After attending both competition days at this year's Cup of China, I was dismayed to see the very poor attendance. There were not more than a couple of thousand people in the stands on Friday night and maybe less than 5000 on Saturday for the free skates. In a city of over 15 million people, that is inexcuseable. And frankly, almost embarrassing for the organizers and sponsors--of which the primary is Samsung, a Korean company. Why is this?
--Consistently poor marketing? I don't know if there is behind-the-scenes issues between the Federation and Samsung that get in the way of effective marketing.
--Friday afternoon traffic (which is admittedly one of Dante's Circles of Hell in Beijing)? though that doesn't explain why there was no flood of people coming in at least for the Mens and Pairs short. And doesn't explain Saturday's relatively poor showing either.
--Ticket prices? Maybe a little high by local standards but not for the die-hards and not for most casual fans either. People with an interest in watching skating tend to be pretty Chinese middle class, not migrant workers. And this year, cheap student tickets were offered for the equivalent of less than USD 5.
--Organizers don't care and aren't under pressure to sell tickets, as Samsung is being a magnanimous sugar daddy? Actually, I have no way of knowing if this is true or not. I've always found it curious that a Korean company rather than a Chinese one is the major sponsor of his event. I don't know when Samsung's contract runs out, maybe there will be a change then? But Samsung would have every reason to WANT big attendance.
--No forced busloads of attendees? Don't laugh, many events in China have their attendance numbers bulked up by organizations (commercial, educational, and governmental) receiving a mass of free tickets, with the stipulation that they produce a certain number of attendees from their employee/student ranks. Said employees/students are then required to make an appearance, but at least they aren't out any money for tickets or transportation to/from. Usually reserved for major events though, like Shanghai Expo and Beijing Olympics. Not for minor or niche events such as figure skating.
--Beijingers just don't get into figure skating? Maybe this is the crux of it. But in a city of over 15 MILLION people, when you can't find at least 10-12,000 of them to stick in an 18,000 capacity arena, it's pretty sad.
--Shen and Zhao retirement? Possibly, they were always a big draw. A Cup of China without them feels...a bit empty.
I have been to every Cup of China since it was granted by the ISU--with the exception of 2006 held in Nanjing and 2007 held in Harbin (moved because the venue was under reconstruction for the 2008 Olympics). I think this is the worst year by far for attendance of any of the Beijing competitions. Economic conditions here are definitely not a factor as they might be elsewhere.
Perhaps the ISU should reconsider the Cup of China, and relocate it to the Cup of ??? --someplace where it will get enthusiastic support and attendance. We'll see what happens for the Grand Prix Final next month in Beijing. Without a major marketing push, I don't expect attendance to be much better, though. It's a frustrating situation, and I'm sure the skaters themselves would rather have some sort of crowd than an arena of mostly empty chairs. And yes, I'm aware of the politics involved, and that the ISU doesn't want to upset the Chinese federation--but the threat of pulling it and relocating might be enough to get some momentum going to improve the situation.