Calculating the return on ski racing in Vail Valley

Warm-weather crowds were robust at Beaver Creek during the World Alpine Ski Championships. Photo/ Logan Robertson, Vail Valley Foundation

Warm-weather crowds were robust at Beaver Creek during the World Alpine Ski Championships.
Photo/ Logan Robertson, Vail Valley Foundation

Calculating the return on investment of $59 million spent in the Vail Valley on World Alpine Ski  Championships 

by Allen Best

It cost the Vail Valley Foundation and associated entities $59 million to host the 2015 World Alpine Ski Championships. Not quite two-thirds of the money was recouped by revenues from television broadcasting rights and sponsorships. The cost to state and local governments was $5 million to $6 million.

Still, what did the Vail Valley get for that money in direct cost? Was it worth that and the elbow grease? By what measure do you judge success?

And also, how relevant is ski racing in the changing demographics of the 21st century?

The full number-crunching is yet to be done as the Vail Valley Foundation, Vail Resorts Inc., and other organizations responsible for putting on the 15-day show take stock of their investment. When they first hosted the world championships of ski racing in 1989, it took nine months.

Yet some things don’t need crunching. The “Vail” brand got burnished. How could it not? There were millions of eyeballs around the nation and world that saw two weeks of blue skies sandwiched by two days of snowstorms, a boisterous and large crowd at the finish line, and engaging story lines of American skiers competing for the trophies.

The races came off without a hitch, unlike the first championships held at Beaver Creek. There, a Spanish prince got beheaded when he skied into a wire before the races even started. On the day of the men’s downhill, the temperature only got to zero. And there was agreement all around that the race course didn’t quite pass muster.

The biggest single day attendance was 25,000 for the men's downhill, but total TV eyeballs was estimated at one billion. Photo/ Logan Robertson, Vail Valley Foundation

The biggest single day attendance was 25,000 for the men’s downhill, but total TV eyeballs was estimated at one billion.
Photo/ Logan Robertson, Vail Valley Foundation

This year, all the ski races were at Beaver Creek save for what was dubbed a “made-for-Vail race,” where award ceremonies and concerts were also held. Beaver Creek has room for a stadium, which was filled with up to 10,000 people. Those arriving late were asked to instead watch the races from along the course.

“Since I’ve been watching ski racing in the United States, I’ve never heard that before,” says Vail Mayor Andy Daly, who has been in or near the ski industry since he arrived at Aspen from his native New England in the 1960s.

After Vail and Beaver Creek hosted the 1989 world championships, the skier visits from the international market popped, jumping from 3 percent in 1988-9 to 11 to 12 percent the following season. The event, along with investments made by then-owner George Gillett, gave the resorts a new national—and international—prominence.

Now, roughly 14 percent of skier visits at Vail and Beaver Creek are attributed to international visitors. Will there be a similar surge to a higher level yet?

“We don’t expect that much,” says Ceil Folz, the president of the Vail Valley Foundation, the non-profit that coordinates the races, among other pursuits.

By the numbers

  • $59 million: total cost
  • $36 million: international TV rights and sponsorships
  • $5-$6 million: cost to state, local governments
  • One billion: approximate number of total viewers
  • 200,000: local attendance at races and at concerts, award ceremonies
  • 25,000: Estimated total attendance at mens’ downhill, including 10,000 in the stadium and others along race course and elsewhere
  • 2,200: volunteers

Source: Vail Valley Foundation

Yet the publicity certainly helps Vail in its traditional markets, and perhaps in its newer markets, including Brazil. Folz pointed to breakthroughs in television broadcasting. “We had 900 hours of broadcast, more than four times more than we had in 1989. It was by far the largest domestic share of ski racing ever, more than the Olympics. As much as we care about the international guests, we also have a country of more than 300 million people.”

Folz was particularly happy with innovations both in print and in broadcasting that showed ski racing in different ways. She pointed to notable coverage by the New York Times, which gave the ski races ample attention both before and during the event.

But there was also this interesting statistic from Folz: “Our average age was 49, which is very low for ski racing. We think that is a very good thing.”

