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Figure Skating's Popularity Decline In The US

Discussion in 'Great Skate Debate' started by Philly2034, Feb 1, 2013.

  1. OliviaPug

    OliviaPug Well-Known Member

    People complain about everything! :lol:

    The motivation just isn't there for most folks to try to understand the scoring system, such that it is. And, as far as 6.0 was concerned, we as fs fans know that there was a mystifying element to that as well, but the average, lay-viewer simply equated a good program to landing most of the jumps (since all that was ever televised was the second to last or last group of skaters -- the best of the best). And the scores usually reflected that.

  2. gkelly

    gkelly Well-Known Member

    Assuming that we're talking specifically about popularity of figure skating as a spectator sport in the US, I think we have three different stakeholders with different interests:

    NBC (or whichever networks have the rights to broadcast elite skating competitions)
    US Figure Skating
    the ISU

    NBC just wants to get people to tune into their broadcasts -- they have no vested interest in promoting skating as a sport; focusing on scandals and personalities probably serves their interests better -- they certainly have no interest in getting casual viewers to travel to competitions instead of watching on TV or to take up skating themselves. If anything, the network would prefer that the fans are home watching their sitcoms or reality shows than out being active at a rink.

    The ISU needs to balance the needs of different federations from countries with different media models and viewer demographics against the demands of the IOC for greater objectivity and sporting accountability, and the needs of international skaters from weak JGP entrants (or lower, at least within Europe) to world champions. But among other needs, they also benefit from the sport being popular enough with viewers in wealthy countries such as the US to attract lucrative broadcast deals.

    US Figure Skating benefits from broadcast contracts for US events including Nationals and Skate America. They would also benefit from turning more casual viewers into enthusiastic fans and/or participants.

    Therefore I think it might behoove them to produce ads, to be run during the NBC broadcasts that would invite interested viewers to get more involved than just sitting on the couch watching a broadcast.

    In place of the generic ads identifying USFS as the US governing body for figure skating by showing young beginners and familiar champions, during Nationals (in January, which they have already designated as National Skating Month), they could also have something that encourages viewers with a rink nearby to get involved in National Skating Month activities and other beginner lessons (and maybe beyond) at other times of year. Other brief spots directing viewers to IceNetwork and to the USFS website where they can look up protocols and more detailed rules and explanations and watch additional videos and learn where to purchase tickets for next year's Nationals or other elite events or how to find live competitions close to home of high enough level to be of interest to interested fans. Just 10-30 seconds at a time.

    Most casual viewers don't want more than to be entertained for a couple of hours by human drama and the athletic and artistic aspects of what the TV shows the skaters doing on the ice. But those who love it and want more would benefit from being given a clue where to find more.
  3. MacMadame

    MacMadame Cat Lady-in-Training

    What I would like to see is the elements as they are called, the total TES score as it adds up, a mark by any element that will be reviewed, and then if at least 75% of the judges have put in GOE and the average is between 1 and 1.99, a +, ++ if it's between 2 & 2.9, - for -1 to -1.99, etc.

    The thing is, before we had CoP, some of us who tend to get overfocused on details (of which I am definitely one) were always going on about how figure skating could never go to CoP because how could you decide how many points this complicated spin got over that complicated spin (the explanation was a lot longer, of course). Then CoP came out and it had levels and I went :duh: It was a big lesson to me that I tend to over-complicate things and that it doesn't have to be that complicated and can still be relatively accurate.

    So, yes, sometimes if you are calling elements, later the call will be reversed. And sometimes a skater will do 3 jumps in a row and by the time they all flash on the screen you will miss the first 1 or 2. But most of the time that doesn't happen. So most of the time having a running total of TES without GOE modification and the upcoming planned element and the just completed element will work just fine. And it will be a lot more info that we have now.

    Plus, it will, hopefully, help the commentators. Because if NBC is showing a possible TES of 55 and the score comes up as 45 or 65, then they have some explaining to do. And that's when they can talk about GOE and under-rotation calls and the like. Really, all they have to do is say something like "their base TES was 55 but with all those reviews and the quality issues we saw, I bet they get some deductions" and what audience member couldn't understand that? It's really not that complicated. Or for someone like Patrick Chan, they could say "the base TES was 55, but with the quality of his skating, I bet he gets a huge bonus via GOE". Again, not complicated.

