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Thread: A Plan for USFS to Boost Nationals Ratings

  1. #1
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    A Plan for USFS to Boost Nationals Ratings

    http://www.chicagotribune.com/sports...-sportsnew-hed

    The pressure is on because ABC's 10-year contract with the USFSA ($12 million a year) ends after 2007 and the network severed its relationship with the International Skating Union after last season.

    The ISU contract went from $22 million a year with ABC/ESPN to $5 million a year with only ESPN. That means there are no over-the-air U.S. telecasts of international figure skating events for the first time in more than 30 years.

    "It is a disaster for the sport that the world championships are not on over-the-air television," USFSA President Chuck Foster said.

    Einhorn is concerned new management at ABC also might end the network's 42-year affiliation with the U.S. championships.

    "I have to believe they are still interested," Einhorn said. "On their Saturday night telecast, they talked a lot about the history."

    Problem is, since two years ago, when the NFL switched a playoff game to Saturday night, the prime-time telecast of the national championships has faced overwhelming competition the USFSA could not avoid because of existing contracts with host cities. That will change in 2007 when the U.S. championships will move to a week with no Saturday NFL game, at least in non-Olympic years.

    "I don't want skating to be counter-programming against football," Einhorn said.

    What is called the "fast national rating" for last Saturday's three-hour skating telecast, 4.7, means the event will have drawn its smallest audience since going to prime time in 1992. Two more significant numbers: the only live hour, with the women's, drew a 5.0, and the overall rating in the 18-to-49 age group was 1.5.

    Einhorn told USFSA officials last week they must make the Saturday prime-time show almost entirely live. That could mean radical scheduling changes, like having the nine top men and women after the short program skate the final Saturday night.
    What do you guys think of this?

  2. #2
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    I think it's great that someone's trying to do something about this.

    I agree it's terrible that the World Championships are not going to be broadcast on network TV. The guy is right, it's disastrous for the sport and the skaters. First, having Worlds on TV helps generate fans who will then buy tickets to COI and the spring pro-am. With Worlds not on network TV, it's possible that ticket sales to both events could decline, which ultimately hurts the skaters in terms of income. And second, TV ratings for next year's Worlds may decline as well, because people are just less aware of the event generally if they haven't seen the previous year's event. As ratings decrease, fewer ads are bought during the event, and then, voila, the ISU's next TV contract will probably pay even less than this one.

    So although the situation isn't really hurting the skaters or hardcore fans too much yet, it definitely is going to have a very negative long-term effect.

    I think the USFSA and the ISU have been complacent for far too long when it comes to generating better TV ratings. They've got to take this seriously, and so far they're not. It would make a hell of a lot of sense to have the top-flight groups in both men and ladies skate on Saturday night at Nationals, instead of burying the men on Saturday afternoon. Why would you NOT do that? The gains would seem to far offset any negatives.

    In general, I think many more skating events should be broadcast either live or much closer to their actual date. For example, look at the Grand Prix series. The last few years, coverage of the Grand Prix series in the U.S. has been a week behind the actual series itself. As far as I can tell, this is because ABC has generally devoted 2 weekends to Skate America coverage before it/ESPN start showing the rest of the Grand Prix. So, if they show the first weekend of coverage the same week as Skate America, they're on track. But if they then show Skate America on the next weekend, then they're falling behind the series, because at that point Skate Canada is already happening. That's no way to build interest and suspense in the series. They should be showing events on the same weekend they're happening. Otherwise the public gets confused, because they're reading Skate Canada coverage in the newspaper, but seeing Skate America coverage on TV. Not good! This is just an example of the bad planning and decision-making on the part of both the governing bodies and the networks.

    Other things to consider:

    1. The Grand Prix series itself could use some revamping. Every year, I find myself enjoying the series tremendously during the first few competitions. But by the time we get to Cup of Russia or NHK (usually the last competitions), even I feel a sense of ennui. This is because you see some skaters doing the same performances as many as three times. Maybe this is really too much; perhaps skaters should be limited to two appearances in the series, just to help keep some novelty and anticipation to it. Also, I actually agree with Cinquanta that if the Grand Prix continues as a 6-event series, then it is absolutely imperative to get all the top skaters, including the Michelle Kwans and Evgeny Plushenkos, to compete. The competitions need headliners. Otherwise there is too much skating that is, frankly, not all that good. Which brings me to my next point.

