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Ski racing in the doldrums

 Poster: A snowHead
Poster: A snowHead
The following excerpt from the Norway Post. Ski racing sponsorship is definitely going through the doldrums, with the bankruptcy of the French Association, and the very limited funding available within the British equivalent. Only the elite racers are supported to any significant extent. It's not a sport which attracts major tv interest and money, and there are few spectators on the slopes, often even for World Cup events. What's the answer? More spectator-friendly events, head-to-heads, skierX, etc?

Quote:
23. Juni 2004
Ski Association loses NOK 8 million

Norway's ski association (NSF) is losing NOK 8 million (US$1.15 million) after DnB NOR Bank has decided to cut down on its sponsor money.

DnB NOR has cut NOK 20 million of their total sponsor activities, and NSF is taking a major part of the cuts.

"We will continue to support the ski association, but not with the same amount as before. We have been forced to take a reality check," DnB NOR sponsor boss Jacob Lund told the newspaper
Aftenposten.

The new sponsor deal becomes effective after the 2006 Turin Winter Olympics.

Lasse Loennebotn
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Doesn't think come down to the fact that relatively speaking skiing isn't a big sport and not that many people take part in it, fewer still race. People generally tend to have an affinity for a sport in which they participate i.e. kids start to play footie at a young age and aspire to be their heros, who by and large play exactly the same game. Skiing is different, not that many people do it to start with, and hardly anyone races, so people can't relate to it, and it's pretty difficult appreciating the skill and technique involved if you're watching it on television and have never done it. It's also an individual sport therefore doesn't benefits from the team sport following.

I think that you're right that skier X and the like are going to bring more people in as it's easier to relate to, the kids can have a craic at it in the snow park and it portrays a more relaxed atmosphere. I really think that it would benefit from getting more kids skiing at a young age.
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True with respect to the racing side, although as a leisure activity it's pretty huge in certain countries. It doesn't have the team sport appeal, but quite a few tennis players, golfers etc seem to earn a good living. I suppose it's down to visibility, tv exposure etc in the end.

I'm all for skierX-type competitions, but the powers-that-be are still traditionalists on the whole and a bit slow in responding to the potential of the head-to-head stuff. Parallel racing is good fun to watch too.
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PG wrote:
I'm all for skierX-type competitions, but the powers-that-be are still traditionalists on the whole and a bit slow in responding to the potential of the head-to-head stuff. Parallel racing is good fun to watch too.


I don't think most of the people (if any) involved in the "new" competitive disciplines like new-school freestyle, skiercross or freeride want FIS (taking them to be "the powers that be") involved in their events. FIS has not exactly proven itself capable of successfully promoting the disciplines it runs to the media and to potential new competitors.

Moreover, FIS has been so conservative as to stiffle any progress in some disciplines - take moguls for example: FIS refused to consider any new tricks being added to the jump list for years, preventing the sport becoming more interesting and progressing parallel to the sport of skiing in general. The consequence is that very few new people are getting involved in bumps competition; moreover the sport relies on equipment that is considered obsolete and is therefore very difficult to obtain (straight skis). Consequently bumps competition is declining massively in popularity and participation.

My experience of "new school" competition is that participants are extremely hostile to the idea of FIS (and the inevitable long rule-books and committees FIS brings to all it does) being involved in their sports. Fortunately a few TV stations (ESPN in the US) have spotted the potential of these events and are running them in a way that attracts new participants and sponsorship and show them to a wide audience (eg the Winter X-Games)
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Don't know what TV ski coverage is like in other countries but who's going to sponser something that is on at 2.00 o'clock in the morning, like it was here, last winter? Personally, I love watching it all, (except for cross country and ski jumping) but not at that time.

