Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Forgotten Art of Skating Etiquette

PS Magazine, OCT/NOV 2010

This past September, I was in San Francisco for both the PSA Nationwide and ISI seminars. I was excited to be there as I was unveiling a new presentation/soapbox, "The Forgotten Art of Skating Etiquette." But before I was scheduled to deliver my new PowerPoint, I had an on-ice presentation to do. Standing in the middle of the rink finishing up my session, you can imagine my surprise as I was interrupted by this gentle voice from behind.
"Excuse me Mr. Santee, I am sorry to interrupt…I’m warming up for my test and I need to use the middle of the ice…Is that OK?"
I turned and just stared at him in stunned silence…Did he just call me Mr. Santee? Is he asking my permission to use ice he already had a right too? WOW was all I could think, and "Sure" was all I managed to say. Turning toward the coaches standing there, I said, "I’ll even get out of his way." I was so impressed with his demeanor that I thought to myself that if I taught there, I would probably always make it a habit to look out for him.
What really excited me was that this was a great example to what I believe is a major problem today– the lack of "Skating Etiquette." It seems that hardly a day goes by where my own children don’t complain about someone getting in their way during their program. Or maybe it’s a kid working on an axel in the lutz corner or someone practicing moves in the field in the opposite direction on a crowded session. It’s the beginner who never moves for anyone, or worse the coach who follows their skaters throughout the lesson, oblivious to anyone else on the ice. There are probably a hundred examples of poor etiquette. And almost everybody has an excuse. I wish I had a dime for every time I hear, "…so and so never moves for me. Why should I move for them?"
Why? First, respect - as a society in general, there is a lack of respect for anything or anyone. Do we let in a merging driver or speed up? Second is safety – two skaters playing chicken on who is going to get their jump in first. Someone has to take the high road or there will be a collision. And finally, there is an economic component to this issue. Mayhem on a session creates an unsafe atmosphere and a total lack of productivity. Frustrated skaters are just going to search out a free style with fewer people. Fewer people on a session are not profitable for a rink. How long will it take for a manager to take away an hour of ice and sell it to hockey?
We can’t change the world but as coaches, we can begin to change the skating one…one skater, one coach, one parent, one club, one rink at a time. We can do this by making it a focus to teach our skaters the history, traditions and etiquette of our sport.
Here are some thoughts on what to teach:
1. The Right of Way (rīt'əv-wā') The customary or legal right of a person, vessel, or vehicle to pass in front of another.
2. Programs have the 1st priority to the right of way. The program skater should be easily identifiable. Use a fluorescent colored vest or material that can be tied around the waist
3. Do not restart programs. A protocol should be developed regarding double run through’s prior to competitions.
4. Coaches should NOT make a habit of following a skater during their program
5. Lessons have the 2nd priority to the right of way. This means the skater having the lesson, not the coach!
6. Seniority has the 3rd right of way and the responsibility to avoid collisions
7. Be Courteous – "Excuse me, Thanks"
8. When passing slower skaters, always pass to the outside of the skater
9. When skating towards another skater, when in doubt skate to the right.
10. Look both ways before skating away from the barrier
Suggested Area’s of Instruction

Closer to competition time, coaching should be done from the side or off the ice completely. Practice as you compete, compete as you practice.
As a general practice, do not let skaters skate behind you.
Coaches have the ultimate responsibility to control the safety of a session
When teaching spins, it is advantageous to do so in the center of the ice. This cuts down on the skater having to travel straight across the traffic pattern to the barrier and less disruptive to the flow of traffic
Coaching corners- a great spot to teach younger skaters who need closer attention.
Avoid standing jumps using the blue lines or the center red line. This can be very disruptive to the flow of traffic and dangerous for the skater. If required, use the area in the second half of the session. The rationale being that generally there is less skating activity as the session progresses
The following are some diagrams that are handy for teaching skaters traffic flow protocol. As a disclaimer, these are suggested. Each individual arena will have exceptions based on the skill level of skaters, and the individual needs of the arena and skating program. Copies of these diagrams can be downloaded at