    2. It is my opinion, and I know this is controversial, that the skaters really need to pick up their general performance level. I saw an awful lot of performances during the Grand Prix that just weren't very good. I know the skaters are athletes and that they're not always going to skate perfectly. But still, I would like to see them skate better than some of them do. You can always count on the Michelle Kwans and Sasha Cohens and Irina Slutskayas to deliver good-quality programs and performances even when their jumps are a bit off. But when you get down to the Carolina Kostners and Elena Liashenkos and Julia Sebestyens, then the quality of peformance level goes down quite a bit. I'm not saying that these skaters need to do more jumps or anything. Almost the opposite, in fact. If they can't do all the difficult jumps, then fine, but what about at least trying to put together a better program artistically that the audience will enjoy, even if it's not marked well by the judges?

    3. Another thing that must be dealt with is the general public's lack of understanding about skating. It is my experience in talking to casual watchers (as opposed to skating fans) that most people do not know how to evaluate skating in the slightest. Perhaps this is most noticeable when talking about falls. When I see a skater fall attempting a triple axel, I'm like: "Wow! She really went for the difficulty, even if she did fall!" But the casual observer sees that same occurrence and goes: "Why are these figure skaters fallling all the time? Don't they practice this stuff every day?" In general, falls are a big problem for casual observers because, not only do they not understand why the skaters are falling, but the falls also significantly interrupt the program and therefore the observer's general enjoyment of the program. I'm not sure what the answer is. Perhaps some skaters should not try as much difficulty, if they aren't confident they can pull it off. Maybe there should be two tiers of competition at the senior level (low and high). Maybe skaters should have to pass more difficult tests to be eligible to compete at senior level. Or perhaps the networks/ governing bodies should offer a general disclaimer or explanation at the beginning of the event, explaining why falls do happen. I don't know what the answer is exactly, but I do think it's a problem.

    Anyhow, just some random thoughts, will be interested to hear what other people think about this.

  3. #3
    On Edge Piel's Avatar
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    Thanks RD. Do you think that if SC and MK, the most well known U.S. ladies, had participated in the GP series more people would have watched the GP and there would have been a larger carry over audience for Nationals?

    Maybe Sasha could REALLY run into Michelle during warm ups and bring back some of the Tonya/Nancy "magic:" to skating?

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    Forum translator Ptichka's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by eyria
    Also, I actually agree with Cinquanta that if the Grand Prix continues as a 6-event series, then it is absolutely imperative to get all the top skaters, including the Michelle Kwans and Evgeny Plushenkos, to compete.
    As I've said before, right now the skaters don't owe ISU anything. They're only in contract with their federations, which naturally have their own priorities. Offer Kwans and Plushenkos a decent contract, and they'll come!

    If they can't do all the difficult jumps, then fine, but what about at least trying to put together a better program artistically that the audience will enjoy, even if it's not marked well by the judges?
    You are onto something here, except that you can NEVER expect skaters to care about the audience more than they do about the judging. A difference betwen 3d and 4th place in a GP event is $6000! You cannot expect the skaters to ignore this.

    However, one good thing about CoP is that its easy to tweak. If ISU wants to encourage certain artistry, they should give those programs more weight. That has been done a little bit even with old system with Ice Dancing, when (circa 2001) dancers were basically told to pick fun upbeat music or suffer the consequences. While I thought it was terrible for the sport, it does work toward giving programs more audience appeal.

    Perhaps some skaters should not try as much difficulty, if they aren't confident they can pull it off.
    Once again, achieve this through CoP. Punish falls more, and reward artistry.

    Maybe there should be two tiers of competition at the senior level (low and high). Maybe skaters should have to pass more difficult tests to be eligible to compete at senior level.
    You are confusing US National and International systems here. At the US National level the Junior/ Senior split is basically a division into low and high tiers, as there are no age restrictions. On International level, there are no "tests" - ISU "trusts" national federations to send competent skaters. Perhaps having an inernational system of tests is not a bad idea. It would, however, be extremely costly and difficult to execute.

    Or perhaps the networks/ governing bodies should offer a general disclaimer or explanation at the beginning of the event, explaining why falls do happen.
    Come on, you don't really think that would help!

    Overall, I think the problem is that it's the individual federations and not the ISU that have the most support. Those federations care about their skaters' interests rather than the sport in general. I believe the solution lies in individual federations acting basically as "agents" for their skaters, helping them get the best possible terms with the ISU, but ISU being the one calling the shots.

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    Ptichka, I think you're right that some of the changes I suggested are pretty radical and could be difficult to implement. Probably, they're not realistic.

    But the whole point of the article was that radical change of some type is truly needed to help save this sport from falling into the total obscurity of, say, synchronized swimming or shotputting!

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    One way to improve the ratings might be to improve the skating. TRULY memorable programs are few and far between. Probably the major reason for this is that many programs simply lack compelling musical integrity.

