Ski racers and snowboarders who transcend their sports and become household names in the crowded U.S. marketplace are rare. Mikaela Shiffrin and Shaun White are exceptions, bonafide stars that move the needle, thrill fans, and are currently driving U.S. media coverage and interest during the Olympic Winter Games in Beijing.
For new U.S. Ski & Snowboard president and CEO Sophie Goldschmidt, Shiffrin and White are rare luxuries, a fabulous foundation to build and strengthen the brand. And herein lies Goldschmidt’s enormous challenge ahead.
“Mikaela is obviously just an incredible athlete and what she has already achieved is quite phenomenal, but there are a lot of other very compelling stories out there,” Goldschmidt tells SKI. “Look at Chloe Kim, Shaun White, Maggie Voisin, Jessie Diggins—we’ve got premier top-class athletes and their stories can be told more broadly. We need to work harder at that.”
Goldschmidt assumed the leadership role at U.S. Ski & Snowboard on October 18, 2021 at a critical juncture for the organization, just four months prior to the make-or-break event for snowsports athletes—the majority of whom are relatively unknown to the mainstream.
Adding complexity to Goldschmidt’s vision of elevating more U.S. athletes to the eyes of the world is that the Beijing Winter Games are mired in uncertainty and unpredictability. As a result, U.S. team corporate executives and high-paying sponsors, who would normally be on the ground to witness firsthand who will rise to become the next Olympic stars, are mostly absent from Beijing.
“There’s more nervousness than normal from the athletes because of the unknown, but I think they’ll be mentally prepared and up for it,” Goldschmidt says. “We have some real depth and strength in some events and in others we’re more in the developmental phase, so I’m confident we’ll have some great performances.”
For fearless U.S. ski racers, boundary-pushing freestyle skiers, fun-loving snowboarders, and now more so than ever, Nordic skiers, Olympic stardom may come in China. Goldschmidt, a British citizen with a long-term visa to work in the U.S., has bold ambitions from a commercial and marketing perspective, striving to create greater recognition and star power for the diverse athletes under the U.S. Ski & Snowboard umbrella.
“We have seven sports that are all very different—the culture of what the athletes stand for, how they train, and each appeals to different groups and fan bases, and I see this as an opportunity to tap into,” she says.
“From a marketing and promotional standpoint, there is every opportunity to elevate our athletes and sports,” she continues. “What they’re doing is pretty superhuman, and I don’t believe they are as well-recognized as they could be, certainly not in the U.S. They are rock stars in many other countries, but here at home, I think they can be cutting through much more. That’s a big focus for me.”
Goldschmidt, who replaced longterm U.S. Ski and Snowboard president Tiger Shaw, brings a lengthy resume of professional sports executive experience. Most recently, as the former chief executive officer of the World Surf League, she negotiated a record 10-year agreement with the athletes, led the implementation of equal prize money for men and women, secured unprecedented levels of linear and digital media distribution, and helped produce record revenues.
Goldschmidt aims to bring similar innovation, progress, and results to U.S. Ski & Snowboard, having relocated from Los Angeles to Park City, Utah, home to the organization’s headquarters.
“We can be more innovative in certain areas—we obviously want to be learning from the best within our sports, but I also think there is potential to learn from other sports and industries that resonate with us,” she says.
Goldschmidt sees juggernaut pro leagues like the NFL and NBA, and sports such as golf and tennis as direct competitors, in a “friendly, competitive way.”
“Absolutely they are,” she says. “Sport and entertainment are now converging more broadly and we’re all competing for eyeballs from brands and media companies. I definitely see them as competitors, but also as potential partners that we can work with and learn from.”
The Beijing Games are sure to shine the world spotlight on the Shiffrins and Whites of Team USA, but they will hopefully also introduce global audiences to new up and coming American sports talent. That’s the hope, because Goldschmidt sees that as an important first step in bolstering the reputation—and funding—of U.S. Ski and Snowboard’s athletes and athletic programs.
“I’ve been fortunate to meet a bunch of our athletes from all of our sports since I came onboard. They are very purpose-led, articulate, and also phenomenal athletes,” Goldschmidt says. “We need to educate the media and others to get more coverage for them and our sports.”