    This is the sort of thing commentators in other sports do all the time without the world ending. :lol: Seriously, I sometimes watch sports I don't normally follow when I'm bored and nothing else is on tv and some commentators do a very good job of explaining what is going on to people who don't know all the rules. I don't think this is so impossible to do for figure skating. It's clearly impossible for some commentators. But not for good ones. Or even just average ones.

    well, yeah. :)

    As they do today.
  4. Aussie Willy

    Aussie Willy Hates both vegemite and peanut butter

    I think you would find with most casual viewers, they really could not rats about how the result is achieved, they just want a result to be fair. I know during the last Olympics most people just watched the skating, enjoyed it and really didn't care about the result. Even fellow skaters at my rink didn't look too closely at how the results were achieved. It is the figure skating fans who mull over the detail and want to analysis everything to the endth degree.

    At the end of the day, it is a system that is designed to produce a result and endeavours to make sure the best skater wins. It might have a complicated way of getting there. But it really is that simple.
  5. isamelia

    isamelia Active Member

    kwanfan1818, you need to do a seminar and require Scott & Sandra to attend and take the test afterwards!

    Honestly, they alienate viewers when they don't bother to concern themselves with the basics that you point out above of the "new" judging system that is well over 10 years old- not new at all anymore. I know Tracy Wilson attempts to do a little of this, but the commentators are doing the viewers a disservice by not having a firm understanding of what they are watching. If they refuse to learn it, why should viewers care, or watch figure skating?
  6. morqet

    morqet rising like a phoenix

    You've hit the nail on the head. I only really started paying attention to skating during the 2006 Olympics, but had no problem picking up how the scoring system worked, because the BBC commentators explained things in a simple, straightforward manner. When I listen to US commentators however... no wonder the popularity of the sport is declining there, there's nothing that can help the casual viewer, and equally nothing to interest the more committed fan because there's no technical analysis. It's really not a complicated system to explain - kwanfan1818's paragraph was perfect, maybe add a sentence for each event saying something like "for the Short Dance, a score over 65 is very good and over 70 is among the best in the world" to give the scores some context. That Dick Button can get away with admitting that he doesn't understand the new system as he did in that article linked earlier in the thread blows my mind. If you can't be bothered to understand it, you don't deserve a position in the media covering the sport.
  7. kwanfan1818

    kwanfan1818 I <3 Kozuka

    Australia didn't have much skin in the game, though: Cheltzie Lee was the only participant, and she wasn't in the running for a medal. Viewers in Australia either had to like figure skating in general or specific other skaters to watch. That the Men's Olympic FS got as high ratings as they did in the US suggests that having a medal contender gets more people interested than they normally would be (and that the Super Bowl wasn't on at the same time).

    That's TV spectator. The other group of stakeholder spectators are those who go to live competitions -- US qualifiers, US Nationals, early season competitions, Skate America, and any championship in the US -- and to a smaller extent in Canada. Then you have the stakeholders who have more financial interest than probably the USFS itself: the parents and older skaters who pour their life savings into the hole that is known as the ice rink. USFS provides the shell, but the bigger millions spent by parents/skaters provide the product and keep the coaches, rinks, equipment manufacturers, etc. in business, without which USFS or US TV would have any product.

    If it is a given that the butts on sofas that US TV is counting to do its cost/benefit analysis are bunches of older women, and that the chances of capturing the attention of the young, male demographic that is key to advertisers in a cost-effective way is slim-to-none, then yes, TV will cater to those audiences. They also wouldn't be the first to skew commentary towards entertainment, nostalgia, and/or to the audience's disinterest in/hostility to change or to dumb down content. What do they lose at most, 2000 people who are so disgusted with their coverage that they'll skip it altogether and watch international coverage on the Internet or download better quality videos from FS Vids?


