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The Economic Significance of Winter Sports: Insights from the Sport & Marke Congress in Vienna

At the esteemed Sport & Marke Congress held in Vienna, winter sports were once again a focal point. Co-organized by the Snowsports Academy, a high-caliber panel discussed a broad spectrum of topics, ranging from the Alpine Ski World Championships 2025 in Saalbach to snow sports offerings for urban areas, sustainability, and the return of Marcel Hirscher to competitive skiing.

 from left: Martin Dolezal (Snowsports Academy), Tom Berger (LAOLA1), Roswitha Stadlober (ÖSV), Monica Rintersbacher (Leitbetriebe Austria), Marco Harfmann (A1), and Astrid Steharnig-Staudinger (Österreich Werbung)
from left: Martin Dolezal (Snowsports Academy), Tom Berger (LAOLA1), Roswitha Stadlober (ÖSV), Monica Rintersbacher (Leitbetriebe Austria), Marco Harfmann (A1), and Astrid Steharnig-Staudinger (Österreich Werbung)

The Sport & Marke Congress, orchestrated by the Swiss ESB Marketing Network at the Vienna Hilton Waterfront, stands as the largest of its kind in Austrian sports business and serves as the annual networking highlight of the industry. Hosted by Martin Dolezal, CEO of the Snowsports Academy, the forum also centered on the future and importance of winter sports for Austria’s economy.

On stage, discussions featured prominent figures like Astrid Steharnig-Staudinger (Managing Director of Austria Advertising), Monica Rintersbacher (Managing Director of Leading Companies Austria), Roswitha Stadlober (President of the Austrian Ski Federation), Marco Harfmann (Director of Transformation & Marketing Communications at A1), and Thomas Berger (Head of LAOLA1 / SKI1).

The panel unanimously agreed: The emotional impact of snow experiences is not only a vital component for Austria's economy but also skiing and related sports are globally recognized cultural assets that captivate and excite people across all nationalities, generations, and skill levels.

Bringing Snow Fun to the People

In his keynote, Martin Dolezal from the Snowsports Academy in Vienna emphasized the importance of keeping snow sports relevant, especially in urban areas. "For this, we need to change the mindset in the Alps," stated Dolezal, whose team trains over 2,500 ski and snowboard instructors annually. The demand for international training was evidenced by the 150 participants from 38 countries attending the course in April 2024 – from South Africa to China, Japan, across Europe, to North America. "These are all international ambassadors who carry our passion into the world."

Martin Dolezal on "Snow Sports in Urban Areas" at the Sport and Brand Congress in Vienna
Martin Dolezal on "Snow Sports in Urban Areas" at the Sport and Brand Congress in Vienna

To bring this enthusiasm to snow-distant metropolises, Dolezal advocated, "If people can no longer come to the snow, we must bring winter sports offerings to the people." He presented three methods to establish initial contact: First, snow experience worlds (also known as ski domes), which already exist in 120 locations worldwide – from Dubai and Cairo to China, Norway, and the Netherlands. Secondly, synthetic slopes, where British Hahnenkamm slalom winner Dave Ryding began his career, which can now be found in places like Copenhagen, Stockholm, and now at Hohe Wand Wiese in Vienna. "The latter shows how we can also address the topic of migration, as last winter 1,500 children with diverse backgrounds gathered their first ski experiences there," said the CEO of the Snowsports Academy.

As a third example, Dolezal showcased roll-ski slopes. These are high-tech conveyors with a special surface that allows skiing and snowboarding in a confined space. The Snowsports Academy owns a mobile "SkiMachine," the official name for this technology. In cooperation with A1, there will be a four-month Ski World Championships tour through major shopping centers in Austria starting this fall to promote the FIS Alpine Ski World Championships in Saalbach.

The Ski World Championships as a Catalyst

This connection between initial snow sports experiences, urbanity, lifestyle, professional sports, and mega-events was central to the entire winter sports panel and discussion. For example, Roswitha Stadlober, President of the Austrian Ski Federation (ÖSV), explained that her "vision of a snow sports experience world in Vienna still stands."

Roswitha Stadlober, ÖSV Präsidentin
Roswitha Stadlober, ÖSV Präsidentin

For Stadlober, who is also the official organizer of the Ski World Championships in Saalbach, the driving force behind all activities is: "We convey the emotions through our athletes that are carried out into the world. Thus, we aim to set a new benchmark with Saalbach so that people will remember it for years to come. That's why we want to perform as the perfect host: authentic – familial – casual."

Sustainability now plays a crucial role, according to the ÖSV President. "The championship is a Green Event, and we will also obtain ISO certification. Our motto is '1 mountain, 1 finish area, 11 races.' This means everything is within walking distance, there is a dedicated shuttle terminal, and the Saalbach-Maishofen train station is being specially expanded for the championships."

Stadlober acknowledged that disruptions at Ski World Cup events are often a nuisance. "But we take responsibility and have therefore launched our own future program. For joint solutions, we bring all stakeholders on board: from cable cars and tourism regions to major partners like A1 and Uniqa to NGOs. This is an ongoing process that extends beyond the WM Saalbach."

