Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Weekly Op-Ed: How to Jump-Start Figure Skating in the U.S.

What's it going to take? Do we need another knee whack a la Harding? How about an all out Royal Rumble, WWE style on the ice: Kim vs Asada...Round 1..Ding!

It's clear something has to be done. It's not like figure skating is an unpopular sport. On a global scale, it's huge! But what's the deal in the U.S.? What happened to the weekly...scratch that...daily skating show, competition, special, etc. of the mid to late 90s? Let's try to figure out what can be done here...

First, as much as I hate to put the pressure on the competitors, we need for U.S. skaters to start winning competitions...BIG competitions! I'm talking World's and Olympics! We couldn't get enough when we had an endless supply of Michelle's, Tara's, and Sarah's. U.S. Figure Skating and the USOC need to get together and create an athlete focused program that gets skaters to the top or, at the very least, competitive with the top. Need ideas...see Japan.

Second, we need a media platform that is willing to support figure skating despite slumping ratings. I guess that would be NBC. NBC, time to broadcast the Grand Prix, even if the ratings aren't as high as you'd like. NBC, time to broadcast the Grand Prix Final, European's, and Four Continents Cup when you'd rather be showing golf. Why, if you support it, interest will build (maybe slowly). If NBC had shown the Grand Prix, many people maybe wouldn't have been as shocked to Mroz win the silver at National's. If NBC had shown the Grand Prix, more people would have known that Abbott would be a factor. If NBC had shown the Grand Prix, people might have actually missed Kimmie Meissner or Emily Hughes (both of whom were not mentioned once in their coverage). NBC, look back at the ABC/ESPN coverage over the past decade or so and take notes.

A little drama never hurt. Not that I'm advocating terrible things happen mind you (but I guess I kind of am though...), but drama brings in viewers. There was the knee-whacking. The skating laces. Tara vs Michelle. The Uh-uh...oh no they didn't just give the Gold to the Russians! The 2006 Olympics was a snooze. The biggest story was that Michelle was withdrawing...it's been down hill from there. Also, for the sake of their sport, it would be amazing press as well as drama if Sasha and Michelle made a go at it in 2010...even if they have little shot at making it (but looking at things as they are...who knows?).

The scoring system creates a juggernaut. It makes figure skating more of a sport and more accountable and at the same time confuses the hell out of spectators. I attend skating competitions all the time and people don't have clue one about how or why skaters are placed where they are placed. It's not the overall concept that gets people. People get that if you have the most points you win aspect. What people don't get is how those points were awarded. Levels, Grades of Executions, Bonuses, Features, it's enough to blow your mind! The 6.0 system had flaws and so does the current system. They need to find a way to make the average Joe watching know how a skater did and about where a skater will be ranked while at the same time keeping the more sport-like aspect of the point system. It's a daunting task, but there are smart people out there that can figure it out. I say just let a group of informed skating junkies work it out!

Most importantly, we need to give it time. Skating's U.S. slump won't end overnight (save a Podium sweep in Vancouver in 2010!). Hopefully, the U.S. can generate some talent that can bring some glitz and glamour back to the home front. In fact, such talent exists now...it's just letting the U.S. population know it's there.


Ice Charades said...

I think they need a really slick ad campaign. More commercials - perhaps starting out with footage of past skaters and then closing with the new talent (be it Americans and any other nationalities.)

Also, I think somewhere in some competition - it would have to be one of those quasi-pro competitions, they should introduce an "add-on" game. They did that in the American Open and the crowd was ecstactic - it was something they could easily follow. (Think of it like the dunking contest before the NBA Allstar game.) It's not official, but it excites the crowd. At some point it could be folded in to a real competition - again, only to rev up the crowd.

I hope skating gets more popular. The one bright note from the gloomy ratings is that hopefully they'll only go up.

Aaron said...

Another thought I had was every so often letting retired or professional competitors compete at U.S. Nationals. They couldn't compete at Worlds and the Olympics and all that, but would energize a fan base!

salzburglar said...

your views are very balanced. i agree on all fronts. i'm so glad you acknowledge that the talent IS there, unlike many who wish to poo-poo the current lot. as you say, it isn't about the talent, it's about the packaging and the loss of connection to the whole system.

only thing that concerns me in the "packaging" of this sport is what appears to have happened with the exhibition in cleveland. ALL rock music? DULL, DULL, DULL!@#$% going more mainstream ain't gonna do it. it just makes the sport feel contrived, in my way of thinking. hell, if caroline wants to skate to sleeping beauty (in theory) in cleveland, let her... that variety is what brings me back.

i don't think i've ever seen such a dull exhibition. i fast forwarded through it all. only the 3 hotties tossing schwag into the audience, and ryan bradley's bru/mclau intro was worth the watch.

Maat said...

I think they need commentators who don't trash talk the IJS. As you said, the IJS has it flaws, but it is so much better than 6.0. Can you imagine Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir getting a world silver last year under 6.0? No, their performance would not have been rewarded.

I think it is so sad how the commentators keep telling peole that the IJS is complicated. They also keep calling it new, but it is not.

What I think would help would be a quick overview of GOE totals at the competition, and the number of downgrades/UR. That is the stuff that is hardest to see.

Also, the short clip about Abbott's and Lysecek's 3A during nationals, explaining why Abbott got more points for it than Lysecek would be really helpful.

Lastly, all TV viewing is down. I think ISU and USFSA need to WAKE UP and realize that they can't charge as much for the competitions, both for TV rights and entrance fees. This would help getting skating back on TV.

Oh, and I really wish skating would give up it's 'pretty princess' image. You don't get surprised when a football star said he did drugs in college, but now is sorry, or a boxing champ get jailed for domistic violence... but a figure skating can't express anything other than how 'gracious' they are for everything. More tough-as-nails skaters (I'm sure they are, just think of Asada's slamming into the boards last worlds). Not that they should do drugs or commit other crimes, of course... :P

salzburglar said...

on a completely different note, what happened to the wonderfully refreshing stephanie rosenthal (i think that was her name) who had SO much fun at nationals and we really unique and interesting to watch? she did an unabashedly 80s routine. she was not a small or especially pretty girl, and i LOVED her.

Aaron said...

I really hope U.S. Figure Skating is reading all this!

Slick Ad Campaign - Brilliant (Yu--Na and the Dynamic Korea spots come to mind).

Ditch the packaging - Right?!?!?! One of the most refreshing bits about Ice Network was listening to the coach and skater talk after a performance in the Kiss and Cry, it's like..."that's really who they are, I had no idea."

Scoring system - It's what we've got so don't trash it!

We could all form a Six Sigma team on how to do this!

Anonymous said...

I think they need to bring back the 6.0 scoring. But with the current scoring system backing up the 6.0 scale. Meaning let's say someone got 70.5 for his technical part of the score, then that correspond to say 5.8 in the old scoring system. Or it could even go as detail as 5.85 or something like that (double decimal is better because it prevents someone getting the exact same scores). So the casual viewers would know what's going on and the dedicated fan can research using the current system to see exactly why Joe Smith got 5.85. That way you keep the old and please the casual viewers.

Of course another dirty mouth champion or a knee whacker would help as well. Bad PR is better than no PR. Right now US Figure skating world is getting no PR hence low ratings, hence NBC only show one competition here and there.