Friday, September 17, 2010


PS Magazine, Sept/Oct 2010
On June 10 at 11:45 am pacific coast time a coach from the LA area updated his Facebook status with the following words, “PSA + C-E-R'S = GREED”. By that night, six more coaches weighed in with comments like, “yep its called lets suck all the money we can out of the coaches” and “thief” and finally, “The smell of corruption is powerful to allow so many ‘required’ fees.” You can imagine how I felt reading those words. You can imagine as the e-mail made the rounds how those on the board of governors felt and those committee volunteers who give hundreds of hours of there time to this “greedy” organization. Unfortunately, while a majority of LA coaches have worked hard to improve their “product”, a loud vocal minority continues to misstate the current facts regarding membership to PSA, required CER’s, criminal background checks and in general, the purpose and mission of the PSA.

For over 70 years, the PSA mission has been: “Dedicated to providing continuing education and accreditation to ice skating professionals. That has not changed, nor will it and I don’t believe I need to apologize for doing just that. Additionally, the PSA is “owned” by the membership. Full members vote for their representation on the Board of Governors, and those on the board vote for the leadership. While there seems to be some confusion regarding the position of the Executive Director, I am a paid employee who works at the pleasure of your elected president. My job is not making policy but to follow the direction of the executive board. Interesting enough, while my “Facebook friend” believes me to be greedy and corrupt, he has never attended a single PSA event, purchased anything from the site, nor voted in any election. My “Facebook friends” continue however, to complain about myself and my predecessor, Carole Shulman. If they really wanted to change the way the association operates, maybe they should do their own research as opposed to gossiping online and rehashing issues from the 80’s. Since my “Facebook friends” didn’t bother, I will enlighten them here.

As reported during the business meeting at the recent conference, the greedy PSA showed a net operating profit of $1,417. I know we are supposed to be a not for profit organization, but I couldn’t help squeezing that $1500 dollars out of the coaches. But really, nearly all of the money generated from Educational Programs is spent on those programs themselves. For example, last year we earned $321,450 presenting our seminars, Workshops and PACE and had expenses of just under $310,000. The sales of Educational material such as manuals and DVD’s, were $129,000 with expenses of $123,500; a net profit of less than 5%.
In regards to CER’s, this program is a US Figure Skating rule, under the direction of the US Figure Skating Coaches committee. It is not a requirement of PSA membership but of US Figure Skating. The PSA supports and delivers the CER’s for US Figure Skating. Interesting enough, while my “Facebook friends” think that there is no need for continuing education, the results of the exams say otherwise. The CER US Rules 101 course has been taken by 6064 coaches with a passing rate of 71%. In laymen’s terms, 1,800 American coaches could not pass the test on how to read the rulebook… To be fair, most attempted the exam without the aid of the rulebook. Comparatively, the Ethics Course passed at a 97% rate and Sport Science at 98%. The second most difficult CER test was IJS 101 in which 12% failed, a total of over 360 coaches of the 3000 plus Category A coaches. While my “Facebook friends” may feel that there is no need for them to know the rules, I’m sure the parents of their skaters might think otherwise.

In spite of the fact that being a professional is becoming increasingly expensive, requiring education is considered necessary by U.S Figure Skating’s Governing Council and by our own PSA Board of Governors. We have gone too long thinking that the world revolves around figure skating. In Minnesota, woman’s hockey has replaced figure skating as the ice sport of choice for many of young girls. Michigan, Massachusetts, New York, and Illinois have lost many skaters to hockey as well. In 1992 USA Hockey had 10,000 girls registered; by 2009 they had registered over 59,500! While ISI and Basic Skills have been trading skaters, USA Hockey has been siphoning our girls off at an alarming rate. Adding to that the drop in enrolment at the novice/grade 9 level you can see why many coaches and clubs are struggling.
We need to keep those girls in the sport. We need to continue to work hard to improve the image of our sport and the profession of coaching. Having a professional membership, liability insurance, a criminal background check, continuing education, ratings or rankings should be considered a marketing tool; not a punishment! In today’s market, to be competitive we must be the very best.

