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Is the World Cup just about dead?

post #1 of 25
Thread Starter 
Check this link out at Ski Racing magazine:

http://www.skiracing.com/index.php?o...326&Ite mid=2

Discussion topic -- Is the WC about to die and can it be fixed?
post #2 of 25
I don't think the World Cup is about to die, but it needs some serious work. FIS as a governing body seems to do more harm than good (timing contracts, schedule selection, regulations...), but I doubt it will change anytime soon.
post #3 of 25
Quote:
Originally Posted by Alaska Mike View Post
I don't think the World Cup is about to die, but it needs some serious work.
What World Cup Skiing needs is some serious Media coverage.

The OLN coverage only up to the Olympics was a teaser that only frustrated anyone interested in real skiing. Today, only the X Games winter sports get televised regularly. We can attribute the X Games coverage for much of the youth snowboarder explosion at the slopes with the resulting hazards/casualties.

Of course, the FIS governing body has some major fault in this as they have not contracted with the major US networks for any real media coverage of their events. The last televised skiing I saw was the Aspen WC event broadcast a week or so ago. It was taped with much of the broadcast devoted to interviews. How boring!!!

NASCAR became national mainstream only when they negotiated to get their races televised on major networks. Now the NASCAR broadcast contract is worth tens of millions to the sport. Maybe the Ski community should wake up and take notice of how it has worked elsewhere before skiing, as we know it, becomes extinct, overrun by media popularized alternatives.
post #4 of 25
I do not think ski racing is popular enough to generate network contracts. Auto Racing is much more popular.:
post #5 of 25
Quote:
Originally Posted by fischermh View Post
I do not think ski racing is popular enough to generate network contracts. Auto Racing is much more popular.:
NASCAR is wildly popular now but, in the late '60, no one outside of the southern Appalachians knew or cared about 'stock car racing'.
post #6 of 25
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by WmCraven View Post
NASCAR is wildly popular now but, in the late '60, no one outside of the southern Appalachians knew or cared about 'stock car racing'.
True, but everyone owned cars. Not everyone owns skis.
post #7 of 25
I think the WC is far from dead; but, it is in danger of falling deeper as a niche sport than it already is...
post #8 of 25
Quote:
Originally Posted by WmCraven View Post
NASCAR is wildly popular now but, in the late '60, no one outside of the southern Appalachians knew or cared about 'stock car racing'.
Well put: it's all about marketing.

You can take the auto racing argument a little further, too: NASCAR has blossomed in recent years because of excessive media exposure. To many auto racing fans, NASCAR is the lowest-common-denominator of auto racing: crap cars on crappy little ovals. Only in the last decade has it overtaken CART/Champ, IndyCar and Formula 1 racing in popularity here in the U.S., and that's largely due to marketing: the cars are huge billboards, the drivers are mostly people with whom the "typical viewer" can identify (read: Americans), etc. These guys drive cars that are similar in form (at least from a very superficial standpoint) to the ones in a typical American's garage, the brands are ones they recognize, and the tracks are almost exclusively in the U.S. - basically, it's easy for Joe Average to picture him- or herself as a NASCAR racer.

With the others - especially F1 - it's a much more refined sport. The drivers are skilled, the cars are technological wonders, the courses are all over the globe and have twists, turns and truly technical sections that most drivers never experience.

So drag this similarity to skiing: the X-Games stuff, like skiercross, is kinda like skiing in the terrain park. Their equipment looks (to the untrained eye) like something you can buy off the shelf at your local shop. The race format is simple elimination on a head-to-head course: no need to know whose technique is best, as time doesn't necessarily matter. The racers wear "normal" ski clothing, too, so it's something that average skiers can picture themselves doing, and most of the races take place in the U.S. or Canada. It's the NASCAR of the alpine skiing world.

FIS World Cup Alpine racing is like the Formula 1 of alpine skiing: the racers wear lycra speed suits and use poles with funky bends. They race on courses that are seldom ever mimicked at the average U.S. ski resort, the majority of races are held in Europe, and the field of racers is dominated by European nations. It's tough for the average skier/viewer to picture themselves in an alpine ski race.

