Ski Racing Media was given access to Sophie Goldschmidt the President and CEO of United States Ski and Snowboard. We asked her questions and she provided the answers. SRM appreciates the conversation.
Ski Racing Media: What surprised you when you took the helm at U.S. Ski & Snowboard?
I was surprised to see the massive amount of passion in the community. I’ve worked across sports my whole career and am used to being around passionate people, but this is a new level of support and commitment for our sports and athletes. It’s infectious.
Also, there is even more commercial, operational, and athletic potential here than I expected. However, there is a lot we can do on the business side to elevate our marketing and sales, which in turn helps to improve athletic performance. Consequently, our priorities are evolving. We are implementing new strategies to accomplish this objective as we speak.
Ski Racing Media: What is the most significant difference you’ve noticed in snow sports compared to the other sports you have been involved with during your career?
The most significant difference between snow sports versus other sports is the true grit, commitment and bravery it takes to reach the top in skiing and snowboarding. Even when I look at it from just an outdoor environment standpoint, it requires unbelievable toughness. The athletes are outside in the cold on a mountain and putting their bodies on the line everyday. I don’t think I fully appreciated just how demanding these sports are, and what our athletes and coaches do daily continues to impress me.
Ski Racing Media: Would you tell the readers about the challenge of making the team from members of so many different sports?
Within our sports, it’s a considerable achievement when athletes make the team, and they should be incredibly proud when they do. However, it’s highly competitive to be one of the best athletes in the world, no matter the team or sport.
There is so much talent in the U.S. Ski & Snowboard system. The staff at USSS works daily to define development systems for all snow sports. We are striving to create inspiring paths that an athlete can trust and use to help them reach their potential. The people at USSS constantly work with the clubs and development programs to improve these tracks.
Ski Racing Media:Could you address the fact that four of the five executive committee members are women?
There are currently five members on the executive team and four of them are women. We are also currently recruiting for a new Head of People role that would report to me. We expect to fill the position by the fall.
Snow sports has traditionally been a very male-dominated industry and we are proud to have a significant number of women in leadership roles. It’s always about hiring the best candidates, but having more gender diversity within our organization is fantastic. It’s good for sports and it’s good for business. However, there are other areas where we want to see the diversity increase, particularly in coaching, we are currently working on the need internally.
Sophie Goldschmidt – President & CEO
Anouk Patty – Chief of Sport
Brooke McAffee – Chief Financial Officer
Trisha Worthington – Chief Revenue & Philanthropy Officer
Guy Slattery – Chief Marketing Officer
Ski Racing Media: Could you quickly address the tools USSS provides athletes to help them with their branding?
We have several tools for athletes to use for branding and marketing. First, we have a fantastic communications team, including sport-specific communications roles, that works closely with athletes to enhance their personal brands, media and social media presence. We also conduct a rookie camp in which we onboard newly named athletes and their parents through all U.S. Ski & Snowboard areas, including communications, marketing, partnerships, sports science, and other topics.
We also have a very cool and innovative program to drive revenue directly to athletes called the Content Collective. It is a tool for athletes to get supplemental income through their social media channels paid by our partners via sponsored and other posts. I think many snow sports athletes deserve to make money independently, and if we can help them achieve that through our partners, then I see that as being positive for everyone.
Ski Racing Media: What are your two or three most crucial priorities—things that need to be maintained or improved?
Our first main strategic priority is to achieve athletic and operational excellence. We want to raise the bar moving forward and take our performance to even greater heights. We are committed to enhancing our development strategy, which starts with bringing in the right people, including Anouk Patty as Chief of Sport. Patty is focusing on the needs of everything from development and grassroots, right up to the World Cup level. She has a broad background, including being a U.S. Alpine Ski Team ski racer and an executive in Silicon Valley. Patty has a dynamic personality, which I believe will help our athletes achieve peak performance and strengthen our team while developing new innovative strategies.
The progression we’re already seeing is exciting and she’s working closely with our sport directors, coaches, high-performance team and athletes. I will also continue to stay closely involved in this critical area. On the operational business side, there are also things we’re implementing to become more effective and efficient.
Our second priority is growing the visibility of our sports. We realize that if we want to expand our fan base and commercial success, we need to be more proactive, creative and bolder in how we market U.S. Ski & Snowboard. As Chief Marketing Officer, Guy Slattery is a key hire for this. He comes from outside the industry but has worked with sports and is passionate about snow sports. Equally as important, he brings a fresh perspective.
USSS is broadening our relationships with social and content media platforms as well as organizations that align with our sports. We are hosting ten major events in the U.S. this season—the most ever. USSS realizes having events on U.S. soil is a critical part of growing our sports fan bases. We also need to be willing to think out of the box to help the profiles of our athletes and sports shine through more effectively. It is a very competitive landscape out there.
