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Christine Brennan's Article on USA Ladies: "U.S. women's skating lacks dominant star"

Discussion in 'Great Skate Debate' started by TheIronLady, Jan 25, 2013.

  1. aftershocks

    aftershocks Well-Known Member

    Personally, I don’t think Christine Brennan’s article or her viewpoints are quite as generic and lazy as Phil’s underwhelming, dismissive and often inaccurate assessments. At least Brennan sought out reflections (and provided quotes) from prominent figures in the sport. I do agree with many of your points, IronLady, but I also agree with others that Brennan is bringing up some relevant issues. However, the issues are so complex and multilayered that they aren’t that easy to adequately discuss in a few paragraphs that contain broad generalizations and random assumptions.

    Brennan might serve fans better if she committed to at least an introductory five-part series of reports on the issues she’s trying to cram into sound-bite commentary that coincides with 2013 U.S. Nationals in Omaha. It might be more helpful and elucidating if Brennan could spend more time doing historical research and more exhaustive investigative reporting that covered the interconnected challenges the sport faces domestically and globally. IOW, she could provide a better picture of the details and the causes and effects re what’s been happening in figure skating over the past twenty years. Instead of just pining for a return of the old days of Dorothy Hamill, Michelle Kwan, and established bankable U.S. ice princesses, Brennan might discover more by delving beneath the icy surface and getting at the root of all the current discontent and “chaos.” There are a lot of hidden controversies, “unseen [and unheard] skaters,” complicated storylines and problems being swept under the rug.

    U.S. figure skating athletes as well as skating athletes around the world and at all levels deserve a lot more attention, appreciation and a chance for their stories to be told and their voices to be heard beyond status quo sound-bites and dismissive insults. IMO, the incredible physical demands and pressure-filled, often unrealistic expectations weighing on skaters today is hampering the sport’s growth and damaging the bodies and spirits of too many skaters. I think the sport needs to further evolve in a more inclusive and proactive way in order to better serve its athletes and to increase its fan base. IMO, in order for that to begin to happen, the way it is covered by the media needs to improve considerably.

    BTW, I think IceNetwork is doing a good job overall, and I think Tanith is a great interviewer and commentator.
    Last edited: Jan 26, 2013
  2. overedge

    overedge Janny uber

    I would guess that Brennan has constraints on how much space she gets or how long her stories have to be, just like pretty much every other journalist. If she's "trying to cram", it's because she probably has a limitation on how much she can write. It's her editor that would have to "commit to at least an introductory five-part series of reports".
  3. aftershocks

    aftershocks Well-Known Member

    ^^ As far as Brennan's journalistic "constraints," if she had the fortitude, desire, vision and commitment necessary to delve more beneath the surface, she could certainly try to convince her editor of the value of doing such an investigative series. Or, she could try writing another, better book about figure skating that explores some of the topics she's making generalizations about perhaps due to press deadlines and word count limitations.

    Yes, it not only takes time, space and backing, it takes courage, skill and most of all recognition and understanding that underneath the “chaos,” there is more to find out and to creatively piece together for readers' deeper understanding and engagement.
  4. Kabooke

    Kabooke Active Member

    The biggest difference between Kwan and those since her is consistent competitiveness nationally and internationally. She was always in the realistic hunt for gold in every competition since 95'. Her longevity kept her at the forefront in the figure skating world and layman world over 4 Olympiads(94'-06'). Her skating style plus grace and poise in the face of defeat endeared her to the public. All on the heels of Tonya/Nancy when the public spotlight was most bright.

    Kwan as a skater and a person, coupled with the circumstances of the increased popularity of the sport, I don't think such a thing can be duplicated.
    kwanette and (deleted member) like this.
  5. aftershocks

    aftershocks Well-Known Member

    ^^ Right, and there’s no sense in even expecting the Kwan era to be duplicated. What she accomplished was kind of taken for granted, especially since her career took flight at a time when there had been such a long tradition of U.S. ladies winning international championships and consistently being on the podium.

