Figures show that the average age of World Cup viewers on TV is 45 years old, and that’s causing concern for the sport as a whole. As the alpine World Cup works to capture a younger audience, it needs to find ways to be more engaging than video games, binge-worthy Netflix shows and high-flying competition in the Winter X Games. FIS is hard at work with various initiatives to evolve the World Cup in coming seasons, some of which include changing the disciplines and making the sport more accessible to recreational ski fans.
For example, have you heard about the new downhill start order that will be used this year? The goal of the change is to keep fans watching the television broadcast longer on race days instead of during a short block of the top-ranked racers.
“Now, the top 10 athletes are choosing between 1 and 19, while before they were drawn between 16 and 22,” said Markus Waldner, FIS men’s race director. “The fact that they are choosing also adds drama, as it’s going to be different in every venue based on various factors. This may also enhance interest, as people will wonder why and talk about it.”
FIS is also implementing new new live data collection, which will launch at World Championships this year. By wearing a transponder in the speed disciplines, athletes will share live information about speed, air time off jumps and more with fans.
“This technology was already used in other sports, and now our timing and data provider Swiss Timing implemented it in alpine skiing to enhance the spectators’ experience,” Waldner said. “It’s a great step forward with a lot of potential for the future.”
Beyond live statistics, there is also an effort to increase the entertainment value through more spectacular courses, walking the fine line between safety and excitement.
“More speed wouldn’t be a safe solution, so we work with the terrain and build more rolls and jumps that force the racer to come out of his position and fight to stay on the right line.”
New events and disciplines are also in consideration to capitalize on more suspenseful formats that could be utilized in competition.
“Many discussions have been started regarding the number of disciplines,” Waldner said. “Some of our disciplines developed in a way that is no longer very attractive for normal TV viewers, but only for hard-core ski fans who know the technical details. So, to activate and involve a wider audience, we need to have an easy and understandable product. The parallel races are a good example, as the head-to-head format is very exciting and easy to understand.”
There will be two alpine team events this season, one at the World Championships in St. Moritz and another at the World Cup Finals in Aspen. Like last winter, Stockholm will host a parallel slalom for both genders and the men will contest a parallel giant slalom at Alta Badia, a new discipline which debuted last season. For the 2017-18 season, a parallel slalom in downtown Oslo, Norway, has been tentatively added to the calendar for Jan. 1.
“When we develop a discipline, we first need to consider the sports aspect – any rule change has to be fair and respect the athletes – then we consider attractiveness for viewers,” Waldner continued. “The tendency right now is to go towards compact formats, where the tension is built up in an exciting way. Some formats have already been tested in Continental Cup races and may appear on the World Cup calendar soon. Of course, the classic venues like Wengen or Kitzbuehel will keep the original principle, where the winner is the ‘fastest from the top to the bottom of the mountain,’ but maybe other events will consider new options.”
The first races of the season are just 1o days away in Soelden, Austria, and the first speed event in Lake Louise, Canada, kicks off in November. Time will tell if fans will tune into the World Cup this year.
What would make you tune into more World Cup races? Leave a comment below.