Skating to the top Blue-chip names. Ice shows are big business with focus on marketing entertainment

JAMES CARELESS and SUSAN TROTT
CanWest News Service

Saturday, April 19, 2003

It's billed as a skating show, featuring the sport's blue chip names: Kurt Browning, Alexei Yagudin, Jamie Sal? and David Pelletier. But HSBC Stars On Ice, opening at the Corel Centre today, is less about spins, triple lutzes and jumps than it is about skaters being savvy businesspeople and marketers.

A case in point: In 1984, Olympic and world figure-skating champion Scott Hamilton won Olympic Gold in Sarajevo, then turned pro with the Ice Capades show. However, "after I had spent two years with Ice Capades, the show was bought by another company," Hamilton said.

"The new owners felt that a man doesn't sell tickets, and so they didn't renew my contract. So I had no other choice but to create my own way of making a living, and Stars on Ice came out of that."

Hamilton hit pay dirt. Today, HSBC Stars on Ice "is one of the single largest annual tours in Canada," said Byron Allen, who's been producing the Canadian Stars on Ice tour since it started in 1989.

It is also part of the U.S. Smucker's Stars On Ice tour, which covers 72 cities across North America and boasts a complete cast and crew, including equipment trucks, lighting, and roadies. Stars On Ice is reminiscent of the Rolling Stones on tour, Allen said.

Other stars are also skating up income. Olympic medalist and World champion Elvis Stojko is with Chevy Champions On Ice, a 27-city U.S. tour that follows on the heels of last fall's 11-city Canadian tour Canon SK8 with Elvis Stojko.

Billed as "so hot it will melt the ice," Stojko himself programmed SK8 to grab the youth market. He hired well-known deejay Chris Shepherd to spin hip-hop tunes, creating a "dance club" feel to the show.

"We wanted to add something fresh and new to the scene," Stojko explained, "because the same exhibition style's been going on for a long time."

Kurt Browning recalled the initial office meeting between his family and agent Michael Barnett. "I fell asleep on the couch during the meeting, that's how interested I was," Browning said. "During one of the times when I was awake, I heard Barnett say, 'you're going to make $50,000 next year.' That's when I turned to my parents and said, 'this guy doesn't have a clue what he's talking about.' "

As it turned out, he did. Over the years, Kurt Browning has prospered as a pro skater, and learned how to sell Stars On Ice tickets in the process.

"We market it on the ability of stars like Sal? and Pelletier to attract people to the show," Browning said. "Once we've got them in the door, we want the overall quality of the show itself to bring them back again next year."

The bottom line is that today's pro skaters know about the bottom line. When it comes to making money, they're not asleep on the couch.

Ottawa Citizen

© Copyright 2003 Montreal Gazette