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
■ 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.