On the heels of the IOC's April 6 announcement that skiing halfpipe would be admitted to the Olympics, the USSA announced today the creation of the US Freeskiing brand.
For years, the chance to compete in the Olympic Games has been a dream for many competitive freeskiers; that yearning transcended to families, friends, coaches, sponsors, manufacturers, and fans. Just last month, the IOC announced to the world that halfpipe skiing would indeed be added to the event roster at the 2014 Games in Sochi, Russia, and those dreams quickly became a reality. Here in the US, the question for athletes quickly became, "how do we proceed?" And the creation of US Freeskiing is the answer.
Currently, the USSA is comprised of alpine, freestyle, cross country, jumping/nordic, adaptive, snowboarding, and masters teams. Needless to say, halfpipe, slopestyle, and skiercross don't exactly fit into the mix. The natural course was to create something new, but what exactly?
As excited as many people were when halfpipe skiing was admitted to the Olympics, many others feared for our sport; freeskiing has never been about rules and regulations, and joining the Olympics seemingly poses a threat to our individuality. Eager to find a solution, and in an effort to tread the fine line, the US Freeskiing brand was born.
Established to support US Freeskiing athletes in their pursuit of excellence, and also to help build a solid foundation on which the sport can continue to grow, this brand has been constructed carefully, and thoughtfully. To ensure US Freeskiing gains traction, backing, and momentum, the USSA hired a third party group, DraftFCB, to assist in the building of the brand identity. In addition, and perhaps more importantly, athletes have been involved from the get-go. From brand design and development, to talks about a potential team program, the athletes have been instrumental in bringing this idea to fruition. Amongst some of the most influential have been Jen Hudak, and Simon Dumont, two the most accomplished competitors within the sport.
To help spread the word about the launch of US Freeskiing, and the inclusion of halfpipe skiing in the Olympic Games, the two of them are currently traveling with USSA representatives on a media tour; they're making stops at major media outlets including ESPN and The Wall Street Journal, working to spread the word about the brand launch, and the addition of halfpipe skiing to the olympics.
We caught up with Jen Hudak over the weekend, and she had this to say about the creation of US Freeskiing:
"It was important to us athletes that an establishment didn't take over our sport, but that we the athletes could direct the establishment. U.S. Freeskiing is embracing those core values and giving us a boost onto the main stage. The world now has an opportunity to see what we are doing on skis. We're no longer going to be Shaun-White-on-skis, we can be us." Hudak poured blood, sweat and tears into this effort, and to see the culmination instills a sense of pride that words simply cannot express.
We also spoke on the phone this morning with Simon Dumont. Fresh out of an interview, and on his way to another, Dumont took a few minutes to share his thoughts:
"On the one hand, I'm happy that we are being considered olympic caliber athletes. There's also a lot of speculation that [our inclusion in the Games] is going to screw with the integrity of our sport, but since the US Freeskiing brand is represented by the athletes, hopefully we'll create a partnership that's beneficial to us both. We'll grow the sport, bring something new to the USSA, and bring back the cool factor in skiing. We'll let people know that it's something special to be on a US team, and to win an olympic medal for your country. When people see that, it's a great opportunity to attract a young, fresh demographic.
We're on the tour now, just got done with ESPN, and now heading over to the Wall Street Journal. Basically, we're doing this tour to start the conversation, and let people know we're here, we're excited, and we're a part of the olympics. It's pretty exciting to be doing this in May, when normally the buzz around skiing is absent. This message will continue to grow thanks to lots of media exposure, and reach a broader audience. By the time next winter rolls around, we hope to have lots of people involved; new skiers, new sponsors, more people jumping on the bandwagon. It's fun to be a part of."
The brand design was unveiled this morning at the New York offices of DraftFCB. We spoke with USSA Chief Revenue and Marketing Officer, Andrew Judelson, who gave credit to the firm, and expressed how excited he was to have collaborated with DraftFCB on the creative process, together with sport stakeholders. Judelson also shared his perspective on what the launch of this brand means for the USSA:
"From a strategic business perspective, the viewing and packaging of ski halfpipe, slopestyle, and skiercross is an opportunity for us to delineate those disciplines, because they are unique and different; clearly, they attract different demographics, fans, etc. We have a portfolio of brands that all need to work together, while maintaining their own clear definition. It's important for us to capitalize on the point of difference, and subsequently monetize each for better funding of our athletes.
The process we went through was the right, pragmatic approach; the building of a brand by the athletes for the athletes. We've learned from collaboration, we wanted to do this the right way, and that was to pay a third party agency. We wanted to go through a comprehensive set of analytics and focus groups and research to enlist industry stake holders, athletes, agents, suppliers, corporate partners, media, and to have them all be involved in defining what became US Freeskiing, what it stands for, what's authentic and real.
What we're especially excited about is the scalability of this brand; the ability to reach and impact the recreational participant, but also to supply the suppliers with a scalable brand that resonates with a lot more people. We are quite excited, we're doing things differently here now, and this launch is an example of that. And who's talking about skiing in May? The USSA is. We're getting the attention of the media, we're getting recognized, and it's awesome for everybody involved; that's not always the case in a non-Olympic year. So, it's early on, but so far so good. The market place is reacting accordingly."
Photo USSA: USSA President and CEO Bill Marolt (left) and Chief Revenue and Marketing Officer Andrew Judelson proudly display the new brand identity for U.S. Freeskiing as the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association launches the new identity for U.S. Freeskiing at the USSA Center of Excellence in Park City, Utah.
Years ago, the sport of freeskiing was born of sheer rebellion. Freeskier has been there from the get-go, and through the support of what is now "freeskiing," through the creation of AFP, and now with our partnership with USSA, we couldn't be more excited to see the direction things are moving in. The breach from the norm is what continues to define our sport; the very idea keeps things young, progressive, and ever-changing.
You've heard it from the athletes, you've heard it from the USSA, and now, you'll hear it from us: the creation of US Freeskiing is a promising step towards the continued growth of freeskiing. What lays ahead remains uncertain, but it seems all the appropriate steps have been taken to ensure we're on the right track. So feel free to wear your sunglasses inside today, friends, because the future is looking mighty bright.
*On a side note, the approval on slopestyle skiing for the 2014 Games is pending with a decision anticipated in May or June. Skicross joined the Olympics in 2010.
Jen Hudak and Simon Dumont celebrate the U.S. Freeskiing brand identity launch at the New York offices of DraftFCB. Photo by Ian Smith.
Hudak and Dumont pose with the DraftFCB creative team. Photo by Ian Smith.