"Nothing is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity."
-Martin Luther King, Jr.

The Wisdom of Wooden

July/August 2010

On June 4, 2010, the world’s greatest coach died at the age of 99. “Quietly, with dignity, as if the Lord had personally and gently embraced and carried his spirit away”, said close personal friend and co-author of several of John Wooden’s 10 books, Steve Jamison. “Coach,” as he was referred to by most, was not a figure skating teacher but the legendary basketball coach of the UCLA Bruins. Among his achievements included 10 NCAA Championships, a winning streak of 88 games that spanned three seasons and the President’s Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor America can bestow.
I knew of John Wooden, just as most sports fans would; a reference quoted by a TV or radio commentator to one of his many “Woodenisms” like, “It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.” It wasn’t until just before his death however, when Tom Zakrajsek presented his keynote address at the annual PSA Conference in Colorado Springs, that I was really enlightened. Tom talked a lot about reading and self improvement. He quoted John Wooden often and at one point, showed John Wooden’s Pyramid of Success. The Coaches Pyramid is reprinted in the center of this magazine, and a more detailed version can be found at
Curiosity over John Wooden’s Pyramid of Success and Tom’s words drove me to Wooden’s official website. The Pyramid of Success is made up of 15 blocks; from Enthusiasm to Competitive Greatness. On the website you can “open” each block and get a detailed explanation and commentary. Ironically, the first block I opened up was “Self Control,” something that I struggled with as a competitor, performer, coach, and even as Executive Director. Wooden describes the difficulty of getting to the “top” and staying there and in his own experiences, “…both getting there and staying there present unique and formable challenges.” Both necessitate self control. For someone to achieve greatness, a mastery of your emotions and discipline is vital. Coach Wooden was careful not to engage in pregame pep talks that would spike his players’ emotions. Those peaks make it difficult for players to control their actions leading to lackadaisical play and mistakes. Coach goes on to say that for “every contrived peak you create, there is a subsequent valley...Self-control provides emotional stability and fewer valleys.” An easy comparison is this year’s Coach of the Year, Frank Carroll. Mr. Carroll has said that it is important not to overwhelm a skater at the gate prior to their program. Generally, he portrays a calming demeanor, with positive phrases and almost no technical advice. Like John Wooden, Frank prefers “controlled focus and directed energy.”
Surfing through Wooden’s Pyramid of Success, it’s easy to see his influence on Tom Zakrajsek, Frank Carroll, and most probably, all teachers and coaches. I have picked my ten favorite “Woodenisms,” many of which you may have heard before…all are inspirational. When you get a chance, check out his website or the next time you’re in a book store, check out one of his books.

1. “Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are.”
2. “You can’t let praise or criticisms get to you. It’s a weakness to get caught up in either one.”
3. “Winning takes talent; to repeat takes character.”
4. “A coach is someone who can give correction without causing resentment.”
5. “If you’re not making mistakes, then you’re not doing anything. I’m positive that a doer makes mistakes.”
6. “Failure is not fatal, but failure to change might be.”
7. “It’s the little details that are vital. Little things make big things happen.”
8. “Talent is God-given. Be humble. Fame is man-given. Be grateful. Conceit is self-given. Be careful.”
9. “Success comes from knowing that you did your best to become the best that you are capable of becoming.”
10. “Success is never final; failure is never fatal. It’s courage that counts.” v


Tuesday, June 29, 2010

“Vintage Platinum Medal”

PS Magazine, May/June 2010

For Immediate Release:

Dateline: April 1, 2010, Rochester, MN

Jimmie Santee Awarded “Vintage Platinum Medal”