And how does the FIS market the World Cup? By refusing to accept that image sells, by operating under the impression that media in sports is still "earned" in the U.S., which is simply not the case.

Look at where most of alpine racing's coverage happens in the U.S.: it's things like Hermann Maier flying off the course in Nagano, or Bode Miller partying it up in Torino (or the incredible recovery at Snowbasin in '02). There's not a lot of coverage of most alpine racing because most sports reporters don't know what they're looking at: they can't see where speed is scrubbed, etc. Skiercross is easy to digest, whereas alpine racing is for the more discerning fan.

And the typical sports broadcast in the U.S. has "dumbed down" in the past 20 years. Look at ABC's "Wide World of Sports," which used to be the U.S. broadcast home for events like the Lauberhorn, the Hahnenkamm, the Aspen Winternational, the Tour de France, etc.: while they used to show a bit of everything (alpine, XC, jumping, bobsled, weightlifting, track & field, cycling, figure skating, speed skating, golf, bowling, GR wrestling, and many others), they now show mostly golf (summer) or figure skating (winter). It's not the show it used to be because they went where the ad dollars were, and knew that they couldn't compete with the burgeoning cable market.

It's sad, really.

So the FIS has its work cut out for it: they need to spin their product the right way for it to catch on.

Just my $0.02 - your mileage may vary.
post #9 of 25

Not dead

The WC is far from dead, but it isn't tapping in what it could be and should be: in America, it is still an outsider sport and in Canada, more and more is it becoming an outsider sport even if we currently have the greastest tall around team this nation ever had. The reason? We have less snow, sure, but we have a lot more coverage of hockey, football and basketball than before and these sports' seasons are getting longer and longer and longer = less time for ski racing.

Plus, skiing as a whole has lost a bit of its "daredevil" chic: many of the magic and the aura surrounding the white circus had to do with strong personalities, characters and their didcation to strapping rudimentary equipment to their feet while going nearly 80mph and hour. The sport isn't getting any faster, while hockey, football and auto sports are now more exciting than before. We still have extraordinary athletes with compelling stories, but the truth is, the time of the great rivalries (think Crazy Canucks vs Franz Klammer/ Bill Johnson vs everyone who didn't buy his crap at the 1984 downhill / Mahre brothers vs all odds at the Olympics, etc.) and of the battle for the nation's cup is over. Now, we have countless Austrians, many of wich are booted out of the team if they don't get top 15 regularly after 2-3 years, who dominate the field... At least, when Ingemar raced, he left the downhill alone


And the fact that many classic venues are now in jeopardy because of lack of snow, wich Europe will be experiencing more and more in the next decades, does not bode well for the WC. Citizen racing is thriving tough, wich is nice.
post #10 of 25
Maybe todays results at Beaver Creek will generate at least a little media coverage. You know the American media attitude: We only broadcast winning or tragedy.
post #11 of 25
1. Get used to snow troubles. The glaciers are melting. There are immense volumes of greenhouse gasses (and snow-graying particulates) dumped into the atmosphere. Which means that some of the traditional European venues will become increasingly iffy for races.

2. Terrible, terrible marketing. The WC men ski close to 90 mph wearing only a helmet, boots, and a skin tight suit. That is a sport that can be marketed, and (unlike past decades) North America has a bunch of bona fide competitors who can help popularize the sport here. The cable revolution (and the Internet) were supposed to allow exposure for things (bullriding? Euch) that reach a smaller audience than three networks need to aim their programs to. World Cup Soccer is catching on in the US because kids play the game, and we're starting to understand how passionate much of the rest the world is about it. WC skiing can start to get there too.

3. Insanely bad decisions. The book Right on the Edge of Crazy, about the US Ski Team speed skiers a few years ago (the AJ Kitt era) talks about FIS scrubbing the race at Aspen (after almost all the competitors had finished and AJ Kitt was in first place) because a hole was developing in the course (despite pre-race warnings that a hole would absolutely and inevitably develop there, given the course set.) Phhht. There's a momentum killing moment for building the buzz in the US market. (IIRC, the book implies there was deliberate anti-US sentiment may have played into the decision.)

