Burton U.S. Open looks to extend Vail deal
VAIL — Burton Snowboards made a big move three years ago, shifting its annual U.S. Open Snowboard Championships from the company’s home state of Vermont to Vail. Company officials seem to want to make that move a long-lasting one.
Burton is now in the midst of a five-year agreement for Vail Mountain to host the U.S. Open. At a Tuesday meeting with the Vail Town Council, Nick Sargent, Burton’s vice president of global business alliance, told the council that the company expects to announce another five-year commitment to Vail sometime in the next year or so. The desire for a longer-term commitment springs from a simple fact — this event works well in Vail. And Vail seems to like Burton right back.
Sargent’s report had all kinds of information town officials like to see, from lodging occupancy rates to the mix of visitors coming to the resort.
One of the biggest boosts is in the number of millennial guests, a demographic group with birth years ranging from the early 1980s to the early 2000s. Vail officials have for some time now pondered how to bring more members of that younger generation to town. Events like the U.S. Open seem to be good attractions.
Sargent’s presentation indicates that 45 percent of the people who attended the events between March 2-7 were age 34 or younger. Nearly two-thirds of all the parties that came had people in that age range. Just more than half of all spectators booked rooms in the valley, most of which are in Vail. For the event’s final weekend, the town’s lodging inventory was 96 percent occupied, and the rates paid for those rooms increased 12 percent from the same period in 2014. The town of Vail’s overall March sales tax collections increased 7 percent from the same month in 2014.
The U.S. Open is also putting more snowboarders on Vail Mountain. Sargent said Vail Resorts estimates the usual skier/boarder mix at Vail is about 25 percent snowboarders. For the U.S. Open, Sargent said that number rose to about 30 percent.
RETURN ON INVESTMENT
A growing number of people answering guest surveys are indicating they want to return to Vail — one of the reasons the town put $400,000 into the event’s $4.5 million budget for 2015. The survey indicates that 70 percent of spectators said they’d be “extremely likely” to recommend the U.S. Open events to friends.
Another reason the town put money into the U.S. Open is return on investment. Research done by RRC Associates, a Denver-based market research and consulting firm, shows that every “partnership” dollar generates $7.70 in economic activity.
If Burton stays in Vail until 2022, Mayor Andy Daly asked Sargent how he sees the U.S. Open evolving during that period.
“We don’t want to grow for growth’s sake,” Sargent said. But, he added, the company is looking to revive its “Junior Jam” events for younger competitors. The company dropped that part of the U.S. Open when it moved west.
“Now that we’re established, we want to bring that youth component back,” Sargent said, adding that it’s important to Burton, and the sport, to develop what he called “tomorrow’s heroes.”
Sargent also mentioned perhaps trying to bring the U.S. Open to Vail for a full week. That could be a very big benefit, since filling rooms in the middle of the week is a challenge even during high seasons.
“If you can get families here on a Tuesday, that’s a go,” council member Greg Moffet said.
Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930, firstname.lastname@example.org and @scottnmiller.
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