As for watching it live, in resort, well, great atmosphere but bl**dy freezing rolling eyes
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maggi wrote:
As for watching it live, in resort, well, great atmosphere but bl**dy freezing rolling eyes


I find the key is to find a balance between the cold and your alcohol intake that still allows you to remain conscious. Wink
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Quote:

My experience of "new school" competition is that participants are extremely hostile to the idea of FIS (and the inevitable long rule-books and committees FIS brings to all it does) being involved in their sports. Fortunately a few TV stations (ESPN in the US) have spotted the potential of these events and are running them in a way that attracts new participants and sponsorship and show them to a wide audience (eg the Winter X-Games)


That's how all sports (organisations) start off. They all, eventually, reach the stage that the FIS are at now. These "new school" competitions will get there eventually.
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Good points from Kurt & PG. Parallel racing is great, but unfortunately the main parallel pro tour in the US went bust in the late 90s. The nearest thing is the Jeep King of the Mountain pro tour, which is now on a half parallel, half skiercross "Y-shaped" course, and includes snowboarders.

Snowboarding siphoned off a lot of sponsorship money when it had its boom time in the early 90s. Now, money is coming back into skiing but a lot of it is going towards new school events, especially Big Air (which is really just a trendier, less regulated version of freestyle aerials) because it's easy to stage: one big pile of snow and a jump. City centre big air events are everywhere now.

FIS are certainly conservative but if they see an advantage they will, eventually, institute change - in 96, Gianfranco Kasper (FIS chairman) said that skiercross would never become part of their programme, 7 years later FIS included it (but in their freestyle section, which was a cop-out; surely racing side-by-side has more to do with alpine racing than with freestyle). At Bormio in 05 they're introducing a new event, a "Nations" team competition.

The main problem with ski-racing is that the equipment and course preparation is now so good that the top ten racers are all very close, sometimes within half a second of each other, and they all look the same to the lay person watching on TV.

But it's always hard to generalise about ski-racing's popularity, because it tends to wax in nations that are currently successful (Austria, USA), and wane in nations that are going through a lean spell (Switzerland, Germany). Italy will get a big boost with the Worlds and Olympics in the next two seasons - they need it after the retirement of Tomba.

In the case of Norway, they took a massive step forward about 10-12 years ago (were sometimes called "the team of the 90s"), and now that Skaardal, Furuseth, Jagge, Kjus and Aamodt are either retired or nearing the end, it's not surprising that they've over-extended themselves a bit.
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Martin Bell wrote:

The main problem with ski-racing is that the equipment and course preparation is now so good that the top ten racers are all very close, sometimes within half a second of each other, and they all look the same to the lay person watching on TV.


I'm not sure about that, we had some people round when the St Anton downhill was on and they're not interested and don't ski but they were getting really into it. Like all armchair spectators by the third or fourth skier down they were all experts and knew exactly where the racers were going wrong.

In that case it was a particularly good race, the best of the season in my opinion with some spectacular skiing, Maier was just sensational and our laymen could easily see he was best on the day.
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Quote:

Snowboarding siphoned off a lot of sponsorship money when it had its boom time in the early 90s. Now, money is coming back into skiing but a lot of it is going towards new school events, especially Big Air (which is really just a trendier, less regulated version of freestyle aerials) because it's easy to stage: one big pile of snow and a jump. City centre big air events are everywhere now.


Is it just me who finds those sorts of competitions and displays rather boring? That's not to dismiss the obvious skill of the participants, though.
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As long as the course is tough enough, class will out. Bormio will be a great Dh for the Worlds.
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skanky wrote:

Is it just me who finds those sorts of competitions and displays rather boring? That's not to dismiss the obvious skill of the participants, though.


Not just you Very Happy

I don't find some of them that impressive if I'm honest, half the time I'm left thinking I've seen better around on the mountain.

Boarder-cross I enjoy though.
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Quote:

I don't find some of them that impressive if I'm honest, half the time I'm left thinking I've seen better around on the mountain.


Well yes, but as I've never done anything like that, I cannot but respect the skills.

