Figure Skating's Popularity Decline
In 1993, Figure Skating was the SECOND most popular spectator sport.
In the 1993 National Sports Study II, considered by the Associated Press as the largest study of spectator sport popularity in America, ladies' figure skating was the second most popular spectator sport in America, just behind NFL football out of over 100 sports surveyed. The 1993 study found that three figure skaters – Dorothy Hamill, Peggy Fleming, and Scott Hamilton were among the eight most popular athletes in the United States, out of over 800 athletes surveyed. Dorothy Hamill was statistically tied with Mary Lou Retton as the most popular athlete in America. The Tonya Harding scandal in 1994 increased interest in figure skating. The first night of the ladies' figure skating competition in the 1994 Winter Olympics achieved higher TV Nielsen ratings than that year's Super Bowl and was the most watched sports television program of all-time, to that date.
In 2001, figure skating was the 4th most popular sport beating out college basketball.
Now, figure skating does not even make the top ten.
What happened and what can we do to change this?
i think a lot of it has to do with the judging system as much as i prefer it to 6.0. to a spectator who doesn't know much about skating it's difficult to understand the rules and numbers. i also think it's because airtime on TV has gone way down. i've seen footage on youtube of when they used to show sectionals on channels like ESPN. only in my dreams would that happen again. now they don't show hardly anything, and the only competitions that are televised are the final groups of the LP on the GP series and nationals, and worlds. maybe 4CC but can't remember off the top of my head...they can't even show short programs anymore. they have made more room for other "real" sports according to the public eye. a lot of people don't think skating is a sport and i'm sure that also has something to do with it. it makes me very sad that this sport is dwindling in more than just popularity. i very much like the idea of the new system, but it also needs to be simplified in a sense to make it easier to understand. 6.0 was very unfair in a lot of situations (i've had first hand experience). but i really miss the airtime skating used to have...now all i can rely on is IN and youtube.
Seeing lots of empty seats (on TV) in the Omaha arena during Nationals was depressing.
Six Point Zero
It could be due to a combination of many factors. Perhaps generational differences, changes in judging systems, reduced air-time, though for the last it's hard to say if it originally caused the decline or is merely a consequence thereof. Luckily figure skating is taking off in Asia and just needs to take root in China. It's already pretty big in Japan and growing in Korea. China needs its own figure skating star to rapidly boost the sport's popularity there. Shen/Zhao are pair skaters so the appeal is limited, and Chen Lu was a bit ahead of the times and achieved her World title and Olympic medals when China was still a poor, moderately developing country. The time is just about right for a Chinese girl to grab the spotlight after Sochi, especially as the next Winter games after Sochi are in Asia (Korea). So I think figure skating per se still has a good future, but in Asia, not North America.
As for figure skating in the United States, there's not much hope, I feel, of reviving its popularity and appeal. It might moderately get more airtime with a new star who can consistently deliver (maybe Gracie?), but it won't be anywhere near where it was in the 1990's. The combination of stuffy artistry and technical complexity (especially after IJS) just doesn't have much wide appeal in the U.S. to begin with.
I think that the decline in the U.S. is also due to the over-saturation of the sport on TV and news outlets throughout the 90s and early 2000s at the Nancy-Tonya saga/fiasco/***-was-that; as suggested in a book by Christine Brennan, I believe. Suddenly, skating was so much more interesting because of an entirely different reason. There were just so many cheesefests, pro-competitions, cheesy competitions, and fluff pieces that whatever channel you flipped through, there it was. Naturally, people became tired of it and as there was no clear and absolute front-runner after Michelle and Sasha left the amateur ranks and many pros retired, so skating quickly went on the back-burner.
Of course, the changed judging system doesn't help matters much, but I really, really doubt that that was the only factor. Also, I'm pretty sure figure skating is the most, if not one of the most-watched Winter Olympics sports there is.
I would take issue with the last paragraph just a little.
Originally Posted by Krislite
You acknowledge that skating's popularity in Asia is on the ascendant (and still has upside potential), despite the stuffy artistry and technical complexity. The only thing that separates the situation in Asia with that of North America, it seems to me, is that the established ice queens happen to be Asian at this juncture.
Or are you arguing that Asians are just better at math than Americans, who need remedial classes in arithmetic to learn how to count IJS points?
Last edited by Robeye; 01-31-2013 at 11:56 PM.
The judging system is partly to blame. The simple fact is that you could hear "5.8" and know its relationship to 6.0 meant that the skater had done very well, and if you heard "5.1", you knew that skater had not done as well. So if skater one got the 5.8 range, the casual viewer knows "that may be a medal winner" and when skater two got 5.1 range, they knew it probably wouldn't hold up for the podium. Those of us who are serious fans know what range in IJS means an excellent score versus a mediocre one, but someone looking for something to watch on Sunday afternoon does not. They have no idea what "108.34" indicates, because there is no top number to relate it to.
A friend who last watched skating some time around the 2002 Olympics went to the junior ladies short program with me in Omaha last Monday. She said that her family stopped trying to watch after IJS because "it never really made sense". She has a better idea now from watching the competition with me. But she is still a bit befuddled by the whole thing and not planning to tune in again unless it is convenient and there is nothing else to watch or do.
I read elsewhere around the net that this could be fixed by television commentators "educating" fans. I'm not sure about that. The "casual fan" looking for weekend entertainment doesn't want to work at understanding that entertainment. Being educated is not really relaxing on a Sunday afternoon in winter. Spectator sports are chiefly entertainment whether serious fans of any sport like it or not. We can all watch the Super Bowl and understand the basics--everyone in America can identify when a touchdown is scored even if they do not know the finer points of offensive and defensive schemes. Skating has lost the first part of the equation--the basics of who will be at the top and who will not is no longer easy to identify without understanding complex scoring matters like under rotations, edge calls, levels and features, etc...