    They'll certain take it any way they can get it, even though interest in the US doesn't approach the level of lucrativeness as it once did. I remember reading an article here talking about Sale and Pelletier, saying that by 2002, the peak was already over, although S/P benefited from the tail end. Since they competed exclusively under 6.0 (OBO), it was already over before CoP reared its head. Eight years isn't a very long peak, assuming 1994 was the start of the boom, and although there were TV contracts in place that extended past the peak, the ISU knew long before going into the post-big TV contracts that the money wouldn't be there going forward. I don't know if the ISU did anything specific to support it, or if they lucked into an emerging Asian market, but they certainly lucked into the resurgence of skating in Russia, both post a downtime after the economic upheavals after the breakup of the Soviet Union, and the opportunities sought and granted after lucrative NA tours dried up.

    The question is, what does the money buy? More live coverage, even when the event starts at 11pm or 4am ET? More international coverage? Does the casual watcher care, or is s/he happy to watch something else? I know a lot of people who won't watch skating on the computer, but most die-hard fans will, if FSU is any indication. If US TV isn't the financial backbone of the ISU anymore, and other markets are, even if to a lesser degree, what is the problem? Surely the Asian and Russian markets don't care about the state of US skating: there are plenty of skaters to watch from all over.

    If Figure Skating is a niche sport and less popular in the US, what is the problem? People in the US competed in figure skating long before there was anything other than a live audience. They competed during the Depression. That elite skating in the US was, on the whole, a wealthy (or comfortable) person's sport, hasn't changed all that much. There has never been a nationally supported and sanctioned practice of finding athletes when young, subsidizing their training, and giving incentives to parents to send their kids away (good apartments, job security, acceptance of family members into university), like in Soviet Times, nor is there now a program for paying for training, housing, and conditioning costs of the most elite athletes, alleviating the massive parental contributions when the skaters make it, like in current-day Russia.

    It's not like USFS took TV money when it was rolling and tried?/was able to change the economics of skating. USFS, just like Skate Canada, depends on parents spending thousands of dollars a year until those thousands turn into tens of thousands, and if they aren't wealthy, taking extra jobs, diverting family funds from their retirement and other children, mortgaging and re-mortgaging their houses, etc. to support it, aside from the lucky few skaters who have wealthy individual sponsors. Even though the popularity of skating has taken a dive, has the number of competitors gone down significantly? Do the USFS-sponsored grassroots skating programs really bring in that many more kids who wouldn't have learned to skate otherwise, maybe in the beginning skating programs in the rinks? If lack of popularity hurts adult skaters or recreational skaters, the average TV viewer doesn't care.

    As far as the GP going away, it could, but that is a factor of several resources needing to go dry: 1. The ISU, which pays prize money, the judges' travel costs and stipends (or does the sponsoring Fed pay this?), official travel for ISU officials, and I assume some administrative overhead 2. The sponsoring Federation, which pays for the skaters' travel and accommodations, 3. The event organizer. Most of the GP events have corporate sponsors (or who have on and off historically.) I don't know if the Federations subsidize the event organizer's expenses (if the Federation is not the event organizer). The ISU could continue to reduce prize money, because it's still money the top athletes need, and their travel expenses are paid, which is still more than internationals, which don't pay expenses and for which there is no prize money.

    Some of the GP events were stand-alone events before the GP existed. Were the ISU to disband the GP and only hold championships, it's possible at least some of these events would continue to be held as stand-alone events once again.

    Also, about commentating, when people complain that someone who falls gets any credit at all, since the jump failed, the analogy is diving, where almost every dive at the elite level gets points, even when the diver hits his head on the diving board or does crash landing, as long as it's not feet first. Greg Louganis got points after hitting his head and landing on his back on one dive (and then did the highest-scoring dive in the prelims on his next dive). Because it's cumulative.
  8. manhn

    manhn Well-Known Member

    But in the good ol days when figure skating was popular, we had skaters like Oksana Baiul and Ilia Kulik and Tara Lipinksi promptly leaving competition and turning professional (which I have no problems with, BTW). Now, people can't pay skaters like Fumie, Lysacek, Weir, Plushenko, and a Chinese skater to go away. I mean, Sandhu even came back!
  9. Aussie Willy