Not seen boarder-cross.
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 You know it makes sense.
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I watch very little sport of any sort, but when I get access to Sky I do tend to head for the extreme sport channel to see the boarders getting up to their gnarly tricks - to be honest I'm more interested in the snowy scenery then the boarders and they tend not to say much about where they are.

Ski Sunday I quite enjoyed when I caught it, presentation was a bit more varied then in the distant past.

So, in summary, I watch winter sports on TV mainly so I can see snowy mountains snowHead
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 Otherwise you'll just go on seeing the one name:
Otherwise you'll just go on seeing the one name:
Back to the sponsorship difficulties mentioned at the start, another Scandinavian nation apparently has difficulties in this area, not surprising in view of the major doping scandal of three years ago, back in the headlines today....
Quote:
The Finnish news agency STT in 1999 had reported on hormone use among Finnish skiers. The ski association then sued the news agency and won the case. The STT editor-in-chief at the time and one reporter resigned.

The doping scandals caused the government to reconsider benefits to Finnish skiers, and many sponsors said they would cancel funding.
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 Poster: A snowHead
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I watched boarder cross for the first time just before Christmas '99 at Méribel Mottaret, part of the Swatch World Series. My daughter was only 7 at the time, and she loved every second, really gave me a hard time when I suggested we do some more skiing. That's got to say something about its value as a spectator sport. You could see virtually the entire course from the bar at the bottom, great atmosphere, American guy doing the race commentary (in English, to the amusement of the French present), laidback competitors, lively, fun ambiance.
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Ian Hopkinson wrote:
So, in summary, I watch winter sports on TV mainly so I can see snowy mountains snowHead


I'll bet most people do, to gain viewing figures the programmes ought to think about that. The Channel Four coverage (as discussed here before) is excellent, they have some content other than the actual races which I’ve been enjoying a lot. Not a bad website either.
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Quote:

People generally tend to have an affinity for a sport in which they participate i.e. kids start to play footie at a young age and aspire to be their heros, who by and large play exactly the same game.


OK - how many girls play "footie" from an early age?
- how many kids who play "footie" on the streets or at school (if they attend one of the few schools that hasn't sold its playing fields to housing developers) continue to play it for the rest of their adult lives?
- how many active "footie" players are there in the UK (ie male + female, all ages) compared to the number of active skiers and boarders, male + female, all ages?


So assuming the answer to the last question is *7&%$ all, why does all the money go into "footie"? Because it's a SPECTATOR "sport" and sells products through advertising.

cynical rant over.
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You're missing the point, we all know that the money goes to football because it's a spectator sport. The real question is what makes a spectator sport in the first place - can skiing become a spectator sport in order to attract advertising revenue.
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You're right, this is a thread specifically about ski racing and I must restrain myself from late night rants Embarassed My frustration exploded because our Sports Council is so miserly, progressively reducing the funding over the years so that now we cannot even afford 1 full time technical officer, whereas vast sums appear to be given to "sports" that do not attract a fraction of the active participants that snowsports do. Yet the politicians say they do not want a nation of couch potatoes.

On the other hand the slopes are getting awfully crowded these days......

Back to racing then.
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Quote:

I don't find some of them that impressive if I'm honest, half the time I'm left thinking I've seen better around on the mountain.

Boarder-cross I enjoy though.

When skiercross was introduced into the Winter X-Games a few years back, at first they just used the existing boardercross course. Then they found that they had to alter a lot of the jumps because the skiercross racers (most of whom were ex-ski-racers) were going so much FASTER than the snowboarders.
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Alan Craggs, Don' want to get into a political debate here, but when Maggie said "There is no such thing as society: there are individual men and women, and there are families." she was basically advocating pulling yourself up by your bootstrings, without outside help. All very well, but in the sporting world this penalises an awful lot of kids with real potential in areas/circumstances without access to a local, affordable training infrastructure.