    There have always been cyclical ups and downs in figure skating, but now those shifts have been further thrown awry by other huge impacts such as the new scoring system and global changes in the sport. The fascinating explosion of figure skating in China and Japan has enlivened the sport during a drastic downturn in interest and fan base in Western countries. The resulting impacts might be noticed, but they are never really explored or talked about in any significant, constructive or enlightening way.
  6. Alex Forrest

    Alex Forrest Banned Member

    And frankly, can you even IMAGINE Kwan even coming close to Level 3's for ANYTHING? She had the princess package, was conservative and never said a thing controversial. She would never be competititve. And I admire her, but let's be real, it's a new sport. Kwan would maybe place 14th at worlds with her skill set if she was transplanted to today. She wasn't a goddess of skating, just the goddess of sponsors and Christine Brennan's (I still think something is UP with Brennan. Girl ain't right.)
  7. Kabooke

    Kabooke Active Member

    First, you cannot cast aspersions at someone for "not being controversial". Being smart about your image and how to handle the media is an admirable thing for a public figure. Most especially if that figure is a low key and private person in their everyday lives. Second, no one ever claimed IMO Kwan to be the most naturally gifted skater. She technically was above average, consistent, and dedicated. All she needed to be. As artistry is subjective, one can claim whatever they wish. Her artistry and ability to move people has won favor with the majority. The new system came as she was in the twilight of her career and her body was giving way to injury. Had she been younger under the new system who is to say. As it was when she did compete the one time under it, one missed jump(routine for her) is all that kept her off the podium. Bottom line, rail against Brennan, all you'd like. However, keep the lazy assessments(and obviously biased) of Kwan's abilities out of it.
    Sparks and (deleted member) like this.
  8. Alex Forrest

    Alex Forrest Banned Member

    Umm, are you Brennan's ghost writer???? I refuse to believe that you would think a criticism of Kwan's technical skills, since you seem to pass yourself off as someone who knows better, is warranted with 'lazy asssessments' and other biased and accusatory commentary. I think any reasonable non-NancyKwan lover would rate her spins as maybe the 900th best in skating history? Her smallish, though extremely consistent triple jumps including flutz, until she got old around maybe 20th? And yet, here you are, it really is a wonder. I've met you and have allowed you to tape and quote me. Best line in "Frances": Can't you find a more dignified way of making a living? You are misquoting me.
  9. Nikki Lee

    Nikki Lee Active Member

    The US is now a world force in Dance....we used to be a world force in Ladies. Things change. That's life.
  10. Jammers

    Jammers Well-Known Member

    But there is no excuse for a country like the USA to not be competitive and finally get a world class Lady again. Not with as many girls that get into the sport.
  11. Robeye

    Robeye Curiously curious

    Very interesting post, VGT (I trust you will excuse the abbreviation; your username is a pain in the butt to type without mistake ;)), and a lot of thought-provoking points.

    Some musings-out-loud:

    -If I were involved in marketing skating to the US audience, and from a strictly pragmatic, ratings/popularity perspective, one of the first questions I would ask myself is: who is my target audience?

    -While I agree that considerations/perceptions of economics and class mean that skating is not a sport of universal appeal, my own view is that this is not the primary hurdle. Whites and (a far smaller sliver of) Asians still constitute about three-quarters of the American population. Hockey captures a much larger share of the audience even though it is also cold, white, and expensive to play :D. Golf is individual and elitist and expensive, but the PGA Tour has one of the best TV contracts in sports, and its finest proponents (Tiger, maybe Phil, and possibly Rory in the future) are billionaires.

    -What is the difference between figure skating, on the one hand, and the NHL and the PGA, on the other? I will be blunt and politically incorrect: it is that women, when analyzed from a macro perspective, do not choose to watch sports.

    When men have the opportunity to control of the remote, they choose to tune into sports a very high percentage of the time. Although the vast majority will want to watch the NFL or the NBA or MLB, the pool is nevertheless so large that even a smaller percentage (ie the NHL) or a niche percentage (ie PGA Golf) works, in the latter case because the quality of the product marketing demographics are off the charts.

    When women win the Battle for the Remote, however, a far, far smaller percentage will choose a sports program. This is why almost every female sports league that I can think of (basketball, soccer) is only marginally viable. Even the LPGA is marginal, despite sharing the great marketing demographics with the PGA, because taking a niche slice of what is itself a niche pool of female sports fans yields an audience that is too tiny in absolute terms to cross the threshold of marketing critical mass.

    Tennis is the exception that proves the rule. Women's tennis benefits from the fact that its flagship championships are part of a combined tournament with the men. If one looks at the WTA and the ATP tournament attendance/ratings on a standalone basis, however, I believe that a familiar pattern reveals itself. Nevertheless, it is revealing, it seems to me, that the gap between WTA and ATP viewership is nowhere near the gap between the LPGA and the PGA (where men and women do not play in the same tournaments).

    -Which begs the question: doesn't figure skating also have men's and women's divisions in the same competition, as well as pairs/dance (analogous, I suppose, to mixed doubles)?

    The disparity in popular appeal between tennis and figure skating, in my view, is one that you allude to in your post: the vast majority of men simply aren't interested in skating.

