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Figure Skating's Popularity Decline In The US

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

  1. MacMadame

    MacMadame Cat Lady-in-Training

    And I agree with you as well. I do think USFS is doing a decent job with what it's got, but I also think there is room for improvement. (Well, isn't there always? :D )
    Most of the GP was show on NBC the same weekend of the competition this year. One or two events were shown one week later. 4CCs was shown on Universal Sports LIVE as it happened.

    Besides, figure skating didn't get less popular because it disappeared off broadcast tv. It disappeared off broadcast tv because it got less popular. (As Aussie Willy implies.)

    I believe some historical perspective is in order... I"ll split that off into a separate post.
  2. MacMadame

    MacMadame Cat Lady-in-Training

    When I was growing up, skating was almost never on tv at all. We watched a few hours of only the major competitions often months after they happened on Saturday's on ABC's Wide World of Sports. 1960 was the first televised Olympics and we marveled. I have vague memories of watching Tenley Albright win but I was pretty young so maybe I am "remembering" from watching repeats of the coverage I saw when I got older.

    By the time of Peggy Fleming though, my family were definitely fans who watched figure skating whenever it came on tv. My mom even followed it in the newspaper and magazines and would tell me who the players were when we watched. (She knew all the gossip and they didn't talk about who had the skating mom from hell on tv so she must have read articles to get that.) I would say that I was a casual fan because I watched skating when I came across it but didn't go looking for it and she was a slightly less than casual fan because she'd note when Nationals and Worlds were on most years and make a point to watch them.

    But the real fans were all very involved in the sport maybe being a judge or having a kid in the sport or skating themselves. The rest of us would miss Worlds entirely one year because we didn't notice it would be on tv and things like that, but these guys would do things like read the rule book, travel to skating competitions and knew about competitions that were never shown on tv.

    What brought new fans into the sport of figure skating in those days? The Olympics to be sure as USA had a contender in Ladies every time. We churned out the Ice Princesses and Girl Next Doors like clockwork. But also? The Ice Capades! And other shows like it. Even families like ours with little money would save up so we could see the Ice Capades once a year. Given this, it's really no wonder that figure skating's audience skewed so heavily female!

    This remained true up until The Whack. At that point, a lot of factors converged at once to change how figure skating was experienced and viewed. First, the internet got involved. Now figure skating fans could connect and the ones among us who were so inclined could "geek out" over skating the way our neighbors and friends geek out over baseball, football, softball, etc. Before that, it was mostly people involved in local clubs who experienced figure skating that way. Then, The Whack focused attention on skating so people who might be inclined to "geek out" were exposed to it.

    That led to dramatically increased tv coverage which allowed people who didn't want to be fans that way -- what I think of as the "casual fan" -- to also be able to experience figure skating without having to be such a geek that they scoured the sports section of the paper every March so they'd know when Worlds would be on Wide World of Sports.

    However, at the same time that The Whack was focusing attention on our sport and increasing tv ratings, other factors were conspiring to reduce skating's audience. Tv audiences were fragmenting and moving to cable. The younger generations were watching less tv in general and spending more time on the internet. Extreme sports were gaining popularity and skating couldn't compete with that.

    So here were are...

    Skating is not shown on tv as much as it was in the 90s and early 2000s. But it's still shown on tv WAY more than it was prior to The Whack. I mean before that we got Euros -- maybe -- or maybe they'd just show the top routine of someone who could challenge a top American during the yearly Nationals broadcast, Nationals and Worlds. There was World Pros outside the eligible world and .... well, that was about it really. What we call the GP never existed as an organized circuit but many of the competitions existed but they weren't shown on tv as a general rule and 4CCs didn't exist either.

    So it was Nationals, Euros, Worlds and -- every four years -- the Olympics plus pro comps and shows and tv specials. That's it.

    So these days even if you only look at Broadcast tv, you still have more than that. If you add in cable, we have even more. And, if you look at the Interent well, we have pretty much everything.

