Figure skating is not dying, but it needs to think bigger


The ISU World Figure Skating Championships 2013 marked the exciting end of the pre-Olympic season, followed by millions of people around the globe and ten thousands of fans at the arena. Canada once again was a great host, in spite of the somewhat unfortunate choice of London, Ontario for the event.


The choice of the smaller arena (which sat 6,650 people) prompted some mostly U.S. media to continue their same old story about the end of figure skating and their whining about the demise of the 6.0 judging system. Sorry, you are just stuck in the past.


Some media and commentators go on and on about nobody understanding the scoring system, but I think it is just them who don’t get it. The judging system has been introduced almost ten years ago (in 2003) and it is as simple as it gets: scores for elements and program components are added up and the one with the highest score wins. Is it a perfect judging system? No. There can’t be a perfect system in a judged sport, just because there are humans who judge and humans are not perfect. The broad agreement among athletes and coaches these days is that this system is better than the old 6.0 system.


Are there controversial results? Yes, and there always were and there always will be. To be honest, this is part of what makes figure skating interesting to many people. They can discuss results endlessly. How boring it would be if everybody agrees all the time! You can argue about whether Patrick Chan deserved to win Worlds in London or Denis Ten. You can’t argue much about results in athletics. Again, figure skating is a judged sport and some subjectivity always will be involved.


Another point of the “figure skating is dying” party is that the ISU judging system has killed the individuality of the sport and this is driving the fans away. Peoples’ memories are so short. Looking back, I can name a lot of memorable programs from 2003 and earlier but I can also name a lot of them after. There always were, are and will be athletes, coaches and choreographers who create extraordinary programs and performances. We won’t remember so many outstanding programs or performances from most of the lower ranked skaters, no matter which judging system is in place – just because there aren’t that many. There are masterpieces of programs but they are rare. This is the nature of masterpieces.


The next point of the “figure skating is dying” faction is about what TV shows or doesn’t show. Some of these writers tend to forget that the world doesn’t only consist of the USA. CBC in Canada had very good ratings for their broadcasts from Worlds, especially when it was live. Japan, Korea, Russia and others have excellent ratings when they show skating, again, especially when it is live. More and more people are following internet live streams when they are available. People want to decide what they are watching and when they are watching. View on demand is the tool of the future.


Some sports are paying for their TV time, others, like Judo, are usually not shown on TV but completely rely on the internet and get their viewership. The role of TV is decreasing. This writer doesn’t possess a TV since 1989. At that time, that was highly unusual, but nowadays it doesn’t really cause surprised reactions anymore.


Now let’s go back to the lamented lack of audience. Worlds in London was very well attended. According to a Skate Canada press release, at total of 62,000 people were counted from March 11-17.The building experienced sell-outs on both Saturday sessions, as well as near sell-outs on Thursday, Friday and the closing gala exhibition on Sunday. That’s a fact, no matter what some media wrote. Events in many other countries are also very well attended, especially in Asia and in Russia.


Still, I think it would have been better to hold the World Championships 2013 in a bigger city and in a bigger arena. You will fill it with proper marketing and reasonable ticket prices. My prime example is the World Championships 2008 in Gothenburg, Sweden. Sweden didn’t have a medal contender, skating is not the top sport in Sweden whose last World Championship medal dates back to 1937. Yet, the stadium was full and the atmosphere was great. With a clever marketing strategy and an attractive host city, the Swedes attracted a lot of spectators. For many fans, the location is an important factor in their decision if they want to travel to an event or not. Are there enough and decent hotels at reasonable prices? What about sightseeing, shopping, dining, accessibility and ticket prices? I read and heard from fans who decided not to come to London for Worlds this year, because it was too expensive, inconvenient or even because of lack of hotel space. I know people who had to stay far away and needed a rental car or expensive cab rides to get to and from the arena. So, please don’t hide a prime event such as the World Championship in some drab (sorry, London) city, even if you get financial support from the local government.


Not only Gothenburg was a very successful event with a very good attendance, even Los Angeles (2009), the country where “figure skating is dying”. Yes, there are also events that are poorly attended, Skate America comes to mind. In some cases, I believe this is a home-made problem. Don’t go into areas with little or no tradition and interest in figure skating (Ontario, California). Skate America, of course is not Worlds and here you have to attract especially the locals to fill the arena. And many people recall with a shudder the “fridge of Bern”, the 2011 European Championships held in a freezing ice rink. People want to be entertained, they don’t want to sit for hours in a non-heated arena with some Swiss army blankets. This is just unacceptable. Luckily, this most likely won’t happen again as a rule was changed and the rink must be heated.


Figure skating is not dying, it is very much alive, but it needs to think big and be self confident as it is one of the most attractive sports, combining athletic ability, artistry, music, performance, and yes, glamour and personalities. 


Tatjana Flade