    There have always been more male tennis fans than female, but with canny marketing and the physical evolution of the women's game, men became educated and acclimated to watching womens (or ladies, if you're at Wimbledon) tennis. The fact that a lot of the players were cute did not hurt at all. They were starting with a much more substantial fan base for mens tennis, and the challenge for the women's game was how to encourage "cross-over" appeal.

    For figure skating, the problem is that the sport has never appealed to the broader male audience who constitute the vast majority of sports viewers, while the broader female audience has generally chosen not to watch sports at all. The problem here is growth, not cross-over.

    -What can be done? In summary, and IMO, there are proximate solutions that, while they may be cliched, are almost certain, while longer-term solutions are very tenuous and iffy.

    The short-term solution: there is no substitute for a telegenic champion ice-queen. The general male sports audience may not know a salchow from a milk-cow, but they like chanting "USA!!! USA!!!", they enjoy indulging in an off-key group rendition of "We are the Champions" without realizing that the lead singer was gay, and will never think that watching attractive ladies in short skirts sucks. (I say this as a heterosexual male who likes a lot of sports, but who also likes figure skating)

    The general female audience who usually spend very little of their time choosing to watch sports, will watch skating because of the pageantry and sequins and the Miss Universe/reality-show-winner frisson of it all when there is a homegrown champion.

    As they used to say in the bad old days of Hollywood, women want to be her, and men want to be with her :cool:.

    -If nothing else changes, though, the proximate solution is not only temporary, but it does not alter the situation for mens skating (couples is a bit of a confusing marketing case, as is mixed-doubles in tennis). I think you are right that, for male audiences generally (and, I might add, perhaps even for a large portion of the broader female audience), figure skating has always been characterized for a very long time as 'unmanly/femininine/effeminate'.

    Here's a thought: figure skating should unabashedly embrace what it is, and not try to artificially "change" its perception and persona. My own view is that the characteristics of skating (particularly the aesthetic aspects, both in it's competitive objectives and in its outward pageantry) will never be of compelling interest to the vast majority of the male sports audience, at least in my lifetime. Tennis' blueprint for success will not work for skating. Trying to swim against this tide would require radical changes to skating that would make it unrecognizable. What would be the point of that?

    Instead, I would speculatively suggest that the focus of marketing ought to be squarely on the female audience. The general version of the question is: how do you grow a consistent and long-term female sports viewership? The specific version: and of that respectably sized female sporting audience, how do you get a respectable slice for skating?

    This is, in my view, one of the last great frontiers in sports marketing.
  12. Rock2

    Rock2 Well-Known Member

    Bang on.
    I have no issues with what Brennan wrote except for the choice of the word "chaos" because she's layering judgment onto what she's observing...so she's off the mark there IMHO.

    Yes, yes, yes. ISU and federations need to decide what they want to be. Since 2002 the focus has shifted to becoming a more legitimate and athletic sport in the eyes of the IOC. Hence the new judging system.

    Behind all that there is interest in money and that continues. In order to make money you need sponsors and other revenues such as from TV rights and gate receipts. To get that you need fans watching live or on TV. Because prob 90% of fans are not hard core fans of the sport and all of its nuances, you drive numbers through star power. That's the issue keeping butts out of the seats more than IJS although that's a part of it. So many people watching are fans of skatERS more than skatING.

    Some people argue that IJS is killing artistry in the sport and therefore fan interest. If that was the case you'd still see big audiences for show skating where there are few rules. Skating interest has declined in both eligible and ineligible enviros because of the lack of star power. Fewer big names coming out of eligible (esp in North America) to feed pro circuits and prop up audiences there.

    So having said all that, we go back to Christine. Her observation about star power is totally true. But if the objective is about legitimizing the sport and decreasing subjectivity then who cares? ISU is on the right track and should focus on improving IJS so that the best skater always wins. That's where I have a problem with "chaos" because the glass is half full perspective to me now says "equal opportunity".
    To the extent anybody wants to suggest that declining revenues is a 'problem' in skating is where you also point to star power as being the cause of the problem. Up until that point it's purely an observation.

    The challenge then becomes how do you sell a sport to the less informed 'fan' where you don't have a face you can put on all the posters a year in advance in a sport of more equal opportunity? I suspect that's where all the discussion is behind the scenes.
  13. cbd1235

    cbd1235 Well-Known Member

    I'm sorry for picking on you, but it's garbage opinions like this that are hurting the US's skating program and US skaters. It doesn't matter what country you are, champions cannot just be "made". People need to stop bashing the US skaters and their "shortcomings" and instead celebrate little battles won, and improvement.

