Q&A with Alpine World Cup Committee Chairman Niklas Carlsson

Summer is a good opportunity to take a step back and evaluate the Audi FIS Ski World Cup product to see where there is room for improvement. Niklas Carlsson, the chairman of the Sub-Committee for Alpine World Cup, initiated this reflection a few years ago and the first results have now been put into practice. The CEO of the 2019 Alpine World Ski Championship in Are (SWE) took the time to answer a few questions.    

What pushed you to start rethinking the Alpine World Cup product?
A lot of sport federations have been relying on the fact that their product is stable, but now we can see that the environment is changing, the media landscape is different and we need to adapt. We have been adding many new things to the World Cup, but now it’s time to review what we are doing. Is it good? Can we do it better? How can we be more appealing, both for active skiers and for TV viewers following the sport? At the very beginning, there was the belief that there is room for improvement. Almost three years ago, we established that we want to change, we want to develop. But to figure out what and how we should do it takes time.  

Change can be scary, what was the reaction of the stakeholders when you proposed the changes?
Generally the reaction was positive. I was concerned, that some people would get scared, but by taking it step by step, I think we’ve been laying the ground quite well and people understand why we need to do this. Now I feel that we are working together and so far I would say that I didn’t have too strong reactions with people stepping back. We know we have some tough times ahead of us, where we’ll have to find solutions together. For example with the discussion on the quotas and how big the start field should be. There are two ways to go: either we find a way to reduce the quotas, or find formats where we can have big starting fields.

Concrete steps have been accomplished with a first draft for the 2020/21 calendar. How will this evolution go on from there?   
We will continue in this direction. The discussion we had at our Sub Committee for Alpine World Cup meeting in Portoroz was very important because it was the first time we could test what people think and see how they’d react when we put forward new ideas. My experience was very positive. I think everyone sees that there is a need for a change, so I think we can go on step by step. Now we presented concrete things we need to change to reach our objectives and the Sub Committee supported it. I feel more confident that we are on the right path and that we can push for more and more changes and show what we really believe in. I would say it’s not changing the sport, but it’s strengthening the things we are doing well and make sure we put all the efforts in the right things.  

You said it’s an evolution, not a revolution. Aren’t you afraid that it could take too long to implement changes that the general public can relate to?   
No, I’m not afraid of that. If you look at what we’ve accomplished in the last years, I’m not too concerned that it takes time internally. But as you said, the consumer, be it a skier or someone following us on media, needs to see that things are happening. However, it is a complex process and we need everyone in the boat with us to get the best outcome. It’s better to take a little more time and do it right than rush it and do it wrong.  

You are involved in many different organisations linked to Alpine Skiing (Are 2019, World Cup Stockholm, Junior World Championships Are 2017, Chairman of the World Cup Committee), do you have time to enjoy a good day of skiing?   
Actually I do, I ski more and more, it’s a big passion for me. I was a coach earlier, in those days I was always on the snow, but I didn’t really ski. Now get to ski on my own a lot and I really enjoy it. I also have kids who are competing and it’s always a pleasure to go to their training as well.  

You once said that the World Cup is made of people with passion. Is this strong involvement your way to show your passion for alpine skiing?   
I really think that. Skiing is a great activity and I really hope people both like to watch it and to do it. In the committees, we all are passionate skiers and this is why sometimes it can be difficult to do a change, because the passion, the engagement, the emotions are so strong. This is a lovely thing. It’s challenging, but it’s good to see that people care. I think that passion is one of the biggest assets we have.