same weekend they’re held. Only the Visa Freestyle International (Jan. 31-Feb. 2) will air on NBC Sports Network the weekend after it’s held.

USSA is spending 10 percent more on production to make that possible. The organization spends approximately $2 million on production annually and $2.7 million on its time buy, according to sources. Jaquet declined to disclose total production costs but said the increase was worth it.

“We operate these events for athletic development and to raise sponsorship money,” he said. “This is the best exposure we can get and it helps sponsors tremendously.”

USSA has sold 90 percent of its ad inventory for the 33 hours of NBC broadcasts. The organization retains all national ads for its 11 hours on NBC and has a handful of additional spots during its 22 hours on NBC Sports Network.

Most of the ad inventory was included in sponsorship packages. Existing sponsors Audi, Putnam Investments, USANA and Sprint all increased the number of units they bought in recent renewals. USSA signed new deals with and Snap Infusion, which makes Supercandy, which the company says is a healthier candy.

Jaquet said the organization is close to announcing two more sponsorships that will take the remaining 10 percent of its available ad inventory.