4. Balkanization. Last year's timing fiasco. Losing womens' races for lack of willing venues. The territoriality of Austria trying to grab make up races or just cancel them rather than see them move for a year to the US. There are lots of problems and they're made worse because FIS is organized specifically to promote member self interest at the expense of the sport as a whole.

How to fix it? Have a genuine build up to the World Championships (like there is to the Olympics.) Get network coverage of the event, and tie it in with sponsors and their promotional dollars. (Red Bull is paying something already for space on Lindsay Kildow's helmet. Hint. Hint.) Get someone in charge who looks out for the sport, not just a specific venue in Austria and the flow of development dollars to the Austrian team.
post #12 of 25
Quote:
Originally Posted by sfdean View Post
2. The cable revolution (and the Internet) were supposed to allow exposure for things (bullriding? Euch) that reach a smaller audience than three networks need to aim their programs to.
It seems like WCSN.com has finally stepped up to the plate on this one. I hope they make a bundle of $$ because so far the coverage has been far better than anything OLN ever did. This opportunity has been ripe for the picking in my opinion.

Overall, as much as I'd like to see ski racing gain popularity in the US, the reality is that it just won't have mass appeal. Popularity in the US can fluctuate widely and it won't hurt the sport that much overall since it is so well established across Europe.

I think there are a lot of negative things that come with additional "popularity" (if the recent olympics were any indication at least). Personally, I could give a flying crap if we get more over-sensationalized ad saturated Bode-centric OLNesque coverage of skiing in the states. I wrote OLN multiple times telling them what a bunch of losers they were for ignoring Daron Rhalves and Ted Ligety (and the developing depth of the US team as well as the good skiers from other countries) two seasons ago when Bode took the overall. More Bob Costas style commentaries on the sport? Tim Ryan, a guy with zero skiing credentials doing the live announcing on NBC races? Sub-tabloid quality coverage of Bode Miller's private life? No thanks. I'm happy watching the real footage on WCSN whenever I want and reading ski racing, eurosport, and a few other sources for press coverage.
post #13 of 25
Quote:
Originally Posted by sfdean View Post
...The territoriality of Austria trying to grab make up races or just cancel them rather than see them move for a year to the US. There are lots of problems and they're made worse because FIS is organized specifically to promote member self interest at the expense of the sport as a whole.

Get someone in charge who looks out for the sport, not just a specific venue in Austria and the flow of development dollars to the Austrian team.
Yep. There's the problem and the answer.

The whole funding mechanism has to change to allow more channels to carry this sport. Unless it does, FIS will whither through a slow, lingering death.

How many people in the US have a hockey stick? Yet, hockey is widely covered. How many people have a curling stone in their closet? (oh.. wait.. sorry.. that was a different post of mine.) It's in each Federation's best interest to see that the sport is popular world wide. Its current zero-sum funding structure inevitably leads to self interest and a non-globally optimal position.

Time for FIS to realize that it needs to change as the world does.
post #14 of 25
Ski racing is a niche spectator sport for alot of reasons. Don't see that changing. Even if a major network carried the races like ABC Wide World Of Sports did 20 years ago, not enough people would watch it to make it work. There isn't enough money or marketing know how to change that. Look at the major US media markets, NY, LA etc. What % of the people there ski/ride?

In Canada it's more popular. They carry the WC on CBC which I am lucky to have on basic cable. The Bush hosts a group every year from Toronto with 1000 skiers and the spaces sell out fast.

IMHO I think the Winter Olympics is really the only thing that keeps the WC from going the way of the dinosaur. At least it's bigger than ping-pong or darts..I think.
post #15 of 25
Thread Starter 
Writing as a friend of boardboy (I work in sales for a large corp). I have a few observations. By the way, I appreciate everyone's comments on the subject a lot.