Linking Economy and Emotions

The economic importance of winter tourism in the country was underscored by Astrid Steharnig-Staudinger, Managing Director of Austria Advertising. "On one hand, winter sports convey a lifestyle that we want to make tangible. On the other hand, they generate annual revenues of 12.6 billion euros for the tourism industry. This is a direct share of 6.3% of the gross domestic product, and the indirect value creation of winter even amounts to 13% of the GDP."

Astrid Steharnig-Staudinger, Managing Director of Österreich Werbung
Astrid Steharnig-Staudinger, Managing Director of Österreich Werbung

Steharnig-Staudinger also highlighted which international markets are currently in focus. "Germany and Switzerland remain very strong. There is significant growth in the Netherlands – also thanks to the many ski domes there. The United Kingdom is also on the rise again. Furthermore, new markets like the USA are developing very well. There, we have formed an alliance with 10 ski resorts to tackle this market. Until now, we were only active in the field of arts and culture. And not to forget: China also has 17 million skiers."

Feelings and experiences are also crucial for Marco Harfmann, Director of Transformation & Marketing Communications at A1. "We have been partners with the ÖSV for 27 years because skiing allows us to best charge our product with emotions and convey our values. Together with the ÖSV, we stand for perfect technique, high speed, and incredible will to win, as we do not want to rest on our laurels as market leaders."

Sports Stars as Role Models

Monica Rintersbacher, Managing Director of Leading Companies Austria, also spoke about the exemplary effect of professional sports. "In general, the theme of performance orientation is positively connoted in sports. We want to translate this to the economy and particularly to young people, saying, 'If you are good and motivated in your work, you will be successful and enjoy it.'"

Monica Rintersbacher, Managing Director Leitbetriebe Austria
Monica Rintersbacher, Managing Director Leitbetriebe Austria

To underscore this, a cooperation with the Vienna University of Economics and Business has been initiated on the research area "New World of Work," where current trends are addressed. Among topics like "Is performance worthwhile?" or "Balancing family and work," one stands out clearly, according to Rintersbacher: "People long for mental health and a good balance. They often say they feel better when they move in nature and the mountains. We need to capture this, for winter as well as summer – thus strengthening the life feeling of working people."

The Perspective of Winter Sports from the Media

Thomas Berger, Head of LAOLA1 / SKI1, emphasized the importance of keeping the TV rights for major events in the country. This applies to the Ski World Championships and the Football EURO 2024 in Germany. Here, Berger sees great potential for positioning as a media house. "This year, we are hosting a VIP viewing at the Prater for the EURO. Such initiatives could also be an exciting opportunity for skiing and especially for the WM in Saalbach to bring the sports emotions even closer to the people and into urban spaces."

Influencers like Marcel Hirscher & Co

The significance of skiing for LAOLA1 was also highlighted by Berger: "With SKI 1, we launched a special-interest platform for alpine skiing in 2022 and have achieved very successful reach. When Marcel Hirscher announced his return to racing, our numbers soared. The top-5 most successful messages come from winter sports." This topic can be excellently utilized with storytelling. "I assume that Marcel is accompanied by his own media team – 'behind the scenes' all the way to Saalbach. And this reaches new target groups and millions of people, as it does not follow the classic narrative form of an event like the Ski World Championships in Saalbach."

Roswitha Stadlober is also pleased about the return of Marcel Hirscher. "It's great for skiing. We would have liked to have him for the ÖSV. But the sporting individuality he needs, he can better live out when he starts for the Netherlands." Addition: "The nice thing about it is: At the FIS races he now has to start, he is a tangible role model for young people. This has an incredible effect and brings high viewing figures – already now in the summer."

In general, types like Marcel Hirscher, Manuel Feller, or the Norwegian Lucas Braathen, who now starts for Brazil, "are a blessing for winter sports," according to Stadlober. "Feller also took some time to find himself. But now he is exactly the type that Austria and fans in many other countries love."

Marco Harfmann, Director Transformation & Marketing Communications bei A1 Telekom Austria
Marco Harfmann, Director Transformation & Marketing Communications bei A1 Telekom Austria

The Future of Virtualization and eSports

For Marco Harfmann of A1, it is crucial to provide young people with an attractive and playful access to winter sports. "The more we can excite them about the subject, the sooner we can get them on actual slopes. Gaming and eSports offer excellent opportunities for this. In collaboration with the Austrian Ski Federation (ÖSV), we are relaunching the well-known Ski Challenge – and thanks to Samsung, we're bringing the experience to smartphones."

During the A1 Ski World Championships Tour, the Ski Challenge is also featured, where participants can try real skiing on a rolling ski slope (commonly known as a ski carpet), according to Harfmann. "Once the youth have tried all this, the only thing missing is the natural experience."

Photo credits: Gabriele Grießenböck, Alexandra Bosch


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