It's prime time

World Cup means valuable television exposure for Stea mboat

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— Visitors to Steamboat this weekend will be treated to a free Olympic preview featuring many of the athletes who will represent their respective countries in freestyle and Nordic skiing at the winter Games in February.

But there's more at stake than gold, silver and bronze. A separate competition for Nielsen ratings will be taking place behind the scenes.

The skiers will strive for their best performances in one of the few remaining opportunities to make their countries' Olympic teams. And the competitions will be steeped in the genuine traditions of Ski Town U.S.A.

But make no mistake about it the World Cup events held here this weekend are all about pulling off successful television programming.

"You put these two events together and it represents prime early season media exposure," Andy Wirth, vice president of marketing at the Steamboat Ski Area said.

The local organizing committees will spend between $175,000 and $225,000 to stage each event, Wirth said.

And that doesn't include purchasing the television time.

The U.S. Ski Team has put up $200,000 to purchase air time from NBC for the mogul competition, and hopes to make the money back by selling the 20 available commercial spots at about $20,000 for a 30-second spot.

The U.S. Ski Team also pays for the television production crew.

"We go directly to the network in the case of the Freestyle Grand National to NBC, and buy an hour of time from them," Todd Burnette, vice president of marketing for the U.S. Ski Team said. His job is to showcase the team's athletes and attract long-term sponsorship deals.

Television is how he gets the job done.

It's no secret that Steamboat wouldn't be interested in hosting a World Cup without a television contract.

Nor would it lay out the cash to host a World Cup in March, when all of the ski vacations for the season have already been booked.

The name of the game is driving numbers at the front end of the season.

Television places Steamboat in the minds of destination skiers and confirms that early-season snow is good.

Don't expect to find tens of thousands of spectators lining the courses this weekend as you would at the Salt Lake City Olympics in a couple of months. However, do expect to find a fleet of television cameras focusing on small crowds of wildly enthusiastic fans, as well as on the athletes themselves.

Even if spectatorship is low at the actual events, the television audience will be there when the shows air at the end of the month.

ESPN reaches a total of 75 million households on cable and satellite, Wirth said.

The ski area hopes to reach 1 to 2 percent of that number with its Nordic combined show Dec. 27 and the broadcast of the Gold Cup Nordic skiing show Jan. 1. NBC has a far larger P.V.H.H. or "potential viewer households number, Wirth said.

He would be pleased if the broadcast of the freestyle competition achieved a 2.5 to 3.8 rating against NBC's 120 million P.V.H.H.

"They put us in a very fantastic time slot," Wirth said.

"We expect to reach three to five million households," among all three television broadcasts.

Burnette said advertising sales for the freestyle show on NBC have been a success, in light of the economic recession.

"We've done surprisingly well," Burnette said

"In addition to Sprint, we have spots running from Charles Schwab, Chevy, Visa, Ernst & Young, Bud, Yahoo and Bank of America,"

He expects the show to break even.

The Steamboat Ski Area has made a franchise out of the Nordic combined event,

"We wouldn't be able to have a Nordic combined show without Steamboat," Burnette said. "That's the only place.

"Those guys have it figured out and you have the enthusiasm of the town."

The good news for fans of competitive skiing in Steamboat is they can watch the events, twice once in person, and again in a few weeks on national television.

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