1. Skiing is not recognized by your average Joe on the street as being an accessible sport for one and all.
2. What little tv coverage there is, pertains to the skiers' private lives not the sport itself.
3. When tv actually shows a race, they only show "bytes" rather than something continuous that a viewer could gain interest in and eventually want to follow (like NASCAR or Formula 1 does).
4. Skiing has a perception by most as being an elitist sport (whether it is or not). Your average person can't afford to whip out to Aspen at the drop of a hat for a long weekend of skiing. Nor can this same person afford to go to the closest slope (if they live in snow country) to do the same thing. The cost is too much for your average family of four.
5. The folks that run the slopes need to find a way to make the whole experience affordable and more user-friendly. An 8-hour lift ticket for $50 per person for a family of four is 200 dollars--out of the question for one day's skiing. Surely they realize that if they make it more affordable more people will come and spend their money more often--thus making up any shortfall the slopes will incur in lowering their prices.

Thanks again for letting me put in my 2 cents!
post #16 of 25

WC is fine ...

World Cup is fine. From the issues mentioned above some are debatable (couple of days ago it was -18F here so global warming seemed like a good thing.) and others have been like that for decades (fragmentation, bad decisions and poor marketing). This year we have a very promising team.
Here are a few pictures: I hope you like them. Maybe I'll get a few more today and tomorrow!

Oh ... and please don't compare WC Ski to NASCAR ...:
post #17 of 25
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Spandex Monkey View Post
World Cup is fine....Oh ... and please don't compare WC Ski to NASCAR .
I don't think that WC is fine. If you want the status quo, then it will remain a niche sport, with shaky finances. The New Orleans Saints of the NFL survived a weather catastrophe because pro football has a lot of money because of its very broad fan base, similar to NASCAR.

Maybe FIS needs to move early events back from the late October and November start dates to early December, and then put them up on the upper glaciers, not the lower ones, like at Soelden.

What is alarming is that TV interest in Europe has declined. Why is that?
post #18 of 25
As a huge Wings fan living in Ohio, I would not agree that hockey is widely covered. Further, the NHL had to restructure, to stay afloat. In addition, there are 25 or so US cities with hockey teams. Skiing is an individual sport, that happens a long way away from where most people live, so it lacks the home team affiliation and appeal.
Quote:
Originally Posted by BobHarwood View Post
Yep. There's the problem and the answer.

The whole funding mechanism has to change to allow more channels to carry this sport. Unless it does, FIS will whither through a slow, lingering death.

How many people in the US have a hockey stick? Yet, hockey is widely covered. How many people have a curling stone in their closet? (oh.. wait.. sorry.. that was a different post of mine.) It's in each Federation's best interest to see that the sport is popular world wide. Its current zero-sum funding structure inevitably leads to self interest and a non-globally optimal position.

Time for FIS to realize that it needs to change as the world does.
post #19 of 25
Quote:
Originally Posted by boardboy View Post
Maybe FIS needs to move early events back from the late October and November start dates to early December, and then put them up on the upper glaciers, not the lower ones, like at Soelden.

What is alarming is that TV interest in Europe has declined. Why is that?
I agree with your suggestions about the schedule changes, however WC skiing will never-ever have the fan base of NASCAR or NFL. I don't think that's a problem. A niche sport as it may be I think it's a very nice niche. I have not met a WC Skiing fan that I did not like. And I've met quite a few over years as a spectator and as a participant.
post #20 of 25
Skiing is not going to be a popular sport in the USA, IMO. Thus, the marketing models that work for traditional American sports are not applicable. It is going to take a creative marketing guy(s) to develop and implement a plan to make the sport profitable. It is going to take new ideas to make it work.
post #21 of 25
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Spandex Monkey View Post
I agree with your suggestions about the schedule changes, however WC skiing will never-ever have the fan base of NASCAR or NFL. I don't think that's a problem. A niche sport as it may be I think it's a very nice niche. I have not met a WC Skiing fan that I did not like. And I've met quite a few over years as a spectator and as a participant.
I agree that it is a "very nice niche," or I wouldn't be here discussing this. I'm glad your experience is so positive!

But, as others have noted in this thread, the sport needs a different business model, as Fishermh and others explain. The sport needs more fans.

