Interesting read...some good insights as well (registration required):
The forecast is so ominous it could turn figure skating into primarily an Internet sport as a broadcast commodity, barely a decade after its over-the-air network TV ratings and income were in googol range.
"Will we stay on TV? It depends what you mean by TV," said Eddie Einhorn, the skating association's TV consultant. "I see a combination of over-the-air, cable and Internet/new media. It will likely switch mostly to new media as years go by.
"Getting a big rights fee from television is the old game. Smaller sports are going to have to find other ways to get broadcast time."
ABC/ESPN already have shunted figure skating off to time slots that make it cannon fodder — in TV parlance, "counter-programming" — to pro football.
Sunday telecasts, once programmed for late afternoon, now are aired in early afternoon, where they get ratings from 1 to 2. For the first time in memory, the women's final at the U.S. Championships will not be a Saturday night live prime-time telecast, with the 2007 event airing live in late afternoon. ABC may decide to scrap the last of this season's made-for-TV shows, scheduled for next spring.
Those programming decisions irritate U.S. figure skating officials, but they have kept their unhappiness to themselves, because public complaints might jeopardize future negotiations. And ABC could point out that the 2006 telecast of the women's final did not get the ratings boost over 2005 that usually occurred for a national championship in an Olympic year.NBC, the Olympic network through 2012, has long lived with the philosophy that it did not need to program pre-Olympic sports to build interest in its Games telecasts. No other U.S. network has telecasts of figure skating competitions involving Olympic-eligible athletes.One of the biggest players in the sports world, the Anschutz Entertainment Group, recently became involved in skating by purchasing the Champions on Ice Tour and attracting the 2009 world championships to its Staples Center. AEG's billionaire owner, Philip Anschutz, went to Japan to lobby skating union President Ottavio Cinquanta for the world meet.
"We certainly have a commitment to figure skating, and we will look at all ways to help grow the sport," AEG spokesman Michael Ross said.(emphasis added)A key question for the skating association is how much money it wants to risk staging events such as the three annual pro-ams, for which ABC now bears the financial burden. Ratings and attendance for the pro-ams have become progressively worse; an attempt to generate interest by letting fans do the judging produced results that owed to popularity instead of performance.
"Skating doesn't need exposure," Einhorn said. "Skating needs money."