As a result, outside of the 'popular' sports such as soccer, a big proportion of elite British sportspeople either come from families with the means to finance the costs themselves or have the exceptional ability to transcend their backgrounds.

I know I harp on a bit about France, but judo is a case in point. Subsidised locally and regionally, while British judo has been gradually slipping down the world rankings since the 70s, the French have maintained their high levels. This applies to many other 'less high profile' sports where the Brits simply aren't present. Few are aware of this in the UK, because the media simply doesn't mention competitive sports where Brits have not been, or are no longer successful.

Compare like with like, two communities of similar size and circumstance in the UK and France, and you would be astonished at the gulf between the two in terms of leisure/sporting activities on offer - in terms of variety as well as cost.

A self-reliance culture has many positive aspects, but if you want national sporting success, in a world where any number of once 'obscure' countries are making their presence felt, you have to make a rich variety of affordable and easily accessible sports available to all from a very young age, through community-subsidised clubs and holiday time courses/trips, as well as increasing the profile/importance of sport in schools.


Last edited by Then you can post your own questions or snow reports... on Sun 27-06-04 22:32; edited 1 time in total
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Tigger wrote:
The real question is what makes a spectator sport in the first place?
Good question Tigger, and one I can't answer. I did try:
1. Lots of people can do it, no class or money barriers. True for football, less true for tennis and golf, not true for grand prix racing.
2. Great to view: exciting, easy to understand and you can see all the action. True for Tennis and Football, less so for golf, and not true for grand prix.
So why is grand prix so full of money? (I bet someone tells me it isn't). Is it because we all drive, and things learnt in competition cars perculate down us plebs eventually? Few people ski, it is not an every day activity, and very few people need to ski. I'm not sure anything learnt in ski racing assists us punters. And watching a succession of character-less identicals (Bell Brothers and Tomba excepted) whizzing down the slope while a clock ticks is hardly good viewing.
I'm afraid the viewers want to see crashes. Maybe ski racing should go the way of Wrestling (or RollerBall), and have staged spectacular crashes. Give the competitors some personality and lots of insults and grudges. I think the tv viewing figures would rocket.
Purists I am sure will be horrified, but the result would not be any further from every day skiing than the present downhill is now. On downhill, the slope is artificial (ice by spraying on water) and only one guy on the piste at a time.
Grand Prix cars don't race against the clock. Crashes are common. The sense of danger is important. Why not set it up Grand Prix style: qualifying runs to decide the starting grid, and then all skiers go at once? Fantastic!
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Jonpim, in essence, what you are proposing already exists - it's called skiercross, and it has certainly produced some spectacular crashes. (They're not deliberately staged, but I suspect people would actually prefer to see genuine crashes. If they want ski stunts they can rent a Bond movie...)

As Maggie also might have said (?), "you can't buck the market" - if what you say is true, eventually skiercross will generate bigger viewing figures, attract more sponsorship and end up offering much bigger prize money and endorsement contracts than alpine racing. And the Maiers of Millers of 10/20 years' time will naturally gravitate towards skiercross. This may happen - time will tell.

PG, I totally agree, we don't support our "minority" sports enough. This partly down to class culture (our civil servants and most of our ministers all went to Eton and Oxford and if it's not rugby, cricket or rowing it's not a sport) and partly down to the old "amateur" ethos ("it's not really British to be seen to be trying too hard - like those infernally vulgar American chaps").

Only now, with first the Football World Cup bid and now the Olympic bid, is the British establishment realising that sport is not only beneficial to the leisure and health of the populace, but it is effectively a branch of diplomacy, helping to project a national image to the world. The UK lottery was a big step forward for funding of sport (in the 80s we always envied the massive budget of the Italian ski team - from their lottery) but recently it has been nibbled away at and we're dropping back again.
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Martin Bell, I know something of the broad principles, but how much of the Lottery sports funding actually filters down to the 'grass roots'? Or does it mostly go to the national organisations? Because if talent isn't spotted and cultivated at local community/school age, better funded national associations will be able to achieve little as they will inherit a pretty poor resource in the older age groups.