    And, the thing is, the internet is the future. Some day there won't be Broadcast TV and we'll watch everything via Broadband streaming IMO. So USFS has absolutely done the right thing by investing in Ice Network. It's the future and it's the best way to cater to figure skating fans.

    But, you are saying, how can figure skating get new fans if it's not on Broadcast tv? By going where the fans are! New fans aren't on broadcast tv. Young kids are on the internet. They watch "tv" via Hulu Plus and Netflix streaming and that will only get more and more true.

    The younger ones still go to Disney on Ice, just like my family went to the Ice Capades so there's an opportunity to advertise to them there (and I'm pretty sure USFS does though my oldest is 14 now so I no longer have personal experience to know for sure). They are also on Twitter and Tumblr and Facebook and so is figure skating.

    IMO trying desperately to get more hours of figure skating on US broadcast tv is a dead-end for USFS and ISU. They should get as many as they can because it's nothing to sneeze at. But it's not going to make or break the sport going forward IMO.

    And all this whining about figure skating's decline is really whining that the world is changing and we old fogies don't want to change with it. I know I want to keep watching figure skating on broadcast tv. It's what I'm used to and I have an enormous HD tv and it's all set up for broadcast and cable. Trying to figure out how to watch tv on the internet is a colossal PITA, I've found. But luckily I'm a tech head and our HD tv is over 15 years old so our new one will probably be "internet ready' whatever the hell that means and I bet I figure it out in spite of myself. :lol:

    The real question to me is if USFS will figure out how to appeal to the young kids that are now being exposed to figure skating -- the ones who think a sport isn't exciting if you can't break your neck -- and will be able to market it's stars effectively so that it continues to "feed the machine" as everyone who says that success breeds fan is correct and appealing to the youngsters coming up is important to the health of any sports. More important than how many hours it's on broadcast tv!
  3. reckless

    reckless Well-Known Member

    In the discussion about broadcasts and commenting, I didn't see anyone address my biggest gripe about how skating is presented to American viewers (apologies if anyone else made this point). It's not aired like it is a competitive sport.

    You wouldn't air a baseball game and say, we're just going to cut the 7th and 8th batters in the order from the competition, but skating does that all the time. We don't get short programs aired in many cases, so viewers turn on the broadcast and are told -- not given a chance to see -- that X skater is in first, Y skater is in second, and Z skater is in third. Then they might see a random skater who is in 10th place, and then the top 5 or 6. And when the final scores appear, there are a bunch of names of skaters we didn't see. How is that acceptable coverage of a sport? A football or basketball broadcast doesn't skip the third quarter and go directly to the fourth. Hell, as far as I can tell, even X-Games and bull riding competitions are more complete in what they show of the competition than figure skating broadcasts.

    Figure skating coverage also doesn't constantly show us the scores so we can see who needs what to win. That would be easy. Before every skater, they should show the top three scores and what the next skater needs to take one of the medal positions. That's an easy graphic to show. Give us that number in relation to the planned base so we know how many points the skater needs to add with +GOE and PCS. They could even give a season's best or average PCS for the skater to give a sense of how well the skater needs to perform to have a realistic chance of medaling. All of that would amp up the "sport" side of skating and give it the immediacy of being a competition. (Oh, and don't get me started on tape-delayed broadcasts. That also hurts skating, because true fans will have already obtained the results and often will have watched the skates via live feeds from other broadcasters or on YouTube.)

    One thing I had hoped would happen with skating going to Universal Sports was that it would at least be given more time. It is inexplicable that the entire GP isn't airing on Universal or NBC Sports. Skating can't be getting lower ratings than rugby, bike racing, and the other sports airing there. And NBC has already paid for the entire GP and has commentators covering the event, so it's not like giving full coverage would cost more. US Nationals is the same way. Why not turn NBC Sports into wall-to-wall skating coverage for the week of Nationals? Show juniors so viewers can be introduced to young skaters and can become invested in them, rather than only seeing a couple of them once a year for four minutes. Sometimes that young skater or the one who isn't going to win medals but has an offbeat program grabs people's attention in a way that the medalists don't. Yet those skaters pretty much don't exist to Americans who only watch skating on television.
  4. kwanfan1818

    kwanfan1818 I <3 Kozuka

    I thought we were around the same age, MacMadame. I wasn't born when Albright won in 1956, though. 1960 was Carol Heiss, so maybe you do remember her from features.