I do have to say that the last Winter Olympic coverage here in the States was awful, with many of the "name" announcers denigrating specific events and several of the athletes. That needs to change, but the media is a lot like a runaway animal in a severe thunderstorm. They remind us why mob rule is not so good.
post #22 of 25
Yeah ... unfortunatelly the last Olimpics coverage was pathetic

Maybe WC Ski teams should be private and not separated by nations. Team "Motorola" or Team "Chevrolet". Kind of like bicycle racing ... Then again bicyicle racing insn't all that successful business wise either ....:
post #23 of 25
World Cup racing is suffering from the same thing most professional sports are these days: too much emphasis on money. It was better off in the 1970's as a so-called "amateur sport", (even as loosely as the amateur status of the athletes was defined with all the sponsorship/payment loopholes). Few skiers got rich racing, and so that wasn't their chief reason to compete. As a result, there were far more characters in the sport who were worth watching, both on and off the hill. They weren't nearly so deferential to their sponsors, their teams, and the media, so they were more outspoken and candid, and you could tell they were having a good time.

By comparison, the racers (and races) of today reflect our overly serious, and often more boring times. Most of the athletes are bland cookie cutter copies of each other, afraid to say anything thoughtful and/or candid for fear of being controversial, which might offend the people with all the money. So what happens after years of fast-skiing automatons, we finally get an athlete like Bode Miller who is different and isn't afraid to speak his mind? Someone who is extremely talented, but also as unpredictable off the hill as he is on it? We get a witch hunt. People wanted his head because he was so bold as to suggest winning isn't everything, that he is out to have a good time.

Back in 1976, it was widely reported that Franz Klammer admitted to having several steins of beer the night before his iconic winning run in the downhill, a fact that simply added to his legend. Today he would be raked over the coals for admitting it, as Bode Miller was this past winter. Look what happened to the Olympic snowboarder who was on her way to a gold medal but fell while hotdogging off the last jump. In the laid back world of snowboarding, that wasn't a big deal, but to old school fans of the Olympics, it was a travesty. As much as people say or think they like risk-takers and free-spirits, in a lot of cases it simply isn't true. Results are more important than the event itself.

Even though (regrettably), the downhill courses now are buffed so smooth that the speed the racers ski at is imperceptible to the average tv viewer, ski racing is still an "extreme sport', maybe the granddaddy of them all. Somehow though, the sport has become middle-aged and averse to risk. I love ski racing, but then again, I'm not so young anymore and I was sold on it back when it sold itself. Who's trying to sell it to the young kids who can see it's full of way-too-serious jocks and money grubbing associations when the competition like the X-Games, free-riding videos and such is so much fresher and more exciting?
post #24 of 25
Quote:
Originally Posted by fischermh View Post
As a huge Wings fan living in Ohio, I would not agree that hockey is widely covered. Further, the NHL had to restructure, to stay afloat. In addition, there are 25 or so US cities with hockey teams. Skiing is an individual sport, that happens a long way away from where most people live, so it lacks the home team affiliation and appeal.
For some reason, ski racing does lack the "home team" appeal. I agree that ski racing can't happen in the center of Boston, NY, or the Twin Cities, but it isn't so far away that millions of people can't view it as accessible (Distance wise, that is..) I dunno. Maybe I'm letting my love for the sport bias my thinking. But it seems to me that since millions of Americans do ski or board, then they could identify with racing.

I think the trick to marketing the sport in the media is to create drama. A bit of personalization works, but the competitive drama of the sport has largely been missing from recent coverage.

PS - Nice photos, Spandex Monkey. You're making us jealous.
post #25 of 25

Live in Europe (Birds of Prey)

It seems like the WC is still very popular overseas. Just because it barely registers a blip in the USA doesn't mean it is dead. Too bad about the cancelled races not being rescheduled. BC tried, but it didn't work out

An article in today's Vail Daily describes the fan base and interest level overseas. If the people want it, and millions watch it on a regular basis it will survive.

http://www.vaildaily.com/article/20061202/NEWS/61201005

BTW it was a great time in BC this year again. And the racers were skiing on the edge all day today in (slalom)-no conservative skiing apparent-many DNFs-exciting stuff.
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