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Volume 22 No. 7

Events and Attractions

The event that features snowboarding, freeski and freestyle skiing puts Utah on the international sports stage.
Photo: Getty Images

Utah and U.S. Ski & Snowboard officials are making final preparations for the state’s largest international sporting event since the 2002 Winter Olympics.

 

From Feb. 1-10, Park City will host the International Ski Federation’s world championships in freeski, snowboarding and freestyle skiing, an event that expects to draw at least 60,000 fans and 1,400 athletes from 40 countries to three separate ski resorts.

 

U.S. Ski & Snowboard operated the 2015 alpine skiing world championships at Beaver Creek, Colo., which had a larger budget. But this event is bigger in other ways, said Calum Clark, USS’s chief of systems and operations. Because of the diverse slate of events, it will come closer to mimicking the Olympics’ dynamic of bringing together vastly different demographics and sports over multiple venues. 

 

“We’re looking to create that environment, the really vibrant environment of the athletic three-ring circus, where there’s multiple activities happening, and people are able to pick and choose what their desire is for the day,” Clark said.

 

The event features the snow disciplines that increasingly drive the entire U.S. Winter Olympic team’s competitive success and commercial efforts. Freeskiing and snowboard generated 11 of Team USA’s 23 medals at Pyeongchang in February, and five of the nine golds.

 

Toyota is the presenting sponsor. FIS partner Audi had sponsored the last world championship in Spain in 2017, but a recent extension with FIS covered only the alpine disciplines, allowing USS to include the Utah event in its deal with Toyota.

 

FIS World Championships

Feb. 1-10, 2019
Venues:

Solitude Mountain Resort, snowboardcross and skicross
■ Deer Valley Resort, moguls and aerials
■ Park City Resort, slopestyle, halfpipe, parallel giant slalom and parallel slalom
■ Park City Resort/Canyons Base, big air, ceremonies
■ Sponsors on site: Aubio, Blue Diamond, Bose, Bulletproof, Charles Schwab, Comcast, GoPro, Hershey’s, High West, Lagunitas, Paul Mitchell, ProBar, Rockin’ Protein, Toyota, USANA

“What [sponsors] like is they’re all scaling toward a younger demographic, which naturally are inclined toward freeski and snowboard in particular,” said Dan Barnett, chief commercial officer of USS, which won hosting rights in 2014. “And to have 10 days of that with a platform on NBC is really quite incentivizing.”

 

Along with Toyota, sponsors planning to be on site include Comcast, Hershey’s, Paul Mitchell, Bose and others, Barnett said.

 

Comcast will activate on site with a showcase of its xFi and X1 products during the second weekend of the 10-day event, and also will have a media buy on NBC and NBCSN broadcasts, said Matt Lederer, Comcast’s executive director of sports brand strategy. Its hospitality program will rival its operation at a “large-scale NASCAR event” and include its Comcast Business Solutions and Spotlight units.

 

The combination of a youth-friendly competition, global significance and the Comcast-served media market of Salt Lake City is an appealing one, Lederer said.

 

“Both from the amount of time of the event, and the gravitas of it being a world championship, we’re fully expecting a great crowd, not just for the weekend we’re there but the entire 10 days,” he said.

 

NBC is tentatively planning on four hours of broadcast coverage and 30 on either NBCSN or the Olympic Channel. NBC acquired the rights to the event in a comprehensive 2014 deal with U.S. Ski & Snowboard, which had previously obtained the rights from FIS. Infront Media is distributing a global feed.

 

Under the terms of USS and NBC Sports’ deal, half of the advertising inventory is controlled by USS and sold as part of its sponsorship.

 

One key challenge for U.S. Ski & Snowboard was to build the prestige of the event in the eyes of athletes, which is not the foregone conclusion it is for world championships in many other Olympic sports. In freeskiing and snowboarding, independent properties like the X Games and Dew Tour are seen as just as important as the official international federation events.

 

One step USS took was to schedule the Park City worlds immediately after Winter X Games, giving athletes a short trip from Aspen to Utah. That has worked — American agents and brands say the most marketable athletes have made attendance a priority — but it created another problem: direct competition with Super Bowl weekend.

 

Are planners concerned?

 

“Honestly, I am,” Barnett said. “When I was at America’s Cup, we competed with the Super Bowl and you know who wins that. Honestly, I think the timing and scheduling isn’t ideal for that day. That said, we’ve got the full week after that with no football to compete with.”

 

Organizers have one event scheduled on Super Bowl Sunday, at 11 a.m. And the most popular events — halfpipe and slopestyle — are scheduled later in the week.

 

With Utah politicians making moot another bid for a future Winter Olympics, planners also have an eye on the big picture, Clark said. USS depends extensively on cooperation from the three resorts that will host events — Solitude Mountain, Deer Valley and Park City — and is trying to work with a light touch to minimize the impact on their peak-season business.

 

Utah Sports Commission CEO Jeff Robbins said he hopes to once again demonstrate to international sports officials that the region can be relied upon to execute major events smoothly, as it has many times. “This is certainly a tremendously big piece of the puzzle, but I like to think of this as the key piece out of many pieces that go all the way back to 2002,” Robbins said.

