Mt. Crested Butte still hesitant about funding Blunck sponsorship
Written by Seth Mensing   
Wednesday, 23 January 2013
Waiting for a proposal to fit guidelines

The Mt. Crested Butte Town Council struggled again Tuesday, January 15 to find a link between helping fund local skier Aaron Blunck’s bid to make the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia and growing the public’s exposure to the Crested Butte name.

 

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As part of that bid, Blunck is taking his hometown’s name across North America and Europe, with or without the funding, with a stop on the sport’s biggest stage this weekend at the X-Games in Aspen.
After the third meeting between members of the council and Blunck supporters who would like to see some support from the town for a skier whose family has deep roots in Mt. Crested Butte, there was still no clear answer to whether sponsoring a skier on the world stage is “marketing” for the town.
While some members of the council were confident the investment would pay off in a number of ways over the long term, others weren’t sure if the town would see anything in return from giving a grant from the town’s admission tax fund to help with the expense of participating in halfpipe competitions around the world. Even without considering the town’s return on investment, the council continued having a hard time determining if sponsoring Blunck could be considered marketing.
Mayor William Buck and Councilman Danny D’Aquila, who have both consistently supported the idea of helping finance Blunck’s endeavors through the admissions tax fund, spoke prior to the meeting trying to find an unbreakable thread between marketing the town as a destination for people who ski and sponsoring Blunck, who grew up and learned to ski on the local mountain.
“For years, Mt. Crested Butte and Crested Butte thought of itself and marketed itself as the Last Great Colorado Ski Town. Thinking to myself about what makes a great ski town, it’s the snow, the terrain and it’s the people. The people we think of as the skiers and the snowboarders. But to what level do we think that?” D’Aquila asked.
“If you get a second-generation person as we have in Aaron Blunck, how do we say, ‘This is why we are the last great Colorado ski town.’ How do we support that? Aaron’s still just a high schooler … who just made it to the X-Games. Does he market Mt. Crested Butte? Absolutely,” D’Aquila continued. “I would love to take advantage of the opportunity [for marketing]. But more so, I’d love to help the person who is our hometown hero. It’s not only for him, but for the ones who we didn’t recognize in the past and the ones who will be in our future. It’s why I’m raising five kids here.”
To help make the case, D’Aquila asked Team Prep USA owner and founder Trent Sanderson to attend the meeting and share his experience with marketing through the success of athletes.
Sanderson, distributing copies of a magazine article complimentary of Team Prep and Mt. Crested Butte, told the council, “Here we’re talking about a kid who is involved in a sport that this town is pretty much here for. So I definitely think something should be done … Our program was built by the athletes who came before … We had kids who came in and became the top in the country. People wanted to know where they’re from, where they’re getting training.”
The connection between the success of athletes and marketing the place they come from, to Sanderson, was unquestionable.
He also warned against providing Blunck with funding that could jeopardize his standing with the NCAA, should he ever want to turn his skills into a college scholarship. But he concluded by pointing out that the exposure for the town would be tied in no small part to media exposure Blunck gets, saying, “You’re investing in something that is not just filling rooms for one year. It could potentially create ongoing support. When someone like Aaron gets that support, it’s just the way our world works, he’s going to be more proud of where he comes from and more likely to talk about it [to the media].”
Mary Pick, who brought the original request to the Town Council partly on the grounds that the connection between the town and Blunck’s family was so strong, nodded her agreement.
To emphasize the point that what Blunck is doing does get the Mt. Crested Butte name in front of people who might take ski vacations, Colorado FreeSkier owner and Crested Butte Snowsports Foundation president Gabe Martin told the council about Blunck’s then-recent invitation to the X-Games.
“That’s huge for him. Sixteen years old and that’s all you’re going to hear about on TV. He’s Aaron Blunck, he’s 16 years old from Crested Butte,” Martin said. “The X-Games may have started here. But if you watch the X-Games they aren’t going to mention Crested Butte at all … We’re going to get that Aaron Blunck and Crested Butte name out there if the council decides to support him or not. But he’s the one that’s getting our name connected to the X-Games over and over and that’s awesome.