    No world class lady? How about instead focusing on how Ashley Wagner has made considerable improvement over the past year and is flirting with "world class" as you say it. Or maybe focus on how Mirai seems to be getting back into the swing of things after falling off the balance beam for a couple years. Heck, focus on how Gracie Gold has tremendous talent that needs a couple years of nurture and support. She could be great one day, but if everyone keeps bashing her and expecting her to be a skating consistency robot, then that may not happen. Celebrate these ladies, or any other ladies the US has! Don't criticize the ladies because there's no "once in a decade talent" AKA Yuna Kim competing for the US.

    If people started getting behind and cheering on the skaters instead of constantly bashing them since they're "not good enough", then maybe the talented skaters in the US could flourish. Come on guys...
  14. overedge

    overedge Janny uber

    She's writing in USA Today. Take a look at how long most of their articles are. And as for investigative series, this is the kind of topic USA Today does investigative reporting on. Not figure skating.
  15. Zemgirl

    Zemgirl Well-Known Member

    USA Today isn't generally known for investigative reporting, though, so I'm not going to blame Brennan for not being able to get that sort of stuff published on skating. They do publish longer articles in the sports section, but they've had so many awful redesigns that I can't bring myself to read anything there. At least Phil Hersh's columns don't hurt my eyes (they do at times hurt my brain).

    I don't consider Brennan a very good writer when it comes to skating; for one thing, it's not her main focus. But in addition, while she surely has a lot of experience reporting on it and many connections in the sport, I find her biased, at times uninformed, occasionally unpleasant and pretty much unreadable. Her work in the 2009-10 season might as well have been written by Frank Carroll, it was so slanted toward Lysacek. I'd actually rather read Hersh, and some other skating reporters, and several bloggers. And, of course, a lot of people on FSU.
  16. overedge

    overedge Janny uber

    And I'm not blaming her either. As you say, USA Today rarely does investigative reporting, but when they do it is on topics like the one I linked to.
  17. OliviaPug

    OliviaPug Well-Known Member

    Thanks goodness Kwan could still take you out at the knees with her footwork, which, even in the days of 6.0, was still technically sound and very difficult. It's ridiculous to debate Kwan's technical prowess. Technically, she was a master. You can pick apart any skater you wish, including Kwan, but Kwan was extremely well-rounded in every area, including her spins, and has/had some of the best blades in the business.

    ETA: Wow, I can't believe I'm defending Kwan -- a skater who really needs no defense since her body of work speaks for itself.
    kwanette and (deleted member) like this.
  18. kwanfan1818

    kwanfan1818 I <3 Kozuka

    With team sports, the teams are associated with a locale or a school. While there are individual stars like Jordan and Gretzky (for me, Ichiro) that people will follow no matter what, and dominant teams like the Yankees that have cross-regional appeal, the moving parts of teams tend to be interchangeable. (That's how after decades of seamless fandom, you can suddenly realize from glancing at a yearbook that the oldest players were born when you were in college, and the youngest when you were in high school :slinkaway.)

    The popularity of Men's tennis went in the US took a dive after the Sampras, Agassi, and the curly-haired blondish guy who played the guitar and said his hobby was sleeping (and whose name I can't remember) were no longer dominant. Somehow, tennis managed to market international players and create a brand for itself.

    Given that women are the primary market for skating, I think USFS made a huge mistake by trying to pretend Johnny Weir didn't exist. FFS, there are older women who still think Liberace was straight, as I'm sure there are women who think that Weir's marriage is just a phase.
  19. aftershocks

    aftershocks Well-Known Member

    Say what now, about U.S. Ladies Figure Skating, Ms. Brennan???

    :cheer: :swoon: Yay!!! You go ladies!!!

    (and the final group hasn't even skated yet)

    And, okay, the top three performances went downhill soon after Gao and Hicks left the ice. But if there's "chaos" it seems to be turning pretty quickly into thrilling anticipation of many hard-fought future battles for the U.S. ladies crown. There's lots of depth and huge talent among the ladies who skated tonight. I hope they all stay healthy and stay determined.
    Last edited: Jan 27, 2013
  20. ros01

    ros01 Member

    Actually, US tennis keeps bemoaning its lack of stars and the USTA is constantly worrying about development, popularity, etc. I've often thought the two sports were very similar in having to deal with the rise of international players. But tennis has done better, probably due to the involvement of international corporations like Nike. It's in their interests to push the dominant stars whoever they are, in every market. Maybe that's what skating needs, ha!
  21. TheIronLady