    Aussie Willy Hates both vegemite and peanut butter

    Well the only time the free to air network in Australia actually showed any of the Winter Olympics live was when there was a potential medal winner (Aerial skiing for example). The rest of it was delayed broadcast and even then it was pretty shoddy. Although they were absolutely fascinated by Johnny Weir and promoted him to the hilt. Although that was after a couple of the hosts of the broadcaster made disparaging comments about him being gay and received a lot of criticism for it so it was kind of an apology for making fun of him. They even got him to do Olympics fashion commentary. Which one day I must upload so others can see it because it was really funny.
  10. loulou

    loulou Let It Snow

    I read many of you saying that you love watching bold coverage, and I've always wondered how.

    I understand the travesty of a bad coverage (I once heard "What a great beam that would have been, if not for that scary fall", about a Rulfova), but a good commentator adds to it, in my opionion.

    I know a former skater, expert coach, a lifetime on the ice, that tunes on a specific channel to hear a specific commentator. Of course the coach doesn't need help understanding the competition, but the commentator is able to add to the event.
  11. manhn

    manhn Well-Known Member

    Commentary is the most overrated part of a skating broadcast. If one network aired 10 skating programs but the commentary was done by the "legitimate rape" guy, and the other network aired 9 skating programs but the commentary was done by someone everyone likes (and who is that, btw?), I will take the network showing 10 programs. Quantity over quality--every single time.
  12. Skittl1321

    Skittl1321 Well-Known Member

    For non-rabid fans though commentary is important. I found that at my party where I was the only one watching Nationals, but everyone else watched because it is a normal think to point your head towards a TV people really wanted to know what the jumps were. They had no idea the difference between an axel and a salchow, but it was important to them to hear which one they did. (They kept asking me.) I also got asked if there was a difference between the spins skaters did? So non-skating fans really are that obtuse that they can't SEE a sit spin and a camel are different and want to be told that... maybe because they are football fans, and even though they fully understand those rules (and argue about referee rulings as much as we argue about GOE and PCS) they are used to being told what is happening- so much so that many go to live games with radios in their pocket to hear commentators.

    Personally, as a CW skater I have a hard time telling flips and lutzes apart when done CCW, just because I have to reverse my skating, so I like commentators when they actually call things (and even more when they call URs or edge calls) but I hate when they tell me "she has such a lovely quality on the ice".
  13. Japanfan

    Japanfan Well-Known Member

    Has this been confirmed, given that BOLD has been sold?
  14. WildRose

    WildRose Well-Known Member

    This. I avoid US coverage as much as I can, but I do tune in for US Nationals and to me its obvious why so many US fans hate COP and have stopped watching skating. For whatever reason, the commentators don't provide any technical information - its no wonder casual viewers are often frustrated by the results.
    CBC gives us much better technical analysis in Canada. Tracy and Kurt talk about levels, they tell us what is difficult and what isn't, we hear about ice coverage, where the jumps are placed, speed, entrances into jumps, landings, cheated jumps, etc, etc. Kurt will often explain the technical reason why a jump didn't work or why a skater might be having a problem with it. It's interesting, and it helps the audience to understand why programs are scored the way they are.
  15. Cherub721

    Cherub721 YEAH!

    Does anyone think the return of fluff pieces would help US viewership? Please don't :lynch: me. ;)

    As skating fans, we always want to the network to try to squeeze in that extra program. But perhaps for the casual fan, getting to know the skaters as people would draw them in. Whatever fluff pieces we do get today are of the "walking on the beach, contemplating my future, giving generic statements about how I am competing with myself and I just want to do my best" variety. There is very little actual personality shown. I remember the days when they used to go to Joubert's freaking house in France and interview his mom and we'd get to see his baby pics and find out his embarrassing nickname. There was Pasha the actress wannabe, Oksana the alcoholic orphan, karate loving Elvis, bad girls Tonya and Nicole vs the glamorous Nancy and Michelle, etc. If a pair or ice dance team was a couple that was generally highlighted.