Our third priority is to grow revenue and drive our financial sustainability. There is a critical need for revenue to invest back into our athletes and sports programs. Increased financial resources, in turn, directly enhances performance and results. It is a virtuous cycle. Our recently announced partnership with Kappa is a great example, and it is the biggest commercial deal the organization has ever made. We will feel the effects of this partnership, both from the funds USSS can invest back into athletes and the high quality technical apparel they provide to all of our teams.
More broadly, our priority is not only to generate as much funding as possible but to use the financial resources to benefit all of our teams and athletes. To utilize the resources properly, we need to be very strategic when allocating the money. We must pursue the maximum positive benefit for all of our sports from every revenue dollar we receive. We’re also actively pursuing partners that will prioritize us as part of their marketing mix. It’s compelling when we have other brands pushing our message and supporting U.S. Ski & Snowboard.
Culture is the thread that brings all of these priorities together. USSS wants to make our sports even more relevant to more people. We are enhancing our communication, transparency, and accountability all while using a more inclusive approach. USSS is also more focused on embracing and elevating any organization that positively supports snow sports. It is helpful to us and is good for the overall ecosystem.
On the sports side, we need clarify the direction and to focus of our efforts. We need to prioritize the right areas and aligning our entire organization in those sectors. I also think in certain areas there’s an opportunity to be more innovative and learn from other sports. In addition we should have greater collaboration across the entirety of all our sports. These are some of the key reasons I hired Anouk. She has a real understanding of our sports and brings a progressive and different mindset to the role. Anouk and I are working with athletes to have the same goals and support each other in various ways. We see ourselves as partners with our athletes and stakeholders.
On the business side, we’re focused on revenue. USSS needs to be more ambitious and creative in how we position ourselves to be more relevant to brands. We have so many great attributes and we need better visibility, which is why Guy is now sitting in the CMO position. USSS sports had better broadcast exposure last season than ever before. We experienced significantly enhanced broadcast accessibility for all the World Cup events. We’re excited to further enhance accessibility for the 2022-23 season as we negotiate our new broadcast and streaming partnerships.
Looking at both the athletic and business areas of U.S. Ski & Snowboard, we’re also working to grow the amount of World Cups in the U.S. We have doubled the number of alpine World Cup events for this season. Initially, this is an investment, but it brings us more commercial opportunities in time. These inspiring events help to build and inspire the next generation of athletes. Additionally, it’s positive for fan growth. At the same time, these events provide crucial ‘home field’ performance benefits for our teams.
Ski Racing Media: What changes would you like to see over the next four years?
- Development – Development is a major focus, and we’re elevating that as the main priority. USSS will more closely link development to the top World Cup levels. This is also a clear direction for our sport directors and head coaches. I’m keen to create a more virtuous circle linking development to the elite level.
- Build commercial success – We need a broader range of programs and partners that support our sports on a deeper level.
- Raise overall awareness – It doesn’t happen overnight. However, we work with some of the best athletes and teams in the world, and we have great stories that need to be more widely shared. Correspondingly, I’m confident getting these stories told will lead to broader audiences and deeper engagement. This will be achieved through broadcast and media partnerships, more creative public relations opportunities, and better content to share with digital platforms.
- Diversity and inclusion – We’re proud of the steps we’ve made regarding gender diversity on the business side, but we know we can do better to be more inclusive on the sport side, and we need to do better across other under-represented groups. This helps us on all sides.
- Turn potential into medals – We are coming off a strong year across the board. 32 Junior World Championship medals showcased the high volume of up-and-coming talent. And in Beijing, we took home 15 medals—60% of Team USA’s total medal count. It was the first time in history we’ve medaled in all funded sports in one Olympics. But we were close to winning more. There were 13 fourth- and fifth-place finishes, which was the most fourth- and fifth-place finishes of any country in our sports. We also had the highest number of top 10 results of any country, which shows our depth across sports and disciplines, and we know that depth can translate into future podiums if we do things right.
Ski Racing Media: Please tell us about the sabbatical program you have instituted at USSS.
One of the best parts of this organization is that we’re able to balance new thinking with invaluable experience. Sabbaticals are standard in many sectors to reward people at certain milestones, and I thought it was the right thing to honor the individuals at U.S. Ski & Snowboard that have worked hard here for a long time. In addition to their pre-existing flexible time off, we instituted a policy that an employee who has worked ten years with us gets two weeks of additional time off, and at 20 years, they get five additional weeks. We’re proud to have so many people with a long tenure at U.S. Ski & Snowboard and are thrilled to incentivize and celebrate it.