    The other competition shown on Wide World of Sports was the now defunct North American Championships, which I think were held every other year.
  5. MacMadame

    MacMadame Cat Lady-in-Training

    I was confusing the two - Tenley and Carol. It's Carol's skate in 1960 that was shown everywhere and I "remember" watching.

    I definitely watched that Olympics and there's no way my mom wouldn't have NOT watched the skating so I would have seen it but I'm not sure I really remember watching it as it happened. I've seen the tape, of course, but so have people who are quite young.

    The NA Championships stopped right about the time I hit HS. So I may have seen them but not being held every year, I probably didn't. I did see Janet Lynn at a National Championship the year they were held in Philly. I grew up outside of Philly so the local station featured Nationals on the news. They may even have shown some of the competition (my memory is fuzzy on that though).

    But here's the thing... if that had happened now, I would have BEEN THERE. Because I would have known Nationals were held in my home town before they happened, not during. It's easy to find that sort of thing out now. Back then, the only way to know would be to be involved in skating or to be such a big fan that you read everything about skating in every magazine and newspaper you could find. IOW, you'd have to read the newspaper every day from cover to cover and hope you didn't miss the news.

    This is part of why I don't "get" a lot of the complaints I see. We fans have it much better than most fans in the US have had it over the past 50-60 years. Yeah, it's not as great as it was in the late 90s and early 00s but that's such a small blip in the history of skating.
  6. Susan M

    Susan M Well-Known Member

    I agree. Because it generates publicity, controversy often ends up being good for a sport.

    By saying it "doesn't have mass appeal" are you saying that it simply is not popular in the US at the moment (which is undeniably true) or are you saying the activity itself inherently lacks the qualities that create widespread public interest and appeal? In other words, is lack of appeal the cause or the result?

    I think the fact that skating was quite popular from about 88 to 94 and hugely popular 1994 to about 2000, suggests that when it has the right skaters and personalities doing programs/chosing music that audiences like, then it can have mass appeal. I think the folks blaming the judging system are, in part, saying the things the system rewards have changed the way programs are choreographed and presented in a way that makes the programs less entertaining or appealing to US audiences. I think as big or bigger a factor is that the sheer quantity and complexity of elements/moves has driven skaters to use blander music that drones on in the background, since it isn't as noticeable when a move does not hit the correct moment in the music because there are no musical highlights. I wonder how many of the folks insisting there is nothing audience unfriendly about COP were watching skating as far back as the 80s and 90s and even understand the difference.

    One of the reasons I think the scoring system has driven the skating itself in a less entertaining direction is that there have been so few skaters and so few programs that I found compelling personally. I remember never much liking Jeff Buttle's programs (which were so famously COP-driven. A few years after he retired, I saw him in SOI and he did two programs, one I did not care for that was reminiscent of his competitive programs, and one I loved that looked much more like pre-COP choreo. It made me mad to think how much I would have enjoyed his competitive career if he had been competing under the old system.
    kwanette and (deleted member) like this.
  7. MacMadame

    MacMadame Cat Lady-in-Training

    Define "quite popular". It wasn't on tv any more than it is now. There were maybe more touring shows. But not as many one-off shows.
  8. Susan M

    Susan M Well-Known Member

    Yes, there was more skating on TV then, because we had pro and show skating specials. Also, the skating was on regular network TV, not shuffled to a minor cable channel. This was before the GP series, so there was less skating in the fall, but we still got Skate America & NHK plus sometimes other events. I know Pirouetten was on at least once here in that time frame. We also got a couple nights of World Pros plus Challenge of Champions, other one-off pro events, and at least one Boitano special every year. These were real network shows, not syndicated programs popping up at odd hours or broadcasts for which the promoters had to buy air time. In addition there was always a network special about SOI and one for COI in a good time slot.