“I can’t tell you how big it is,” Martin continued about the X-Games. “The next best thing that is happening is the Olympics in Russia. This X-Games that’s happening is insane.”
Buck, asking to hear from those council members who still felt there wasn’t a connection between the grant request to help Blunck with competition expenses and marketing, said, “I personally think we’ve got something here.”
The hang-up for some of the other members of council remained on the definition of “marketing” as it was presented to the voters who passed the admissions tax, which is to be used only for specific purposes related to travel, events and, of course, marketing. If the town’s support of Blunck couldn’t fit into one of those categories, it was suggested, then the money would have to come from the town’s general fund, which is down to funding just the town’s essentials.
In past discussions, Councilmen Gary Keiser and Chris Morgan have said they had a hard time calling the effort marketing because there was nothing linking Blunck and Mt. Crested Butte, like the decals corporations get to plaster on cyclists or NASCAR racers.
But in an interview with the Crested Butte News last week, Blunck’s mother, Lisa, wondered why they couldn’t just put a sticker on her son’s helmet and help him out. Crested Butte Mountain Resort does it, she pointed out.
“We are a sponsor of Aaron,” CBMR vice president of real estate and development Michael Kraatz confirmed at the meeting. “I think we do it for a couple of reasons. First of all, he is a Mt. Crested Butte kid. But it also gets our name out there as a resort. So we find it marketable. When he goes to events, our name is on his coat. That’s how we view it.”
Buck, seeing the tide shift in Blunck’s favor, said, “In the opposition that we’ve seen from councilmembers, the concern was that this item is not marketing. Is that opposition still there or do we see a way forward?”
Councilman Dave Clayton repeated that he felt a town-sponsored fundraiser for Blunck’s benefit would be a better fit for admissions tax dollars. “We have fewer restrictions on events than we do on marketing.”
Councilman Tom Steuer said he was still “a little reluctant” to fund Blunck and classify that as marketing. “In the past we’ve struggled to measure the success of our investments and quite often there was no way to measure that. I don’t know if we’d be able to measure at all if this was a successful marketing approach. I can only speak personally when I say that I’ve never gone to a ski resort because I knew somebody came from there.”
“Personally I see an opportunity for exposure and I think that’s been well articulated,” Buck responded.
After Clayton referenced town attorney Kathleen Fogo’s reservations about tying the town’s support to the number of times Blunck mentioned the Mt. Crested Butte name to a journalist, Fogo pointed out Kraatz’ earlier comment about putting the CBMR name on Blunck’s jacket. “Wasn’t there an issue with the council that there couldn’t be any direct marketing, like a sticker on his helmet or jacket that gets the name out there directly … Isn’t that something worth looking into?”
The response to Fogo’s question came slowly, with someone mentioning that the rules wouldn’t allow that kind of direct marketing at the Olympics, although specific funding for the Olympic games were never part of the discussion. “There are all kinds of rules for the various organizations about what you can or can’t display,” Keiser said. “It’s not our job to figure that out.”
For his part, Keiser was concerned that the council was developing a proposal for the applicant that they would have to vote on, potentially resulting in the granting of public money. “Somebody has to come to us with a proposal telling us what they want to do and then we can evaluate it. I don’t think we should sit here and figure out how to develop a proposal so we can approve it.”
Buck responded, “We’re not figuring that out. The way we left the conversation last time was trying to determine if this qualified as marketing or not. Period. Simple. Straightforward.”
Morgan said he had no problem supporting the proposal with admission tax dollars if Fogo signed off on it as being in line with the wishes of voters. But he agreed with Keiser on the matter of the proposal. “We just have to agree as a council so that when somebody else comes in, how are we going to treat that.”
In a straw poll, Steuer was the only council member who said he couldn’t support a proposal to use admission tax money to sponsor an elite athlete, while the others wanted to see a proposal before saying they would.
Buck told Pick and Martin, who have both spoken with the council about providing support for Blunck, “As you can see, the will is there. If you could construct your proposal to fit the guidelines of our program, I think you’d have support here.”