The middle of March was an extraordinarily chaotic time for U.S Ski & Snowboard as it came to grips with the reality of canceling the remainder of the season. President & CEO Tiger Shaw recalled weighing the prospects of canceling the Minneapolis cross country World Cup, which would have been the first event of its kind on American snow in more than two decades, alongside the image of President Trump on television announcing a travel ban from Europe. With 120 athletes and team personnel abroad at that moment, the conversation rapidly shifted from hosting events and trying to salvage the remainder of the competition season, now clearly impossible, to simply trying to get everybody home.
The athletes and staff all made it home safely, but the dust still hasn’t settled on the financial calamity that may be threatening the federation, according to Shaw.
In his annual keynote address to Congress, which was held virtually on Thursday, Shaw confronted mounting concerns over the global economic climate and finances within the national governing body itself. Throughout Congress, Shaw has also addressed several sport committees individually, conveying a tone of optimism while also acknowledging the difficult realities ahead.
“As an organization, we are probably facing the most dangerous and unknown time we have ever faced,” Shaw told the Alpine Sport Committee. “We may see a downturn in revenue, any of our sources of revenue, for any of the reasons you can imagine.”
Among those revenue sources that may be threatened are the ability for partners to fulfill their agreements with the organization and a potential drop in membership.
“It is very normal to be concerned about any and all of our partners because they’re in distress as well. We assume many of our partners will be challenged in their ability to meet their requirements to us,” Shaw told Ski Racing Media. “Can the same number of families continue to compete in our sports across the country? The answer is obviously, no. How much does that drop? 1%? 10%? These are the things we’ll see better as we wake up and come out of this fog and the economy opens back up.”
Looking back on the 2020 fiscal year, which ended April 30, Shaw remains hopeful that the organization will break even, but said they would not have firm numbers until the middle of May. In the past, U.S. Ski & Snowboard has targeted an annual surplus of $250,000.
“The sudden truncation of the year resulted in a massive number of changes,” he said. “It’s been a tremendous amount of moving pieces this spring to try to unravel and then roll back together all of the cancellations and the expenses, as well as the savings, that have had an impact on our fiscal year.”
UPDATE: At its Board of Director’s meeting on May 13, U.S. Ski & Snowboard reported a financial forecast of a $34,000 net income for its FY20, which ended on April 30, 2020. U.S. Ski & Snowboard’s financial year reporting is subject to review by its audit firm, which is expected to be completed by mid-summer.
As part of its response, U.S. Ski & Snowboard has announced a budget cut of 3.4 million for the 2021 fiscal year, which began May 1. Included in that is a more than $1 million reduction in staffing costs, which has resulted in several high-level layoffs. The organization is currently operating without a chief marketing officer and an athletic director, among other senior staff who were let go.
“We’re protecting the athletes first, and all options are on the table … We want to protect our employees. We want to have the right employees and the right number of employees, and right now we feel we are right-sized,” Shaw said. “Any future changes? Again, I have no crystal ball. If things go as we hope … then we’re going to be good. If things don’t go well, then obviously we’re going to have to adapt.”
Adapting may also include the expectation of reduced fundraising. Trisha Worthington, the ski team’s chief development officer, told Ski Racing Media, “Prior to COVID-19, we were on the path to having the most successful fundraising year ever. That did come to a screeching halt when we all went into quarantine.”
The foundation — which typically contributes roughly $11 million to the athletic budget each year, one-third of the organization’s operating cost — has since resumed fundraising efforts at all levels.
“It’s a little nerve-racking because we didn’t know how it would be received, but to our pleasant surprise the donors were so happy that we are continuing to outreach,” Worthington said. “The piece of our fundraising business that is going to be very challenging this year is special events for obvious reasons. We don’t know if we can have them. If we can have them, we don’t know how many people can participate, and that’s probably going to significantly impact the money that we raise.”
With all this uncertainty, however, athlete funding will remain a “top priority,” according to Shaw, who said they are committed to maintaining last year’s level of funding for all their teams in the coming season but stopped short of a guarantee in that regard. Shaw said FY21 remains uncertain due to COVID, but they remain committed to the additional $1 million that was allocated to athlete travel in FY20.
“Athlete funding is the last thing we would cut,” Shaw said.
It comes during a week when the U.S. Ski Team announced a roster of 43 athletes to its alpine team, an increase from 38 a year earlier. 32 of those athletes were named to the C Team and above, an increase from 29 a year earlier.
With a growing family to feed, at least in the alpine ranks, there is some good news to report as the organization received $2.5 million in assistance from the SBA PPP program.
“If we achieve forgiveness from the part of the loan that we hope to, that will have a real positive impact on our budget this year,” said Shaw. “And, we have trustees and donors who have stepped up and said, we’re going to figure out a way to take care of you and support you. Those two things alone will make a big difference.”
UPDATE: This story was changed from its original version to update the amount of money cut from U.S. Ski & Snowboard’s budget from $2.44 million to $3.4 million.