In a touching ceremony attended by no one, but beamed by satellite to certain areas in Russia, Jimmie Santee was awarded the Vintage Platinum Medal for his performance during the 1988 Calgary games. “The fact that I was performing with Disney on Ice during those Olympics doesn’t mean anything… I mean I did beat Brian Boitano once in 1977. I’m sure if I was given a spot on that Calgary team I could of won" said Santee. Following the lead of the Vancouver Games Platinum Medal winner, Evgeni Plushenko, a secret but select committee of former non-medaling Olympians felt the need to recognize Jimmie as the true winner. When asked for a comment regarding the award, a former Olympic Silver medalist who asked to remain anonymous said, “Fantastic! Perhaps a note from Obama and a visit to the White House comes next!” When asked what he going to do now, Jimmie responded, “I’m going to the PSA Conference and Trade Show in Colorado Springs, May 27 – 29!”

…For those of you who missed the original Platinum Medal ceremony, Evgeni Plushenko allegedly awarded himself the medal following his 2nd place performance in Vancouver. I say allegedly because his agent, Ari Zakarian claimed that it was unauthorized and that Evgeni knew nothing of it. That contradicted what was reported on Yahoo sports; a picture of Evgeni wearing a platinum medal was found on his official site. The caption read, “Silver of Salt Lake, Gold of Torino, Platinum of Vancouver.” Regardless, the actions and words of the silver medalist made the claim believable. It was also one of the worst examples of sportsmanship…ever!

It also brought back a flood of memories of poor sportsmanship; the South Korean short track skater who threw his countries flag to the ground following disqualification after winning a race for gold in Torino. How about the Isaiah Thomas and Bill Laimbeer of the Detroit Pistons walking off the court before the end of game 4 of the 1991 Eastern Conference Championships? Following the 1988 Olympics, Debi Thomas was being interviewed on live television said, “Anybody want to trade an ABC pin for a bronze medal?” I remember how mad I was when I heard that statement…I would have given anything just to be on the Olympic team. I thought how could anyone be so disrespectful?

If Plushenko had only made one bad quote, it would be easier to forgive him, but he went on and on. An article in USA Today by Steve Wieberg, may explain his behavior. In his article, a study by three U.S. academics shows that bronze-medal winners, on average, are happier with their finishes than silver medalists. Those scholars analyzed heat-of-the-moment reactions and interviews of Olympians, during the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona.
“When we documented the trend, there were some silver medalists who were delighted and some bronze medalists who were crushed,” said Thomas Gilovich, chairman of Cornell's psychology department and one of the study's co-authors. “But on average, the weight of the data showed there was this significant tendency for bronze medalists to be happier.” Steve Wieberg reported of the study “…that expectations, who was favored, who wasn't — were taken into account.”
Back in the early 90’s, I had to the chance to meet Debi Thomas and have dinner with her and a few of the other skaters from the Sun Valley show in Idaho. While sitting across from her, I brought up the quote. How she replied really changed my opinion of her. Debi had been a favorite going into the games. As the first black U.S. and World Champion in 1986, there was an enormous build-up of pressure prior to the games; not only from the skating society and media but by the black community as well. Debi was sitting in first place heading into the long, but a poor performance dropped her to the bronze. Her feelings Debi told me, was not that she thought she should have won, but of not doing her best. Her comment meant to be funny, came off as flippant and disrespectful. I don’t think her reaction would nave been different in she won the silver…she just didn’t skater her best and was crushed. Sometimes a lifetime of emotion just come out at the wrong moment.
Comparing Debi to Plushenko - In spite of of what Evgeni claimed, he also did not skate his best. In fact, go to u-tube and watch his long from Torino and compare it to Vancouver. I find it amusing that he was quoted as saying, “Quad is quad. If the Olympic champion doesn't know how to jump the quad, I don't know…Now it's not men's figure skating, it's dancing. That's my point.” My point Evgeni is your Vancouver program was – A. a dummied down version of your Torino program. Where was the quad/triple combination? Where was the Triple Axel/ Triple toe combination? And – B. the worst choreographed IJS program …ever! Unfortunately for Evgeni and his coach Alexei Mishin, in the four years they were out of the sport, it passed them by. They did not take the opportunity to grow with the system. Either through arrogance or stupidity, they decided that he was “owed” the gold. One thing Evgeni said was right, this isn’t dance. He had to earn his gold on the ice. Forget about a platinum medal, he should get Roger Ebert’s “Rotten Tomato” award.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Big Disconnect