    Perhaps as importantly, US audiences were supporting two good sized ice tours, with 60 or more stops for COI in the spring tour. In some cities, they actually did the show twice because they could sell that many tickets. Today, COI is gone and SOI is down to less than 10 shows.
  9. MacMadame

    MacMadame Cat Lady-in-Training

    I think it's debatable that there was more skating on tv. This year I watched about 8 hours of Nationals and 2 hours of each GP event on broadcast tv and almost all of it, the day it happened. I never got that much back in the 80s and it was never the day it happened. Nationals was two hours tops and the others were 1 hour and definitely weeks later.
  10. Sandy

    Sandy New Member

    I have been watching Figure Skating for many, many years now. I am not good on dates but we were watching Cup of Russia, Cup of China, Japan, Skate Canada, 4 Continents, etc. We were able to watch Dance, short and long, now we are lucky to watch the top 2 or 3 long and the 1st place in short. To me, it is very sad that we pay to have TV, watch all the commercials and cannot have a say in what they provide for us to watch. Then we finally acquire Universal Sports, which showed every competition. Unfortunately, for me, I have FIOS and they discontinued UNI Sports. So now, I am at the mercy of watching what is available on FIOS. I am still hopeful that FIOS will bring back Uni Sports!
  11. VIETgrlTerifa

    VIETgrlTerifa Well-Known Member

    A big problem for casual viewers is that they seriously cannot tell the jumps apart. They think skaters are just doing the same moves 7-8 times in a LP and find it repetitive.
  12. MacMadame

    MacMadame Cat Lady-in-Training

    All of that was post-Whack. Some of those competitions didn't even exist in the 90s including 4CCs and Cup of Russia. The GP events were rarely broadcast in the US except for Skate America pre-Whack.

    I would like to see some objective data to show if figure skating audience has declined or not. And I'd want it for the ENTIRE audience, not just broadcast tv. Let's compared to 1992 which is pre-Whack and 20 years ago so a nice round number. This includes:

    1) USFS membership (which I believe is up)
    2) Attendance at Nationals (up according to press releases)
    3) Attendance at Skate America (don't know, about the same or down?)
    4) Attendance at the major local comps like Liberty, Golden West, Skate Detroit (?)
    5) Entries to those competitions (down?)
    6) # of hours on Broadcast TV (I say up or the same; others say down)
    7) # of hours on Cable TV (clearly up as it wasn't on cable in '92)
    8) # of hours streaming on internet (clearly up as internet wasn't commercialized until about 1995-1998)
    9) participation on internet message board and other social media (obviously up since they didn't really exist in '92)
    10) attendance at shows aimed at adults (down)
    11) attendance at shows aimed at kids (about the same?)

    If people have real numbers for these ways of experiencing figure skating, I'd love to see them.
  13. Skittl1321

    Skittl1321 Well-Known Member

    And even when commentators do a good job of naming skills and not just tell us about the skater's ethereal qualities, it is still meaningless to a casual fan. The guys I watched (captive audience, not really casual fans...) with all knew that an axel and a salchow was a jump, but even after I explained the difference it made no sense to them.

    The thing is- football makes no sense to me. If you aren't going to take the time to learn the rules of a sport, of course it won't be enjoyable.
  14. Sandy

    Sandy New Member

    Sorry, not to be ignorant but what is post-Whack?
  15. morqet

    morqet rising like a phoenix

    Someone on tumblr (who isn't a regular skating fan made a post about Max Aaron's Tron program over the weekend & it's now up to almost 10,000 notes - that's someone either liking the post or reblogging to share it with their followers. Most of the comments are from people who don't regularly follow skating, but they're all saying things along the lines of "wow that's awesome" "I love that" "love the costume & music" - of course you can't tell if any one them will make an effort to watch more skating because of this, but it does underline that social media can have a huge role to play in bringing new people to the sport.
  16. LilJen

    LilJen Reaching out with my hand sensitively

    The whack was in January 1992; Nancy Kerrigan was attacked (whacked on the knee) by thugs associated with Tonya Harding. She was out of Nationals but did make it to the Olympics and medaled. The entire scandal helped increase skating's popularity.