Aspen’s X Games

Aspen has shot lower yet with its sponsorship of the X Games.  The Vail Valley Foundation was interested in sponsoring that event, too. “It was very close to having it done, and for some reason it fell apart,” says Folz. For that decidedly younger demographic, Vail hosts the GO Pro Mountain Games in June. In that same time slot, Aspen then goes high end (and older) with the Food & Wine Festival.

Aspen has shot lower yet with its sponsorship of the X Games.  The Vail Valley Foundation was interested in sponsoring that event, too. “It was very close to having it done, and for some reason it fell apart,” says Folz. For that decidedly younger demographic, Vail hosts the GO Pro Mountain Games in June. In that same time slot, Aspen then goes high end (and older) with the Food & Wine Festival.

Can the Vail Valley go higher yet than the World Alpine Ski Championships?  Original Vail visionary Pete Seibert had the Olympics in mind when he began pushing forward on Beaver Creek in the late 1960s. Colorado punted the Olympics it had secured for 1976—and, probably just as well, in retrospect, although you can still hear grumbled arguments otherwise.

Can the Vail Valley secure the Olympics now? The discussion is off the table, but never completely out of mind. China and Kazakhstan are in line for the 2022 Winter Games, and the U.S. Olympic Committee has said that the United States will secure a Summer Games before it will go forward with a winter nomination. That puts it out to at least 2026.

Daly reports snatches of conversation about the idea of world ski championships that also include the freestyle championships. Vail Mountain, cut out of the ski races because of its terrain and inadequate room for a stadium for viewers, could better accommodate freestyle.

“It would create a larger event that would then capture a lot of different demographics,” says Daly. The extraordinary success of the Vail Valley’s own Lindsey Vonn and Mikaela Shiffrin attracted a segment of young skiers, as did the success of Ted Ligety. “But it’s a pretty narrow demographic of those on alpine skis. If you start looking at snowboard and freestyle, you capture a much broader demographic.”

Attendance at races, concerts and other activities was estimated at 200,000.

Attendance at races, concerts and other activities was estimated at 200,000.

Too, he adds, Vail—as distinct from Beaver Creek—is quite capable of hosting freestyle events. “That would be very attractive to us.”

The Vail Valley, however, has no say-so on the idea of hosting the two championships together.

These latest ski races are part of a long theme for Vail and the broader community. Before Vail Mountain opened in late 1962, marketing boss Bob Parker had invited the world’s ski racers to visit and train. With them, as expected, came the ski racing press and, by extension, free marketing.

Harry Frampton, after arriving from Hilton Head, S.C., in the early 1980s to run Vail Associates, as the ski company was then called, early on sat down with Parker, who laid out the case for ski racing. It made sense to Frampton then, and it makes sense to him now.

“If you’re a ski town, which we are, then having the best athletes in the world is just something we should do,” he says. And the same is true for golf or tennis, if you’re a golf or tennis resort, he added.

Since 1986 the managing partner of East West Partners, the development company, Frampton also sees importance in hosting major events to build community spirit. “I think it elevates the community spirit,” he says. “We really are a ski town, and when you do something like the world championships, it creates a great sense of private and public enthusiasm.”

That pride and esprit de corps is hard to quantify, says Frampton, the long-time chairman of the Vail Valley Foundation, but it’s no less important. “In many respects, I think that is at the very top of the list.”

TV time

  • 900 hours of television broadcast internationally to approximately 70 nations.
  • 1999: 350 hours to 31 nations
  • 1989: 250 hours

 

 

email

About Allen Best

Allen Best is a Colorado-based journalist. He publishes a subscription-based e-zine called Mountain Town News, portions of which are published on the website of the same name, and also writes for a variety of newspapers and magazines.
This entry was posted in Aspen, Mountain towns, Ski areas, Skiing, Vail. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Calculating the return on ski racing in Vail Valley

  1. boostertwo says:

    Really enjoyed the quality of the broadcast. Multiple HD cameras and super slo-mo made for compelling, exciting images.

Comments are closed.