Alpine skiing-Slalom queen Shiffrin not immune to sport's uphill battle for brands

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By Amy Tennery

- American Mikaela Shiffrin's bid for Alpine skiing history will inspire young fans but brands may be harder to sway as her sport fights to get a bigger share of the sponsorship pie, experts say.

The twice Olympic champion secured her 83rd World Cup victory on Tuesday, moving her past compatriot Lindsey Vonn for the women's record, in a giant slalom at the Italian resort of Kronplatz.

She now has only Swedish men's slalom great Ingemar Stenmark's 86 World Cup victories to surpass in order to claim the record for both men and women outright.

But while she writes herself into the history books that does not mean sponsors will open their chequebooks - even for the most marketable woman in Alpine skiing.

"The commercial earnings of athletes in these sports - the top four, five, six do pretty well and then it drops off precipitously. And Mikaela is way ahead of that," Tiger Shaw, former president and CEO for U.S. Ski and Snowboard, told .

"It's not like when you're on a big pro sports team and there's 32 players and you're pretty good and you make 10 million a year - that doesn't happen in our sports."

The 27-year-old has signed deals with the likes Barilla, Visa and Adidas, brands that would be the envy of most female athletes in the United States, where men's professional sport takes an overwhelming share of spending dollars.

But even Shiffrin could not make it onto Forbes' 2022 list of highest-paid female athletes, which included numerous tennis and golf stars but few from the world of winter sport, with the exception of Chinese freestyle ski queen Eileen Gu.

"Even if you’re America’s all-time greatest female Alpine skier, there’s just not a lot of off-the-slopes money to be had," said Bob Dorfman, a sports marketing expert and creative director at Pinnacle Advertising.

"Plus, Alpine skiing now has to compete with freestyle skiing and snowboarding at the Olympics, which attracts a younger fan base and have created a cool new group of female athletes competing for endorsement dollars."


In the United States, Shiffrin has already eclipsed the star power of the sport's past celebrities, including 1998 Super-G Olympic champion Picabo Street, six-times Winter Games medallist Bode Miller and even Vonn.

Yet she is competing for attention from an American audience that has turned a cold shoulder to Winter Olympic sport.

Broadcaster NBCUniversal said the Beijing Olympics attracted the smallest prime-time audience since it began broadcasting the Games, with 11.4 million prime time viewers, a 42% drop from four years prior.

"Any time you have a world leader in sport like this that's approaching and is looking like she will easily surpass a record that was held by Ingemar Stenmark... it's a worldwide story," said Shaw.

"And it draws people into the sport because they see amazing things can be accomplished."

(Reporting by Amy Tennery in New York; Editing by Toby Davis)

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