PS Magazine, March/April 2010

As exhausting as it was to attend the Spokane marathon, better known as the 2010 AT&T U.S. Figure Skating Championships, it has reaffirmed to me that the skating has never been better. I know there are people out there who will disagree with me. Sonia Bianchetti, ISU judge and referee, frequently blogs about the poor quality she sees in events that she attends or watches on TV. I can’t speak for what she sees in Europe, but if she is referring to the United States, I need someone to explain it to me! What I saw in EVERY event at the U.S. Championships was truly inspiring. I was proud to have been a witness to more great performances and well-choreographed programs than I have ever seen in a single event. That being said...
We have a big disconnect. We rely too heavily on what we read. Many of us read Phil Hirsch, Nancy Armour or Christine Brennan—and some actually enjoy reading what they write. But when they keep writing things like ‘bring back Tonya Harding,’ or ‘there are no stars in skating,’ all it does is encourage our fans to change the channel. What really got me going was watching press row during the events in Spokane. During the Original Dance event, at the conclusion of Meryl and Charlie’s program, press row emptied out. That wouldn’t be a problem if there weren’t seven more teams left to skate. Marie Milliken of Associated Press was the only writer to watch every skater in every event. How can the rest of these writers describe skaters and programs that they didn’t even watch? Phil Hirsch himself writes about the great bike trails he rode while in Spokane. Was he there on vacation or to cover the U.S. Championships?
Maybe if they were paying attention they could have broken the storm that rumbled over Johnny Weir’s costume. I googled “Johnny Weir fox costume” and had 320,000 hits; the guy can’t get a break. Evan’s costume had feathers on it. Is the difference being real or fake? Regardless, Johnny had this to say following his decision to change the fur; “I hope these activists can understand that my decision to change my costume is in no way a victory for them, but a draw. I am not changing in order to appease them, but to protect my integrity and the integrity of the Olympic Games as well as my fellow competitors.” Bravo Johnny! Plus two on the GOE!
A second costume hullabaloo involved the Russian dance team of Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin whose tribute to Australian Aborigines at the European Championships created a stir. Their original dance to Australian Aboriginal music, they performed it wearing brown face, tribal paint and costumes with clumps of faux foliage. Thank the lord that they went with “faux” foliage or we could have added Tree Huggers of America to the list of offended.
And then the avalanche. Evgeni Plushenko, the defending Olympic champion, was quoted as saying, “If the judges want someone to place high, they can arrange it. Like (at the European championships) in Tallinn, (France’s) Brian Joubert got more points for his transitions than me, although we did exactly the same transitions on the ice. In fact, we don’t have any transitions because we focus on our jumps.” In response, American judge Joe Inman forwarded the quote to a group of friends, writing: “I find this an interesting observation of his own skating and the judges’ marking of his transitions.” I can only assume the e-mail fast-forwarded beyond the intended group as Toronto’s The Globe and Mail referred to the e-mail and reported that there is a “North American bias against European figure skaters.”
In response to The Globe and Mail article, French skating federation president, Didier Gailhaguet told French sports magazine, L’Equipe, “It just proves that the North American lobby is on its way.” Huh? What the heck does that mean? What a ludicrous statement from someone with no credibility. Wasn’t Gailhaguet suspended for his role in the judging controversy at the Salt Lake Games? Isn’t he part of the reason we have this new judging system? And then making matters worse, Mr. Weir had to weigh in on the controversy. Following is the direct quote by Johnny on USA Today online:
Weir joined the chorus of criticism after his first practice, saying, “I am very offended that an American judge started this whole thing. I think it’s a smear on my face and my reputation as an American figure skater and I hope he’s banned from judging for the rest of his life. Coming into the Olympic Games, America already has an iffy public image and for him to basically attack every other skater in the world …
“Even though he did that trying to support American skaters, it’s my reputation. Am I going to be judged differently because of what some stupid American judge did? Because I’m an American, am I going to be judged more harshly than somebody else? It wasn’t the time or the place. Politics in figure skating isn’t an abnormal thing but you don’t do it and smear your team a week before the Olympic Games.”
In all respect, Mrs. Weir, I have to give Johnny a minus three on that one. First off, I don’t believe that Joe Inman started anything. He made a personal observation, one that many would point out. Second, if Johnny is worried about his “reputation as an American figure skater,” maybe he shouldn’t have worn a Russian warm-up jacket during an event. Third, “I hope he’s banned from judging for the rest of his life”… not even the villains from Salt Lake were banned for life. Four, “…basically attack every other skater in the world…” How did Johnny get that from “…an interesting observation of his own skating…” Actually, that’s a minus four for the first paragraph alone.
So, let me total up the scorecard… Johnny is sitting at a minus two for this column! I had great hopes for him as I began this editorial . I guess the moral of the story is that we are who we are and we should learn to celebrate our own unique personalities. In this case, I wish Johnny had followed Jeremy Abbott’s lead. When asked about the e-mail controversy by USA Today, he said he had heard about it but didn’t know any details. But that isn’t Johnny and unfortunately as I spoke earlier, what we have is a “big disconnect.” We are reacting to sound bites and online media, not getting all our facts straight before opening our mouths. I just pray the next time someone sticks their foot in their mouth, they’re not wearing skates.

