Events: AOL takes to slopes

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Leveraging various elements of its entertainment and publishing empire, AOL Time Warner this week debuts TransWorld Live, a 60-minute movie it created to tour 45 college campuses in 23 states.

Created by Warren Miller Entertainment, a division of Time Inc.'s Time4 Media, the film breaks new ground by combining the cultures of snowboarding, skiing and snowmobile stunt riding, while promoting three of the company's magazine titles dedicated to extreme snow sports. (See related story, P. 34.)

Between Jan. 22 and Feb. 21, the TransWorld Live tour is expected to reach between 20,000 and 30,000 college snow sports enthusiasts, who will attend the screenings free and participate in on-site marketing by an eclectic mix of sponsors.

on the job

Sponsors that frequently appear in extreme sports event are here, including the U.S. Air Force, video-game marketer EA Sports, Levi Strauss & Co. and Clif Bar. But an additional sponsor rarely found in the mix is computer hard drive maker Seagate Technology, which signed on several months ago as presenting sponsor of the tour in hopes of getting an edge over competitors in recruiting top technology students for jobs.

"Like a lot of companies, Seagate has spent millions of dollars over the past few years at campus job fairs, and getting its name integrated into an event like this was a natural step to distinguish itself from other Silicon Valley companies," said Tim Wrisley, TransWorld Media's group publisher.

The fact that the dot-com crash and the cooling economy put a chill on job fairs and recruiting efforts did not stop Seagate from following through with the sponsorship and a re-branding effort to mesh with the hip culture of snowboarding and "free skiing," said Mr. Wrisley.

"Getting on campuses is still very hard to do, and corporations are still just as interested in getting through to this very influential group of young people and we're providing unique access to them," he said.

Colorado Ski Country, a trade group representing a variety of ski resorts on Colorado's western slope, is also a key sponsor in the ski industry's ongoing effort to reverse a continuing decrease in visitors and traffic over the past few years.

Although snowboarding has been one of the fastest-growing niches in winter sports, overall visits to ski resorts have continued to decline, and the average age of ski resort visitors is about 39 and climbing, according to a survey last year sponsored by the SnowSports Industries of America.

Colorado Ski Country is backing its sponsorship with a nationwide sweepstakes. The grand prize is a trip to five different ski resorts in a luxury bus for the winner and 11 friends.

Other tour sponsors include BMG Entertainment, which is using the event to promote various artists and music groups whose work will be included in the film; Sony DVD; and Universal Pictures' "Ultimate Fights" film to be released in April on video and DVD.

Capitalizing on interest in the Winter Olympics and the cultural interest in extreme snow sports, Time4 Media is using TransWorld Live as a platform to sample and cross-promote TransWorld Snowboarding and TransWorld Stance, both published by Time Inc.'s Oceanside, Calif.-based TransWorld Media. It's also promoting Freeze, a winter sports culture magazine published by Time Inc.'s Mountain Sports Media, Denver.

Free for all

At each tour stop, the magazines' advertisers will sponsor local contests and sweepstakes to win merchandise such as snowboards, skis and goggles; Time4 Media executives said the goal is to make sure every attendee at the free screenings takes away some kind of free merchandise.

"We're targeting younger consumers who are just discovering snow sports, and trying to convert the casual person into a total enthusiast," said Mr. Wrisley.

Making the film presented unique challenges because it was difficult to get cooperation from opposing factions within the snowboarding and emerging "free skiing" culture, said Dave Perry, national sponsorship director; in the past, no films have blended both cultures.

"This college-age audience is hyper-aware of commercialism and it's very important to balance things so you maintain authenticity and achieve footage no one else has," said Mr. Perry, who has produced dozens of award-winning surfing films for Warren Miller Entertainment.

Last year TransWorld Media experienced record advertising revenues. Although the snowboarding and skiing titles have suffered some falloff so far this year, overall the magazines continue to thrive as snowboarding grows, said Mr. Wrisley.

"Ads for some apparel have fallen off, but snowboarding is counter-cultural and therefore counter-cyclical and we think that by continuing to promote these sports with partners, we'll maintain our place and our growth even in a softening economy," Mr. Wrisley said.

The film, featuring some of the only footage in existence of a back flip by a snowmobile, includes 360-degree skiing stunts and snowboarders hurling themselves down staircases. A limited number of copies of the film will be distributed as prizes to students attending the tour.

Local newspaper and radio and on-campus media supports the tour, which is handled in-house.

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