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    Forum translator Ptichka's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by 2ndmark
    One way to improve the ratings might be to improve the skating. TRULY memorable programs are few and far between. Probably the major reason for this is that many programs simply lack compelling musical integrity.
    When weak skaters skate to superb music, it often looks even more pathetic. Unfortunately, there is no easy way to "improve the skating".

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    I really appreciate this topic. May I add a few more thoughts? Marketing, or lack thereof, is an important factor in all countries. In the US, whoever is responsible and getting a paycheck for 'marketing' should resign. If they want to generate a new generation of skating fans then they simply must make sure the public knows when skating will be on TV - in print, mentioned during other shows, etc. repeatedly!

    I also think the Grand Prix has run its course and when it is on TV in the US, like the poster mentioned, it is delayed so much that the next event has happened and the casual viewer gets confused. And agreed that when the casual viewer does see the same skaters doing the same programs, they are bored. The casual viewer does not see the subtle differences that can occur from one to event to another - example, Weir was fabulous in Paris but less so in Russia.

    It also needs to be respected and treated like a sport with the emphasis on sport.
    While some people feel that the fluff pieces make the skaters more 'human' and can then root for their favorite, I find it does distract from the sport aspect. I would rather see fluff pieces that feature their training sessions on and off the ice, rather than their shopping trips.

    The producers of these TV events must do much, much more to educate the public. I think most people were impressed with Paul Wylie doing technical commentary, adding to the standard set by Susie Wynne. 'Ice Moments' is poorly done for the average viewer to begin to understand - it is a foreign language and the spot is much too short. I would like to see side by side comparisons of proper technique with what a skater just performed - that visual alone would be very helpful. Actually a series of videos that the ISU did a few years back, especially one for the media in identifying elements and how they are marked, was an excellant start. Even I learned a lot from it.

    But I don't think making the top skaters always perform is wise either. I do remember one year they did show an hour of the lower rated skaters and it sure made the final flight much more appreciated. Seeing only the top skaters makes it seem more like an exhibition because of the otherall quality. The public never sees the lower levels to realize how much it takes to get to the top 6 level.

    I was appauled by the recent Hersch article and what Belmonte envisioned for attracting new younger skate fans! This is NOT Teen magazine!!! I think the USFS should work really hard on the grass roots levels to get the public to attend local competitions, regionals, sectionals. They leave it all up to the local clubs who do try to get their local media involved but usually lose out to the local male sports. While I only saw part of it, our local cable channel company did show part of Easterns and I thought that was really, really great - except their programming is never listed in the local newspaper or TV Guide.

    Money for the skaters now plays a significant role and they are wanting more and more. The US skaters make out just fine at the elite level, but you must remember that skaters from many other countries just do not have the financial resources to provide the best choreographers, ice time, etc. for their skaters. Yet go back a few decades and the world saw many talented elite skaters with limited resources rise to the top. They were hungry! I have to wonder what effect the new prize money has had on the up and coming skaters, what exactly are their priorities and what message is this sending to younger skaters?

    I'd better stop - there are so many factors to consider. Finally, I was rather disappointed with this years's Nationals. There is too much gap between the top 3 and all those below.......all IMHO.

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    On Edge Piel's Avatar
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    Our newspaper has a sports on TV today or this weekend section that NEVER lists figure skating. Thank goodness for Heather's schedule.

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    Maybe I ought to throw in my opinion here, since I consider myself a "casual viewer" and part of the "audience" they say they are trying to attract.

    I knew about FS for a while, and watched the FS ladies event in the Olympics every four years (1998, 2002). There was some intrigue in a skating competition for me that I was hard pressed to find in many other similar sports. I don't consider myself a fan of skating, really, because when there isn't a real rivalry, I get bored (unlike pro football or basketball where I can watch just about any game that's not a blowout). But I enjoy skating when there is real intrigue and suspense. I don't watch skating for the skating, I watch it for the thrill of competition (I hope you know what I mean).

    That said, I definitely can say that I have been increasingly bored with the competitions as the years go by. I am very unlikely to keep watching skating much beyond the 2006 Olympics (and I'll just go back to watching it every four years with the Olys).

    First of all, U.S. Nationals is a shoe-in right now for Kwan. She has NO competition whatsoever (sorry, but I don't consider SC a real rival of hers at this point). And, to me it's boring to watch the same person win over and over again. No one has stepped up to the plate to challenge her yet. I think that contributes to the decreased ratings...the LACK OF A REAL RIVALRY AT NATS. If MK has to do all but call in her performance then where's the fun besides those who are really into the SKATING?