    This does nothing to enhance skating's credibility as a sport, but it probably helped people relate to the skaters and actually invest in their performances. When I talk to people who don't really watch skating except for the Olympics, this is the kind of stuff they remember. I feel like it's more disconnected now. Like in Vancouver, I can't really explain it, but it felt like NBC kept telling us: look, "Yu-Na is really really popular in her country. See these magazine covers? A lot of people like her!" But I, as a viewer, didn't really get to know her at all.

    I don't think CoP has hurt that much, but I do not think it helped either. If there was any speculation that fans would come back to the sport upon their perception that the judging was now "fair," it clearly hasn't happened (either the fans don't perceive it as being any more fair, or they don't care that much). In fact, the 6.0 system was better for the entertainment aspect of skating. OMG, how could that Russian judge put Sarah in 10th place! Ohh, the French judge, the Ukranian judge, they're all so evil! And who could forget that stupid map showing how the eastern bloc judges voted for Oksana? :lol: A large segment of the public eats that crap up. It's the same reason they watch reality shows despite "hating" the judges.

    But the question is, as skating fans should we support focusing on the entertainment side of skating if it will increase the ratings, and perhaps result in more coverage, even if it damages the sport's credibility? Or honestly is it better to just watch a feed from some foreign country that shows all the skaters and is drama free (if only because you can't understand the language) so you can concentrate on the sport aspects?
  16. manhn

    manhn Well-Known Member

    The biggest skating human interest story at the 2010 Games was the death of Joannie's mother. Not sure if that compelled people to watch. I think it did, at least it did in Canada. There were enough stories of patrons in bars and restaurants stopping what they were doing to watch Joannie skate, and I don't think they would've done that just because she's Canadian.
  17. rvi5

    rvi5 Active Member

    I recall reading an article by a British writer, who said he would not typically watch figure skating. He joked..."who would want to watch it?". However, he did mention he tuned-in specifically to watch Joannie, and was praying..."please don't let her fall". Joannie's human interest story definately affected people, even outside of Canada.
    Last edited: Feb 7, 2013
  18. AndyWarhol

    AndyWarhol Well-Known Member

    i like the fluff pieces! bring them back
  19. gkelly

    gkelly Well-Known Member

    Without having done a careful study, I think that the numbers of competitors at U.S. regionals (juvenile through senior levels) peaked around 2004 or so; i.e., skaters who had started skating during the boom ears of the mid-late 1990s. Some large regions needed qualifying rounds for intermediate men around that time, and two levels of cuts for the juvenile and intermediate ladies.

    The numbers are down a bit since then. Several possible reasons would include a natural decline in new skaters taking up the sport as the television coverage declined; the state of the economy making it harder for parents to afford ice time and lessons for their kids; skaters of average and below-average ability (because of limited training time just as much as limited natural talent) choosing not to compete in qualifying competitions because IJS is too demanding or because they dislike IJS-style programs and choose to compete in other types of events instead. There has been a growth in participation in events such as synchronized skating, Theatre on Ice, Showcase, Solo Dance, competitive test track which caters more to recreational competitors who spend less time training. Some of these disciplines didn't really even exist 10 years ago, much less 20 or 30.

    Without having checked the actual numbers, I would not be surprised if the overall membership of USFS is comparable to or higher than it was 10 years ago even though the numbers at regionals are somewhat lower. There are more different ways to participate now.

    Certainly membership in my own club is at an all-time high -- synchro skating seems to fuel a big part of that. This will vary by location, especially the state of the economy and availability of rinks in various parts of the country.

    Also I think there are more clubs and more club competitions, although that may fluctuate.

    Numbers of adult skaters might also be slightly lower, but plateaued at a higher level than 20+ years ago before adult skating really took off.

    So in general I don't think participation is really hurting, but I don't think USFS can afford to get complacent about serving the needs of different groups of members, not just elite-track competitors.
  20. Iceman

    Iceman Well-Known Member

    I didn't see any promo ads on tv about US Nationals this year? Did anyone else?
  21. kwanfan1818

    kwanfan1818 I <3 Kozuka

    Where do they get their money to serve these needs? Are they taking whatever TV money there is and using that? Is most of the their money from membership fees? Do they get any revenues from Skate America and US Nationals?