    TheIronLady Well-Known Member

    This was a crazy nationals because the judges did play some games. Still, Ashley clearly won, so there was nothing chaotic about that. She had the best short program, and her free skate was held together and not a disaster. She can do very well at worlds. Sasha Cohen fell all over the place at 2003 Nationals (she had more problems than Ashley) and went into Worlds as a challenger anyway. Having Ashley and Gracie is not like having a Kwan, but that is unnecessary. No country has a Kwan right now. It is a different competitive system.
    Last edited: Jan 27, 2013
  22. Jammers

    Jammers Well-Known Member

    After this weekend watching the youngsters at Euro's and US Nationals push the veterans to the very edge makes Sochi look much more exciting now. It won't just be the same old skaters from the last few years in the running .
  23. orbitz

    orbitz Well-Known Member

    I have a feeling a youngster from Europe will win the Olympic gold.
  24. leesaleesa

    leesaleesa Active Member

    After watching the competition last night, I have come to the conclusion that Sandra and Scott as commentators are part of the problem. Neither have anything to say that is either entertaining or educational, IMO. Scotty with his foot stuck in 6.0 and his constipated grunts coupled with Sandra and her vaugue snivelling about soft and pretty and that she doesn't care if a skater URs kill the enjoyment for me.

    Dick and Peggy may not have had much to say in the way of being instructive, but they were part of the show and I always looked forward to see what malaprop Uncle Dick would throw, and marvel at Peggy's delivery of such underhanded gems as "She folds like a cheap card table". Not just a card table, but a cheap one. Ouch.
  25. Skittl1321

    Skittl1321 Well-Known Member

    Sandra and Scott are horrible commentators. I watched with a room full of non-skating fans last night (admittedly, they were only half paying attention) and one of the guys said "skating makes a lot more sense when someone explains a bit of what is going on" when I would tell them things about the rules. (I'd like to think they can now all tell the difference between an edge jump and a toe jump at least...) After Mirai's score someone said something about it just being so subjective, and I brought up a football ref not always making the call, or how they sometimes favor a team- and the guys all thought that was a good comparison, it is subjective, but it is designed to be as objective as it can be. They all liked how each jump earned a certain number of points- a flip more than a toe loop, etc. We likened that to "but the ball went into the hoop, how come he got 2 points and he got 3 points?" because all they saw was "they both did jumps", but they did different ones, with different qualities.

    I tried really hard not to have too much of a running commentary (ie: be annoying), but it was pointed out that I did a much better job that the actual commentators! I mean, the people at home can tell for themselves whether she is a pretty skater! Tell them what moves they are doing, and what kind of GOE to expect, etc. It would have been REALLY useful to have a commentator mention how badly Mirai was URing during the program, for example, even I didn't notice that until her scores were so bad (I then showed all my friends how you can find protocols online, but of course none of them will ever look at them).
  26. dots

    dots Well-Known Member


    Really? She actually said that? :lol:

    I love you Peggy :2faced:
  27. kwanfan1818

    kwanfan1818 I <3 Kozuka

    It couldn't hurt, because even though Nike is now sponsoring Wagner, it takes deeper support to make an impact.

    Average US tennis fans will follow Federer, Nadal, and Djokovic in a way average US skating fans won't follow Chan, Takahashi, or Joubert. Every major has hours of coverage over more than a week, and there are simple things to the coverage, like the little score graphic that always appears in a corner, telling a channel surfer who is playing and what the score is, which how far into the match it is and the current game score. If you don't know the first names of figure skaters, and you miss the three second graphic with their names at the beginning of the program or the five-ten seconds with the scoring graphics, they could be anybody.

    Also, athletes in sports like tennis show emotion constantly, while skaters are taught to hold it in, even after the judges heads are down in the scoring. Even female tennis players are allowed to act like Don Baldwin in KnC, where in skating, that's as :drama: as it gets.
  28. Philly2034

    Philly2034 Banned Member

    This competition was fixed.

    Caroline Zhang rotated all her jumps had decent speed, and STILL finished 10 points behind Ashley Wagner in the long program.

    Yasmin Siraj and Samantha Cesario skated two clean programs WITH NO DOWNGRADESS and still finished well behind Ashley (overall).

    Angela Wang does a triple lutz-triple toe-double toe and finishes behind Ashley Wagner.

    Figure skating nowadays is nothing more than a beauty pageant.

    USFSA should change its name to TATOI (Teenagers and Tiaras on Ice).
  29. Cachoo

    Cachoo Well-Known Member

    I am so looking foward to the ladies competition for emerging stars in Europe and North America and the old guard (still young ladies) from Asia. I hope the event is dazzling.
  30. TheIronLady

    TheIronLady Well-Known Member

    Last edited: Jan 28, 2013