Lindsey Vonn may be regarded within the ski world as the greatest American alpine racer in history. Among the general public, however, she is perhaps better known as golfer Tiger Woods’ girlfriend. In the past year, Vonn has appeared with Woods on the cover of Us Magazine and has even been a top search term on Yahoo. The question remains whether this mainstream media and tabloid attention will translate into popularity for Vonn as an athlete and for her sport.
“Skiing’s popularity from this story hinges on two things. First, if ski-racing exposure will translate to ski-racing popularity,” said Gregg Blanchard, a marketing expert who writes Slopefillers, a blog about promoting the ski industry. “And then, if ski-racing popularity will translate to an increased interest in recreational skiing.
“I tend to think the net effect of that funnel is small. As far as mainstream media seems to be concerned, Lindsey is just another attractive, significant other waiting between the 18th green and the clubhouse. I’ve seen vague references to Lindsey’s success as a ski racer, but when Tiger is in the spotlight… Tiger is in the spotlight.”
“Right now, it is just gossip fodder for the tabloids and for a lot of folks looking at it as Tiger’s girlfriend. They don’t really draw the comparison to skiing and ski racing right now,” said Tom Horrocks, marketing communications manager at SnoCountry Mountain Reports. “Depending on how this relationship between them works out in longevity, I think you’ll eventually see that correlation if it goes on for years. Hopefully, it can lead down a path that promotes skiing in a more mainstream way.”
Professional cycling, another sport on the fringes of the American mainstream sports landscape, also received a jolt of attention this year through the Lance Armstrong confession in January. Vonn and Woods’ rumored relationship was officially confirmed a couple of months later, but the two stories are very different. Armstrong’s case was a scandal directly related to his sport. Woods’ marital infidelity had created an international stir in 2009, but Woods and Vonn, both now-single, are not breaking any rules by dating.
“I think the legions who watch golf are only dimly aware of what an extraordinary athlete Lindsey Vonn really is,” said Bill Gifford, an Outside magazine correspondent who covers both cycling and skiing. “The fact that she’s with Tiger will make them pay attention, but I feel as if Lindsey was already poised to transcend her sport in the same way Lance Armstrong did, without the quasi-criminal activity. That will happen next year, with or without Tiger.”
Gifford’s prediction is tied to the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, where Vonn expects to compete after rehabilitating from a serious knee injury. From the U.S. Ski Team’s perspective, those Olympic Games, not Vonn’s dating habits, are the primary focus.
“She’s happy in that relationship (with Woods) and, of course, it is bringing greater attention to her and our sport,” said Tom Kelly, vice president of communications for the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association, the parent organization of the U.S. Ski Team. “Our attention is on Lindsey’s rehab, which is going well, and working with to help her get back on snow this fall and be prepared for the upcoming season.”
Assuming Vonn and Woods are still dating and Vonn is back racing at the Olympics, the pair’s roles could be reversed. Instead of Vonn waiting at the 18th green, Woods may be watching at the downhill finish line. Hopefully for the popularity of ski racing and skiing in general, the American public will also be watching.
Feel free to add your opinions and comments below about how Woods and Vonn’s romance might or might not boost America’s love for skiing.