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Coni Altherr

In the skating Pantheon, this man already deserves a monument. Who does not know his name? To some of us, he’s the Messiah, the liberator that will save us all from inept official leadership, the saviour that multiplies sponsors and brings professionalism to our sport.
WIC’s alma-mater truly loves speed skating, and his enthusiasm is contagious: hail to thee, Mr Altherr! Here is the transcription of the conversation we had in Berlin with him…

We observed that in the last few years you’re gaining weight and loosing hair: is it due to WIC’s struggles, or just your hedonistic personal life?
Er… say again?
Oh, come on!
Alright, let’s say it’s a bit of both… I’m getting old, for sure, but I don’t have enough time to try to keep in shape.
So no skating for you lately…
Just a little bit of it.
Great! Now, let’s get to the point: last year, while everybody was almost desperate, everyone claiming that things were going pear-shaped, you were convincingly affirming that 2006 was going to be WIC’s best ever season. You were right, but we’re in a similar situation this year: what are your expectations for 2007?
You know, this is a worldwide process. I can safely bet 2007 will be even better, for sure.
Yeah, but how much better will it be?
There are two things that made me happy this year. First, the media coverage of our events was much better, and that’s the most important part. The sport cannot grow without a stronger media presence… You should have seen what was on in China! Even before the event started, there were several slots of airtime in the main Chinese TV channel, and that means millions of viewers, even live broadcast!
The second thing that makes me proud is the fact that, after over 13 years doing all this almost by myself (obviously with my staff and limited resources), it was important to me to make sure that one day, there was going to be someone next to me who’s not only willing to take the responsibility, but to make investments and take risks as well for the sport. As you all know, we have now a partnership with GlobalSports: I’m sure they believe in what we do, and are true professionals that understand a great deal about media. So they can contribute a lot to the sport, and after 13 years I can relax a bit and perhaps get back in shape. For the first time in a long while, I’m going to take a holiday!
… And you’ll get back with batteries recharged for 2007!
Count on it. I’ve been approached by many organizers in Korea, telling me “we want to have a WIC stage”, plus some more around the world: I can announce happily that there are 10 new places that would like to enter the World Cup circuit.
Tell us more about China. Those guys had put on a show that was even superior than Korea’s World Championships… for a single race!
Yes, they are intelligent. Sports are also politics: their government was instrumental in the promotion and organization of the event. Mind, it was on a midweek rainy day, nevertheless it was crowded! Next year it will be on a Saturday afternoon, you can imagine: they really want to develop this sport over there, their commitment is great. Possibly they will surpass even Berlin as of number of participants!
Maybe… Hey, what happened with Munich? Was it a bit of a failure?
No. I have a history in Germany, I was making the German Inline Cup years ago, so I know how it works there. Together with the German federation we are developing a long term plan; besides I put my money wherever I can apply my marketing concept, which was done this season. Munich was a good opportunity to invest in the German market; in fact we have now set up Iguana Germany. Anyway, even if the race was excellent, before we get back to Munich we need to be sure that we can reach at least 4000 people… I think we can make it: look at what it was 4 years ago here in Berlin! We were not regarded as a big event then, now the importance of the last World Cup stage is very relevant to the organizers and everyone else.
So in the next future, WIC’s efforts will be focused on Germany and Asia…
As a person involved in skating’s development, I’m very happy to count now on a new partner that also likes our sport. They are so strong that their input will deeply influence our future. Certainly this will be primarily evident in China, Singapore (I’m quite sure there will be a race there next year) and some new arrivals like Dubai… But in this last case, it’s just marketing. We need it, yes, but I prefer to have more events in Korea, where they really love skating.
In the last “Sport Insider’s” edition, the indicative 2007 calendar includes a South American stage, and the return of USA. What’s with that part of the world?
You know, I was in love with South America for quite some time, but right now I think that we have to be focused on Asia, at least for the next 5 years. It’s much easier there, mainly because we have television coverage! Besides, as you might know I had some “differences” with my Colombian friends… In USA, and in general everywhere, we need more: not only a development as it was like 10 years ago, were just a few people were doing a lot all around the country but in a small, artisan way. A government involvement is also needed.
Absolutely! Another matter: in every race or World Championship you take about a million pictures: a couple of them are published in your webs, a couple more appear in SportInsider… What about the rest?
Ah, finally a serious question. You see, I’m an artist. I want to do art. If I had more time I would love to do things related to design, packaging, publishing, etc., aiming to work out how the illustration of something acts on personal emotions, mixing documents with images. Yes, I have about 20.000 pictures, among them about a hundred that are of the highest quality and of very dramatic impact, something nobody else has ever done before. At the end of this season I really have to take the time to organize them and perhaps publish a web where everybody can have them… Alas, not for free, as I cannot give away my work like that.
No way! What do you think about the teams situation next year?
I really believe that the marketing, the branding of the teams is insufficient. They don’t know how to conduct an efficient market strategy, how to SELL themselves. So my main task in the next 6 weeks or so will be to show, to teach the people involved how to bring a better branding to their teams. I’m not happy with any brand at all; actually I’m slightly fed up with what’s going on in this department. What Fila did was bad, what Salomon is doing is bad, Powerslide and Rollerblade make excellent products, but they do not apply proper marketing. It should be done much better, so I need to make sure next year we have an improved strategy.
Maybe that’s because almost all of the manufacturers are engineers or ex-athletes with no business expertise…
And no brand development. Similar as CIC’s situation: they like to sit and talk all day about many things, but never mention branding. Our sport badly needs that, that’s why I’m so happy to have these new partners (that shaped beach-volley as a brand - NdR)

Hey, Coni: ok to have a skater less in the male’s teams… but female teams with only 3 gals? That sucks, man! Absolutely unfair!
I’m sure it would be a bad blow especially for you, my friend! Don’t worry yet, it’s not definitely determined so far.

Bill Begg
Aurélie Bouvet