    I agree with those who say the level of skating also decreases ratings. You have the top, let's see, five in the world, and then you have the rest. Die-hards say they want more skaters shown but that IMO would only make the ratings fall even lower. As a casual viewer I want to see good skating from the top contenders and a real rivalry going on (and not a predictable competition). 2004 Worlds (in ladies) was a good example.

    Also, MORE ADVERTISING wouldn't hurt. If people don't know it's on then HOW CAN THEY WATCH IT? I didn't see ONE ad for U.S. Nats this year on TV anywhere. Nor did I see any ads for the World Championships or other skating competitions...If it weren't for Heather's TV online schedule, I wouldn't even know that a lot of these comps are on, let alone plan to watch them. (I'll take this opportunity to thank her for doing this for the fans).

    These are just my thoughts. I don't, and can't, speak for all the casual viewers. But I can only offer my view and suggest that it may not necessarily be anything the networks are doing wrong that is decreasing ratings. It's the skating, and the lack of advertising IMO that contributes to falling ratings. So my suggestions would be

    1) Advertise the competitions more;

    2) Show the events closer to their actual date (no more than a 1 week delay);

    3) and make more attempts to explain what the HECK is going on to new viewers.

    Anything else IMO is out of the network's hands. You can't tell MK to stop winning, or someone else to step it up. The most they can do is make a real effort. And I don't think they are doing so.

    My 2 cents (more like my $2 )

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    Treeskater, I think you are absolutely right that the networks should do more to educate viewers. One of the most informative commentary segments I've seen was at the Olympics in 1994. During the pairs competition, Scott Hamilton explained a lot about the technique differential between Mishkutenok/Dmitriev and Gordeeva/Grinkov. In particular, he showed a side-by-side comparison of the throw triple Salchows done by each pair. He showed, and explained, how Katya traveled further and higher in her jump than Natalya, and also how Dmitiriev came to a dead stop after throwing his partner, while Grinkov continued skating forward. I found this side-by-side comparison very, very useful, and would love to see more of that type of thing.

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    Da' Spellin' Homegirl Grgranny's Avatar
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    Speaking of advertising, the problem is no one wants to buy it. As long as we have - mostly guys - saying it isn't a sport and etc. they're not going to buy it. The big problem there is the people who buy the advertising are not convinced that people will watch it and buy their products because of their own bias. Wish I knew how to change that but sure is a problem. Your posts are very good.

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    Custom Title Mathman's Avatar
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    Grgranny, sadly I have to agree with that. You can't make people like what they don't like. Look at all the effort that has been put into the promotion of soccer as a "real sport" in the U.S. World-wide it is the most popular sport ever, but nobody in the U.S. cares about it at all.

    The National Hockey League is on strike. Canadians hate it but U.S. sports fans haven't even noticed.

    On the other hand, tennis and golf are two sports that 40 years ago you would never have thought would become specator sports at all. What could be more boring than watching someone else play golf? Yet somehow, either by whimsical good luck or clever promotion, they have become quite popular.

    I think figure skating occupies a unique niche -- there is no other sport like it. I agree with Red Dog that the key is somehow to up the ante on the competitive angle. There are good rivalries in the sport. They could be pushing Irina Slutskaya against Michelle Kwan more, for instance. In general, I would like to see more publicity given to international stars. Maybe we need to bring back the Cold War to get people to take an interest in American skaters taking on the champions of other countries again.

    Mathman
    Last edited by Mathman; 01-22-2005 at 10:03 AM.

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    Custom Title Joesitz's Avatar
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    I go along with suggestion to advertise Regionals and Sectiionals competitions in one's hometown local TV, local Radio and local newspapers. I live in NYC and only because it was mentioned on Golden Skate did I realize that Emilie Hughes would be skating in the North Atlantic Championships at Chelsea Piers. Much more advertising for these competitions should increase the fans from drop-ins to casuals to ardent.

    Portland had a lot of advertising all over the city when I arrived. I also met so many natives who were in the stands as nothing more than casual fans and drop-ins. This is because they were bombarded with Advertising plugs on TV, Radio, Billboards etc.

    The New York Yankees (damn them) get at least 1 page of news and 3 pages
    of fluff everyday in the tabloids. Baseball fans eat it up, and go to the games, and watch them on TV, and hear it on Radio. Why not half that with figure skating?

    Joe

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    Custom Title Mathman's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Red Dog
    I am very unlikely to keep watching skating much beyond the 2006 Olympics (and I'll just go back to watching it every four years with the Olys).
    Hey Dog, I know you'll come back in 2010 to see Mao Asada squeek out a win over Michelle Kwan!

    MM

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