Monday, January 04, 2010

25 Years

Jan/Feb 2010 PS Magazine

The year was 1985. My first year as a performer with Disney on Ice and the year I met my wife, Jamie. You may recall the Chicago Bears won Superbowl XX that year, embarrassing the Patriots 46 – 10. In 1985, Windows 1.0 was introduced and the first .com registered. Brian Boitano won the first of his four consecutive national titles. Sandy Lamb was president of the Professional Skaters Guild of America; the first woman to hold that position. But two of the most fruitful changes of that time were the move of the PSGA from Buffalo, New York to Rochester, Minnesota and the hiring of Carole Shulman as its executive director; not only a change of address but a new beginning for the association and facelift for the newsletter.
The “Professional Skater” – PS Magazine was introduced with the March/ April Issue. In 1985, PS Magazine had a circulation of 1100, with the membership of the PSGA at 925. The two-color magazine continued to publish six times per year. Twenty-five years later, we have almost topped 6500 members and the magazine is printed in full color. It continues to be the face of the PSA and one of our more significant contributions to keeping the coaches up to date with the constant changes in our industry.
But more importantly, looking back to 1985, there has never been a greater time of growth and change in skating. Our sport transformed itself in 1990, when school figures were eliminated from all International and World competitions. Although the PSA spoke out strongly against it, by 1999 figures were gone and moves of the field were in. Also in 1990, the eligibility rules were rewritten by the ISU, allowing skaters to earn considerable amounts of income from appearance fees in shows like Tom Collins Champions on Ice, IMG’s Stars on Ice, Witt and Boitano’s “Skating” or even teaching fellow skaters (“considerable income” does not refer to teaching).
Both decisions were meant to popularize competitive skating on TV, but paled when compared to two major events that rocketed the popularity of skating to the stratosphere. First, the obvious: the “whack heard around the world” at the 1994 U.S. Figure Skating National Championships in Detroit. The second, although subtle, was more discerning as CBS lost the rights to NFL football. Catching the network somewhat unprepared for the open football slots, CBS scrambled to fill the air-time with a plethora of made for TV competitions and shows, competing directly against ABC, who had been broadcasting figure skating on Wide World of Sports since 1962. The PSA’s own competition, the U.S. Open Professional Championships, was established in 1981 and first shown on ESPN in 1988, and continuing until 1995 on CBS, USA, and TBS. That year while the “amateurs” and their new TV partners enjoyed their popularity, Ice Capades quietly went out of business as their attendance fell, a consequence of skating’s novel popularity on TV, Disney on Ice, and the “Stars” and “Champions” tours. Although most industry leaders failed to recognize it, this was the first sign that the ISU’s 1990 Congress had made a grave error. Still the money and the popularity of “made for TV” skating competitions continued to rise, helping to create a building boom of rinks and skating schools. It didn’t take long for the ISU to learn, along with U.S.Figure Skating, that their “product” was being neglected as much of this new income was going to outsiders; agents and producers attracted to this emerging market.
