European Snowboarding Industry Forum: Wrestling The Tough Questions

On April 24th more than a hundred representatives from 63 companies converged on Livigno, Italy for the fourth annual Boardsport SOURCE European Snowboarding Industry Forum. The four day conference hosted by SOURCE, Europe's snow, surf, and skate industry mag, consisted of numerous forums and workshops to educate and debate the largest issues facing the market today.

Marco Sampoli
The scene outside the conference center. Euros definitely know their way around an ashtray.

The biggest news of the conference, which was consistent with everyone's gut check, was that European snowboard hardgood sales were down five percent on the year after dropping 11 percent last year. These grim numbers set the stage for virtually all conversations, but instead of a mood of doom and gloom, most in attendance used this as a spring board for the need to focus on breathing new life into a sport that is being eclipsed by the hype of freeskiing on the winter sports scene, as well as a number of new competitors for kids' attention from video games to Facebook. The general consensus is that the snowboarding industry needs to focus on generating new buzz through different contest mediums and exposure channels, as the sport's image and growth are both currently stagnant.

On more of a silver lining theme, the numbers and the proverbial gut check show that the European market is booming in the ex-Soviet-bloc countries. Russia for example was up more than 45 percent in hardgood sales on the season. While these markets are currently small, there is a big push being made on improving infrastructure there to help capitalize on the buzz of snowsports, insane terrain, and an emerging middle class. "We have seen Eastern Europe quickly become the largest immediate growth opportunity for our snow program," says Vans Snowboard Category Director Jared Bevens.

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One of the best ways to increase coverage and awareness of the sport is through interesting contest formats that draw media attention. Reto Lamm, President of TTR was on hand to discuss his goals for driving momentum and business back into the sport and bringing a consistency for competition and ranking across the world scene. The World Snowboarding Federation and Eurosima Mountain Division were also there to share their visions of unifying the sport and driving FIS out.

Marco Sampoli

Remi Forsans of EuroSIMA and SOURCE presented the grim numbers from his European retailer survey, which most took as a call to action to safeguard the future of the sport. Remi was joined by SIA's Dave Wray who ran down the preliminary US sales figures through February. Stay tuned to Transworld Business for a full report once March data is in.

Marco Sampoli

Snowboarding legend and agent for jibbers such as Danny Kass, Bob Klein co-led a seminar on athlete management. Bob directed his remarks to the marketers out there, urging them to partner with athletes in creating advertising to increase creativity and keep brands tied to mountain culture. Bob also presented an interesting case study on Grenade and the power of guerrilla marketing.

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Kristoffer Hansson of INC Action Sports Managment, which represents riders like Hampus Mosesson and Johan Olofsson gave his perspective on the importance of agents in providing a bridge between companies and talent. On top of Livigno, its good to have a sense of perspective.

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Freeriding is a huge segment of the European market, and with the terrain there it’s definitely a whole different animal than freestyle. While handrails and other pure “freestyle” is definitely respected, many freeriders see the vast amount of media coverage that urban riding is getting in Europe as one of the problems leading to the woes of the industry from a diversity standpoint. Serge Dupraz knows a bit about freeriding and was on hand to promote his D1 sticks. Shaped similar to a fish, the boards are designed for powder but let you lay down some serious alpine turns on the piste.

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One of the most important aspects of the forum is the opportunity to network with riders from other companies in a setting that sets competition aside and allows participants to focus on common issues, share ideas, and plot a course for the future. This year’s forum featured a number of work groups that spawned discussion throughout the four day event and spurred a ton of talk about carrying the torch throughout the year and creating industry wide initiatives around issues such as making the sport a green leader, managing internet sales, improving awareness of the sport, and creating more exciting contests. Forums and meetings generally bring people together and get them amped, the challenge is keeping this type of camaraderie and shared mission throughout the year.