I have to agree that the judging system has become way too arcane. I can't explain skating to my friends and sometimes can't explain it to myself. But I still love it, though I regret the trough American ladies and men seem to be in. I don't know whether an American lady superstar would boost the sport's image in this country. Strictly on those terms, I think Gracie is the go-to skater, but she's got to live up to her hype.
I can't imagine how Kardashians, who exhibit no talent whatever, manage to make themselves so visible on TV and on magazine covers, while skating can't catch a break--we do, after all, have the glamorous Meryl and Charlie--but maybe some smart PR person can figure out a way to give skating some traction, without creating a scandalous, trashy image. Or is that asking for too much?
Figure Skating's Popularity Decline
I agree the lack of television broadcasting has affected interest in Figure Skating, but I don't think lack of understanding of the scoring system is as influential as many people seem to believe. I think back to the time before I became a Figure Skating fan. I didn't understand how they would calculate a score of 5.7, nor did I care. All I needed to know was that 5.8 was better than 5.7. Today they can get scores like 165.45, but the casual fan only needs to know 165.46 is better.
If a skater wins with two falls over someone with one fall, then a casual fan would think that was just wrong. A casual fan doesn't understand about the finer points of Figure Skating like footwork, deep edges, etc. But that reflects a lack of understanding regarding Figure Skating itself, not the details of the scoring system.
Last edited by rvi5; 01-31-2013 at 10:28 PM.
I agree with this. However, there's nothing standing in the way of the ISU taking away more points for a fall, perhaps 3 instead of 1. The better skaters will still win if they are clean or have minor mistakes but this could give the sport a bit more credibility if programs with visual errors place below those with mistakes that are less noticeable.
Originally Posted by rvi5
I tend to find these arguments somewhat amusing. Take away 1 point? 3 points? How many points do they ACTUALLY take away for falls?
Yu-Na kim scored 228.56 at the 2010 Olympics. Let's say she fell 3 times. Her score would have been 228.56 - 3 = 225.56. Is that correct? If she fell 4 times, her score would have been 224.56, correct? Of course not. They actually take away much, MUCH more than one point for a fall. These arguments over how much they should deduct are meaningless.
Yes, of course a fall results of a net loss of more than 1 point. However, skaters can get -2 or -3 GOE for a fall or a slight two-footed landing, so in that sense a fall is one point worse than a much more minor error (or at least less jarring to a performance). Furthermore, you get net fewer points for a UR than a fall with fully-credited rotation. So it is not "meaningless" to discuss how much of a penalty should be appropriated to different errors because some are clearly worse than others (point-wise) under COP. Do those penalties match what a casual viewer thinks they should be? How about a more knowledgable fan? For me, a fall is worse than an unnoticeable UR so it does effect my enjoyment when someone skates clean and places behind someone with multiple falls because underrotating is worse than falling. Just because the ISU says that it's so doesn't mean I agree.
Originally Posted by PolymerBob
I do think lack of broadcasting has something to do with it. Of course it may not be where it originated - but I do believe we are in an evil circle (and I'm not talking about the US specifically as I don't know much about that). The popularity declines - it's shown far less - the less it is shown, the less popular it becomes. I mean, let's face it, how likely is it for a non-figure skating fan viewer to accidentally stumble on it on the telly and get hooked? When really dedicated, die-hard fans have to search the internet for livestreams, sitting peering at their screens, never mind what language it is in, grateful to get to see anything? Or much of anything? Would even a casual figure skating fan bother? Then, how is it likely to spread to - well - the uninitiated?
I'm going to answer this question without reading what everybody else has said. I think first and foremost figure skating popularity has declined in the US because of the verrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrry limited hours it's shown on television. When the announcement came out last week or so that the USFSA had extended their contract with NBC I was very excited - until I read the fine print and realized alot of the additional hours would be on Universal Sports. I don't get Universal. Many cable carriers do not carry Universal. So my choice to see competitions is to pay $39.95 to watch herky jerky coverage on my computer screen or be satisfied with watching a few hours here or there. If the sport isn't accessible to people, obviously it doesn't take a brain surgeon to figure out the sport won't be popular. There are seats empty at competitions because the price of tickets has gone up significantly in the last few years. I'm going to Boston next year with the Dash Tour Group. Have toured with them before and the seats they have are generally pretty good. After the initial contact was told that the price quoted was going up because to go to the exhibition alone was going to cost $200!!!!!
Thirdly (is that a word) MOST people don't know squat about the judging system, PCS, COP, you name it. Unless you've skated yourself or on one of these boards, that level of technicallity is lost on the average viewer. What they want to see is good skating, beautiful costumes, lush music, and people not splatting.
Fourthly () it used to be that in the winter time in the US you could see skating almost every weekend in one form or another. There were pro championships, people could follow the likes of Scott Hamilton and Kurt Browning and Kristi Yamaguchi, etc. They were entertaining and fun. Now they have silly programs like skating and gymnastics together (what's that all about???) and the Pandora productions with the same old people and they have live bands and the tv producer shows the bands instead of the skaters.
Finally, there are no big personalities to get attached to since Michelle Kwan retired. Seriously. The average person walking down the street has no clue who Ashley Wagner is and certainly doesn't know who won the Men's competition this year.
I think the USFSA needs to create an all-out marketing plan to woo people back to the sport. Universal either needs to be more available or get skating on ESPN. I have friends in Canada who see more of our US championships than we do! And we might have seen 3-4 hours of theirs. Unless you're active in the sport in some capacity you have no idea who is up and coming, who won Juniors, who won the Novice comps, etc. I honestly and truly feel the interest would be back where it was if the sport was more accessible.
I believe it is already on the rise in Canada again.