The Davis Cup is 118 years old, one of the longest-running national team competitions in the world. By contrast, Kosmos Tennis is just 18 months old. But that agency, which reportedly committed $3 billion for the rights to a new format for the Cup, is roiling the sport of tennis.

Kosmos Tennis was born in the living room of FC Barcelona star Gerard Pique when he shared his idea of a World Cup of tennis with a few friends: Nullah Sarker, a music producer and executive; Mike Evans, the co-founder of Timbaland Productions; and Edmund Chu, a top executive with Chinese sports agency Seca.

That the five founders — Rakuten CEO Hiroshi Mikitani is the fifth — have no background in tennis but are blowing up the way Davis Cup has been run since the Teddy Roosevelt administration is causing severe heartburn in a sport that is often resistant to change. In place of the four one-week, home-and-away events spread out over several months will now be a fixed-site, 18-nation tournament that will take place in Madrid in November (there will be one week of home-and-aways in February to whittle the field down to 18). Kosmos expects that the change will make it easier to attract sponsorships and media deals for the event.

Gerard Pique, whose day job is as a star defender for FC Barcelona, is one of the founders of Kosmos Tennis and the driving force behind the changes coming to one of tennis’ oldest events.
Photo: getty images

“The beauty of what we are doing with the Davis Cup is this: While staying, as much as possible, as true to the traditions and the history of the Davis Cup, we are also bringing it forward into a new culture, into a new paradigm of how the event runs,” Sarker said. “That opens up an amazing amount of opportunity in terms of activations and digital brands.”

In late November, Sarker sat for an interview at Sports Business Journal’s New York headquarters, believed to be one of the first times the group has publicly opened up about its intentions. 

Kosmos’ rapid rise is a testament not just to Pique and his network of contacts, but also to the pent-up demand from those who have been calling for change for decades as Davis Cup receded in significance. In August, Pique received permission from FC Barcelona to skip practice and fly to the International Tennis Federation meetings in Orlando to make Kosmos’ presentation. Afterward, more than 70 percent of the 207 nations of the International Tennis Federation voted to change the format.

Kosmos Tennis executives

Javier Alonso, CEO, 24-year executive with Spanish sports marketing firm Dorna

Alex Soriano, media rights director previously with Octagon

 

Kosmos founders

Gerard Pique, FC Barcelona star

Nullah Sarker, music entrepreneur and adviser to The Players’ Tribune

Mike Evans, special adviser to Miami Marlins CEO Derek Jeter; co-founder of Timbaland Productions with Grammy-winning artist and producer Timbaland

Edmund Chu, managing director of Seca, one of China’s largest sports agencies

Hiroshi Mikitani, chairman and CEO of Rakuten

Kosmos holdings

Founded: 2017

Headquarters: Barcelona

No. of employees: Up to 20

Key asset: Rights to Davis Cup for 25 years starting in 2019

What the name means: It is designed to evoke the cosmos, far reaching and a constellation of connected companies. The K is because Pique has other companies that start with that letter.

 

Investors in Kosmos Tennis

Larry Ellison

CMC-Sequoia

Pique, 31, is a tennis fan with an entrepreneurial streak. He has video and esports ventures in Europe that now fall under the umbrella of Kosmos, which is set to go into business with FC Barcelona on content production.

It’s been reported that Kosmos committed $3 billion over 25 years, but Sarker said only the latter number is correct. The $3 billion figure includes an economic impact estimate for what the new Davis Cup will generate in new revenue for the host city. After Madrid in 2019, the host cities will be chosen through a bidding process, similar to how the Olympics and World Cup operate. So how much is Kosmos actually guaranteeing the ITF?

“It’s still a major number,” said Sarker, 28. “The hard guarantees are significant.” He declined to say how the $3 billion figure breaks down between guarantee and economic estimate.

The ITF also has declined to comment specifically on financials.

CMC-Sequoia and Larry Ellison are backing Kosmos Tennis as investors.

What is also clear is that Kosmos and its investors are in the Davis Cup project for the long haul because red ink is sure to pile up in the early years. Broadcast rights, a critical revenue stream, are already sold through 2021 to BeIn Sports, and many of the key sponsorships are tied up. These contracts were based on the old Davis Cup format, not the arguably more valuable one Kosmos envisions.

“At the moment BNP Paribas is the [Davis Cup] title sponsor,” said Sarker, whose background is in music where he got to know the team around Shakira, Pique’s wife. Mentioning other Davis Cup sponsors like Rolex and Adecco, Sarker said negotiations are occurring, and that “we are trying to figure out what is the right thing to do with them in terms of a long-term vision.”

The oversized question hovering over the whole enterprise is of course the ATP Tour’s plan to run a rival national team competition six weeks later. Pique first carried his vision to the ATP, but he was rebuffed partly because the tour wants to control its own event. Only later did he find a willing vessel in the ITF and its Davis Cup.

“We are hopeful,” Sarker said of a possible merger of the ATP and ITF events. “The beauty of what we are trying to do is bring together the whole tennis community, not just athletes, but organizations. I think it would be a beautiful thing if we were able to do that.

“We are doing our best to educate people as much as possible on it. I think that would help clear up any misunderstandings.”