    MacMadame, these are great questions. I just listened to Manleywoman's skatecast on pro skating, and she talked with some of her interviewees about why *they* (all of whom were involved in pro skating at some point) pro skating in particular is so much less popular. Pre-1980s, you had three major shows that toured nearly year round in the US (Ice Follies, Ice Capades, Holiday on Ice). They were well attended and a big family event. I think (but I don't *know* for sure) that the advent of cable TV, the blockbuster movie era (considered to have begun with Jaws and the like in the late 1970s), video games, and the internet later have all provided many additional non-skating show outlets for leisure time. Sure, people have always had other things that they could do besides go to a skating show, but there are SOOOOO many more options now.
  17. gkelly

    gkelly Well-Known Member

    Calendar year 1992 compared to 2012? Or 1992-93 skating season compared to 2012-13? Not that it makes much difference. Once you get in to 1994 it would.

    I don't have hard data available. Anecdotally, my impression is that there are more clubs and more clubs hosting annual competitions than was the case 20 years ago, and that some long-time events have grown and others shrunk over that time. In many cases specific events that were large 20 years ago are less so now because other events have drawn some of their participants instead.

    See my posts 169 and 175 in this thread.
    I was mainly talking about what has declined since peak participation ~10 years ago. I think the level now is still significantly higher than 20 years ago.

    As for fans (not friends and family members of skaters) attending club competitions, I would imagine that was never much of a factor before the Internet because, as you mentioned earlier, there weren't good ways for the general public to become aware that such events even existed.

    But I'll welcome more concrete facts, or other anecdotal observations, from anyone who has been involved in club competitions longer than I have.
  18. VIETgrlTerifa

    VIETgrlTerifa Well-Known Member

    I used to force my poor brother to watch figure skating with me during Kwan's heyday. One day I made him watch Yu Na's 2009 Worlds winning performance (it was his first COP program that he saw), and his reaction was "isn't she supposed to dance or something?" Then he said the programs looked like they were just adding skills for points like in one of those skateboarding video games where you keep pressing buttons to do tricks in order to build up points randomly.
  19. caseyedwards

    caseyedwards Well-Known Member

    "dance" is so interesting - I assume that could mean like be artistic or interpret music and of course that is a big complaint with people in the sport and do it every day! Like merging the required technical elements which can take up like every second of a program with individual personal interpretation of music.

    And identifying jumps is so big. People don't. And seeing interviews with people talking about quads is pretty meaningless if you don't even know what a quad means for example. Like quad is like axel or salchow. Figure skating language that is so foreign to so many!
  20. kwanette

    kwanette Fetalized since 1998

    The whack was in 94.
  21. sk8ing mom

    sk8ing mom New Member

    The "whack" was January 1994, NOT 1992. Tonya (and Nancy) made it to the Olympics in 1992 too without any of the scandal.

  22. MacMadame

    MacMadame Cat Lady-in-Training

    I also welcome facts. :D My anecdotal observations match yours. We're definitely down from 10 years ago. But not from 20 years ago. If anything, I think we're up from then and it's because of the internet.

    With club comps, there was a period where the big comps in my area -- Skate St. Moritz, Skate SF, Silicon Valley Open -- were all down in participation. The vendors (of which I was one), were dropping like flies because without skaters (and their families), there was no one to buy our "stuff". I am not a vendor any more but I do volunteer at my club competition and, as far as I can tell, entries are still down because the schedule seems abbreviated compared to what it used to be. I think that's the economy. Parents don't enter their kids in as many comps as they used to in order to save money.

    Another big difference is that we don't see that big post-Olympic spike in interest any more. There are many more rinks and ice surfaces in my area than there was when I moved here in 1994. And they are full year round. But they don't choke with interest the month after the Olympics like they used to. This is probably good for rink owners as a steady influx is easier to manage than a 4 year cycle but it did freak people out the first time it happened.