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Unpacking U.S. Ski Team’s New Title Sponsorship

Just before Halloween, investment services firm Stifel Financial Corp. announced a comprehensive four-year partnership with U.S. Ski & Snowboard, the national governing body that fields teams in seven disciplines: alpine, cross country, freeski, freestyle, snowboard, nordic combined, and ski jumping.

The agreement makes Stifel one of the NGB’s largest partners. Among the benefits received are:

  • Title sponsorship of the U.S. Alpine Ski Team (now the Stifel U.S. Alpine Team)

  • Title sponsorship of the men’s FIS Alpine Ski World Cup event in Palisades Tahoe, Calif.

  • Sponsorship of the men’s FIS Alpine Ski World Cup events in Beaver Creek and Aspen, Colo.; and the women’s FIS Alpine Ski World Cup event in Killington, Vt.

  • Presenting sponsorship of the Toyota U.S. Alpine Championships

  • Title sponsorship of the U.S. NorAm Tour, a development circuit for skiers trying to earn a spot on the national alpine team

“In addition, U.S. Ski & Snowboard and Stifel will collaborate on a career and financial education program, designed to help athletes with savings and investing strategy,” according to the NGB’s announcement. “This is the first alpine partnership for U.S. Ski & Snowboard that encompasses all elite levels of competition in North America, including World Cup, NorAms and National Championships.”

U.S. Ski & Snowboard president & CEO Sophie Goldschmidt further explained the importance of the deal to Sports Business Journal: “Strategically, for us to have an overarching partner for the alpine team was important. We feel like we’re really elevating the position of that program. Mikaela (Shiffrin) is our headline athlete, but the pipeline in both the men’s and women’s teams is as good as we’ve had in years. Being able to link that to a more grassroots development story is really important, because it differentiates our organization from many in that we control the whole ecosystem, and we wanted to bring that to life in a much stronger way. So the timing was just right for us to partner with a brand that shared that vision and could support us holistically across the whole alpine program.”

The team title raises some intriguing questions, the foremost of which is: Who will actually refer to the team by its new official name?

History says that fans and media are likely to continue to refer to it as the U.S. Ski Team or other iterations without identifying the sponsor. That is why most sponsors today view such recognition as the icing, rather than the cake—relying instead on relevant activations to connect their brands with the property in the hearts and minds of fans.

But although Stifel’s plans to work with athletes on financial literacy can clearly serve as a platform to demonstrate its core services, another question surrounding the deal is whether it needs to meet any business objectives at all.

Stifel chairman and CEO Ron Kruszewski and Thom Weisel, a member of Stifel’s board of directors, are both on the board of trustees for the U.S. Ski & Snowboard Foundation—Kruszewski for 13 years and Weisel, the founder of Montgomery Securities, for 45 years, including a stint as chairman from 1983 to 1994. (He also has been Chairman of the USA Cycling Foundation Board since its founding in 2000 and received the George Steinbrenner Sport Leadership Award from the U.S. Olympic Foundation in 2011.

Kruszewski, in the SBJ article, characterized the U.S. Ski & Snowboard deal as “less a straight marketing play…than an alignment of two organizations with similar ideals.”

Thus for properties and brands seeking to benchmark the agreement (no financial details are available) it is probably best to consider the partnership as a hybrid of a corporate gift with sponsorship elements.

Stifel, it should be noted, has other brand partnerships, including a five-year home-and-away jersey patch deal with its hometown St. Louis Blues; presenting sponsorship of this weekend’s Jimmy Kimmel LA Bowl; presenting sponsorship of the Haskins and ANNIKA awards presented to the top men’s and women’s collegiate golfers, respectively; and ambassador deals with several PGA Tour golfers.

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