    I'm trying to figure out the impact of a decline in the popularity of championship figure skating.
  22. TheIronLady

    TheIronLady Well-Known Member

    Oh come on. America would never have found the 1988, 1992, or 1994 Olympics interesting or exciting had they had some Chinese announcer. It was all about the storytelling. In 1994 Connie Chung and David Letterman were even in on it. It was never just the showing that made skating a ratings success, though the producers and camera technicians deserve full credit for the sport's fan base for their brilliant work.
  23. spikydurian

    spikydurian Well-Known Member

    Now I am convinced that tragedy or drama is required to make figure skating popular. :D
  24. cruisin

    cruisin Banned Member

    Ah, where is Tonya Harding when you need her :D
  25. gkelly

    gkelly Well-Known Member

    I'm far from an expert on the financial aspects. Would have to do some research to answer any questions definitively. Maybe someone else here knows more than I do.

    Most of the stuff that happens at the grassroots level such as club competitions are funded by the clubs and the participants, and Headquarters or the top volunteer leadership don't get involved at all. E.g., once the decision to was made to add the Competitive Test Track option and the rules for it were developed by the appropriate volunteer committee and incorporated into the rulebook, it doesn't cost the association anything. Clubs can offer it at their nonqualifying events, and skaters pay their entry fees to compete in those levels instead of in IJS levels if that's what they prefer. Probably the largest numbers of participants in that track are at lower (non-IJS) levels anyway. So the main financial impact would be attracting new members at an earlier point in their skating development and retaining some skaters at middle/upper levels who might have quit if they felt they couldn't keep up with the qualifying level requirements.

    Solo dance and National Showcase now have national championships, so that one event each per year would get some funding from the USFS, but the qualifiers to get there all happen at club competitions.

    Synchronized skating has been around longer and has a more developed competition structure, with sectional and national competitions and some top teams being sent to international events, which the federation funds.

    Competitors (teams in the case of synchro) do pay entry fees for qualifying competitions, but I don't know if that alone is enough to cover the costs of running those competitions.
  26. Paul

    Paul New Member

    Impacts in two ways. First, as i understand it, US TV revenue from the Skate America and US nationals would go to USFSA. I heard through the grapevine that the organizers of the GP get a contribution from the ISU if there is TV revenue for the ISU in that market. So there is a financial impact. Secondly, if you look at membership statistics in Canada which are reported by Skate Canada in their annual report, they tend to go up after success by a Canadian skater. So visibility and profile of the elite skaters helps drive kids to the rink to learn to skate. This makes sense to me. For sure there are many other factors such as affordability etc. I think to take the view that there is no connection is not realistic.
  27. loulou

    loulou Let It Snow

    I would chose otherwise, every single time. A good commentator is like a good teacher, or a good parent, or a good pal, the person that can make what's good even better, more interesting, more fun. Someone that sometimes complements you, sometimes meets you. You need that if you're a newbe, it adds to the event even if you're experienced.

    -- Are you asking me who is the commentator everyone likes? I mentioned no commentator everyone likes, but I did say a good commentator imo adds to the coverage, and I did mention a former skater, current coach, who needs no help to understand, that would take pleasure in a specific commenting.
  28. manhn

    manhn Well-Known Member

    How do people survive attending an event with no commentary?

    Practically every commentator these days is a former skater and no one is universally beloved. And a current coach? Yeah, Igor commentating during D&W or V&M's competition would turn out great.
  29. Skittl1321

    Skittl1321 Well-Known Member

    Many buy the skate bug radios so they can listen to commentary.

    It also seems like most of the serious fans at baseball and football games wear radios in their ears to listen to commentary too!
  30. WildRose

    WildRose Well-Known Member

    LOL, I record it and watch it on TV again when I go home because the commentators often provide information that isn't available even to the most diehard fan.
    As for current coaches, Tracy Wilson coaches with Brian Orser - I've never heard anyone complain about her commentating on events that her skaters or former skaters are in. Personally I think it's an advantage when the commentators are skaters, coaches &/or choreographers who are still actively involved in the sport.