As for GB Snowsports there's zero funding to support the British Children's team members individual costs. Apart from a few Scots and expats, most racers who make it to events abroad are from well-to-do families - I think all costs are supported by parents until senior level?

The health and image questions you raise are very important. But the benefits they bring are longer term, and the establishment seems to prefer more immediate, politically effective, short term measures. I hope you're right about the change in emphasis, but I'm still a touch sceptical!...
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Sport, Health, Funding, Children, brings me to Schools.
I was educated privately (Public School). We played sport every day as well as 2 lessons of PE. I therefore assumed all kids did the same. I was astounded to find that state schools were selling off their football pitches, and that PE lessons and Playtime was the only exercise on offer.
There is a lot of discussion on the educational (=accademic) standards of state schools, but little of on the physical development of our children. Tom and Rosie both go to fee paying schools. They play sport every day. I would rather not pay school fees, but it is not just the better accademic (mental health) environment I am paying for, but also their physical health.
(P.S. It would be good for the teachers too)
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Jonpim, it is worrying. When I was at school (state) there were plenty of opportunities to be involved with a variety of sports. I was (hard to imagine now!) quite sport minded and crammed in every opportunity to do something extra at lunchtime and after school.

Looking back there were no shortage of teachers that supervised or were actively involved with extra curricular activities. I somehow think that the picture today is different. I wonder how many teachers/schools encourage this. In no way is that meant to be a reflection on teachers, more the system and the way it has erroded the climate for such activity and mainly voluntary support. That and possibly parents not encouraging children so much, because both work etc etc.
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Jonpim wrote:
... I was astounded to find that state schools were selling off their football pitches

I went to a New Zealand state school. We had a large playing field in front of the school, and sport was actively encouraged - 2 of our teachers were All Blacks (days of amateur rugby!). Looking at this aerial shot of it here http://www.cbhs.school.nz/school/prospectus/ things haven't changed, I am pleased to say. Looks like the tennis courts are still there (fading out at right of picture) and I supect the swimming pool is, too.
My first experience of skiing was a school trip to Mount Cook - great fun.
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PG, When the lottery began in 94, the lottery funding was only allowed to go to improvements of UK grass-roots facilities (eg. new changing rooms for sports clubs). British skiers lost out a bit there, because most of their time is taken up with using other countries' facilities abroad. From the late 90s, individual athlete expenses were also covered by lottery money. Otherwise, Alain Baxter would never have won Britain's only skiing Olympic medal (even for only four days); if it weren't for the lottery funding, he would probably have had to retire long before 2002. But you're quite right, lottery support is currently only being paid to the elite (top 100 ranking in the world for skiers, I believe).
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PG, isn't that what I was saying? or have I got this wrong? (again Embarassed )

we run a dryslope where local kids are welcome to start (as cheap as we can make it) and can eventually progress to the Welsh squad, but all this depends on volunteer effort and 1 technical officer pro who is responsible for instructor validation, race training etc throughout Wales - we can't afford to pay him full time because the Sports Council grant is (I understand) 15K or less a year for the whole of Welsh skiing - how does that compare to "Footie"?
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Alan Craggs, I was with you all the way in your "cynical rant". Doesn't the City of Cardiff help out at all? BSM has just 7,000 people although the taxation area is larger) and coughs up grants to the ski club running well into 5 figures every year. Then the rest is made up by a combination of sponsorship (big drive going on at the moment) and income from membership fees. Easier for a big club though, in an area where virtually everyone skis.

The reliance on a pool of volunteer labour though is becoming built into the system, and gives the establishment the option to direct resources elsewhere, to more politically expedient requirements. I've witnessed that in other areas of charitable work. A form of exploitation really.
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