So in 1995 the ISU introduced the ISU Champions Series, which would later change its name to the Grand Prix of Figure Skating. It was a game saving decision for the ISU, but a severe blow to the long established pro competitions like the U.S. Open, the World Professional Ice Skating Championships in Jaca, Spain and to another popular skating event, Candid Productions “The World Professional Championships.” Candid Productions, founded by Dick Button, produced the first championship in 1973. Mr. Button’s competitions, which included the World Challenge of Champions on ABC’s Wide World of Sports, continued to grow in both popularity and participation until it hit its high water mark in the mid 90’s. With the ISU’s Grand Prix and the influx of made for TV competitions, such as “The Ice Wars” and “The Rock and Roll Championships,” increased competition created havoc in an increasingly over-saturated market. At the height of popularity, U.S. Figure Skating and ABC signed a deal to televise U.S. Figure Skating events which ran from 1998 to 2007 for a sum reported as $10 million annually. Considering the run that Michelle Kwan had, I’m sure ABC was happy to pay, expecting the ratings to keep climbing.
ABC’s Doug Wilson said, “Skating is a marvelous, sweet pie. And when the popularity of it grew, a heck of a lot more people, driven by a buck, became interested. But the pie didn’t get bigger. The quality events didn’t get any bigger. So the pie got bigger with created events. Created for not necessarily the good of skating, but for the profit of those who were putting them on...”
U.S. Figure Skating was in great financial shape during the time of the ABC contract, with basic skills numbers almost doubling during that time. But there were warning signs; growth slowed considerably among the regular members with a total increase of just over 5%. Around the millennium, Nielsen ratings for professional skating competitions were declining and the TV networks were shifting towards a time-buy model. Prior to this model being introduced, producers would shop the rights to their programs, with most production expenses being picked up by the network. There was little risk for the producers as they got paid whether the network could sell the advertising or not. With the time-buy model, the producers would purchase the air time, pay for the production, and sell the ad space; they assumed all the risk and made less revenue.
While U.S.Figure Skating was on top of the world, the rest of the industry went through a phase of acquisitions and closings. Looking back at the demise of Ice Capades in February 1995, the company was sold for $10 million to International Family Entertainment Inc., whom announced plans to sell Capades six months later, and was then closed shortly after. The PSA’s U.S. Open did not have a television contract for 1996 but with their partner, Sports Marketing Marque Group, was broadcast on UPN in ’97 and NBC in ’98. There was no 1999 U.S. Open, as the Marque Group paid the PSA $100,000 and walked away, being bought by SFX for $100 million. Less than a month later, Magicworks sold to SFX for $118 million. Magicworks Entertainment, the producers of “Nutcracker on Ice” and the ill-fated Warner Brothers Family Ice Show, in 1998 purchased the largest independent figure skating management firm in the world, MARCO Entertainment for an undisclosed figure. Michael Rosenberg, MARCO president and CEO, took over Magicworks winter sports division. Rosenberg at the time represented Dorothy Hamill, Oksana Baiul, Linda Fratianne, Viktor Petrenko and Pasha Grishuk/Evgeny Platov and Elizabeth Manley to name a few. Candid Productions mirrored a similar fate. By 1999 Dick Button had also sold to SFX, who the following year sold to Clear Channel, who did nothing with the brand. Clear Channel paid $3 billion to SFX stockholders and assumed 1.1 billion in SFX debt. Kind of like buying a goldmine that you discover is pyrite. The gold rush was over.
During this same time, the PSA, under the guidance of Carole Shulman, PSA President Bob Mock and the future president, Gerry Lane, made a very bold move to purchase land in Rochester to build our own building. Dividing the land and selling two parcels of the original property more than paid for the original piece of land. In 2000 the PSA moved into the new building.
In the winter of 2002, hopes were high that Michele Kwan would finally grab her gold and lead the next wave of growth for the sport in the U.S. Unfortunately; she fell short of her goal, earning the bronze and making matters worse, a judge’s scandal of epic proportions exploded after the pair event. It’s not like anyone ever thought that there weren’t deals being made to fix competitions, but to have someone admit it was something else. The ISU made the only ruling it could choosing not to punish either team but to award them both gold medals. But the fact still remains that the people responsible went for the most part unpunished. With the popularity of the sport waning, the judge’s scandal of Salt Lake City did nothing to endear our sport to it fans.
Shortly thereafter, the ISU announced the new International Judging System. Designed to focus on the skaters rather than the judges, IJS evaluates a skater’s performance as opposed to comparing each skater to the next. Further more, the IJS judges’ marks are referred to by its detractors as “secret judging,” as each judge is anonymous. I’m sure that the ISU was hoping to take the focus off the judges, but that has not happened. Arguably, this has frustrated a shrinking fan base who have had difficulty understanding the results and no one to blame when their favorite skater doesn’t place. Fortunately, during this period of time, the U.S. Figure Skating Board of Directors recognized the current trend in ratings and determined that the ABC contract could not be duplicated, made plans to begin cutting costs and preparing for business with less capital.
In 2006 Carole Shulman retired, opening the door for myself. Carole left a legacy few could match, including the growth of the organization to over 6000 members and the building of our beautiful office in Rochester. Almost at the same time, U.S.Figure Skating hired their new Executive Director, David Raith, whose broad experience in television has allowed U.S. Figure Skating to return to broadcast television as well as launch Also during that time, Mitch Moyer was hired as the High Performance Director encouraging the growing cooperation between U.S.Figure Skating and the PSA.
Today the PSA is operating debt-free, having paid off the mortgage in 2008. Additionally, the association was able to move our investments from stocks to cash during the last year, realizing only a 7% loss of the value. The PSA continues to prepare for the future; first purchasing the current e-learning management system and developing a PSA/Dartfish.TV channel, available soon via the World Wide Web. Continuing our mission of coach’s education and accreditation, PSA added ISI as a partner. Together with U.S. Figure Skating and ISI, PSA hopes to improve the quality of coaching in the U.S. and beyond.
As Yogi Berra said, “The future ain’t what it used to be.” Our sport has changed enough that those “business models” that were successful in the past may not necessarily work today. That being said, the U.S. Championships will be shown on NBC live, in primetime and produced by U.S. Figure Skating and NBC; finally an opportunity to sell the sport on our terms. Looking back, the biggest decision made, debatably a mistake, was cashing in on the popularity of the sport with the ABC deal and if I were in that same position with the cash offered, I’m not sure that I wouldn’t make those same decisions. I think an interesting point to make is that by the time SFX sold itself to Clear Channel, they had acquired over 200 entertainment companies worldwide. SFX, who had no background in skating, had come along and spent at least $218 millions dollars to buy up Candid Productions, The Marquee Group, Magicworks (MARCO); three major players in the skating industry who cashed in and walked away.
Regardless, as we all know, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. The PSA is prepared to grow; we are prepared to ride out the current storm, ready to catch the next big wave forward. So too I believe are ISI and U.S. Figure Skating. We are in control of our destiny and as our motto says, “Teamwork makes the dream work!”