Monday, January 21, 2013

Girls - Hockey vs. Figure Skating

Jan/Feb 2013 PS Magazine

In the November issue of USA Hockey magazine it was reported that in the past 10 years, participation in girl’s hockey has increased close to 40%; for the 2011-2012 season, 67,000 girls and women were playing hockey.

If USA Hockey can maintain that pace, the number of girls playing hockey could exceed those who are figure skating within another 20 years. While rink owners and operators would love that, it should concern those who earn their livelihood in the figure skating market.

In Rochester, Minnesota, home of the PSA, it has already happened. There are currently 145 members of the Rochester Figure Skating Club which includes both boys and girls. The Rochester Youth Hockey Association has 226 registered girls on 14 teams; a difference of 36% in comparison to the RFSC.

In the State of Hockey (MN), there are 126 high schools with at least one girl’s team. Massachusetts has 82 high school girls teams, Wisconsin 33, Michigan 30, and Illinois just 15.

Why is the number of girls playing hockey skyrocketing while ours are stagnant? We often hear that we lack a marketable star, but can anyone name a famous female hockey player? To the general public, I don’t see any lady hockey player more recognizable that any of our top girls. Maybe it’s financial…figure skating has a reputation as being expensive. I don’t think that’s it, especially when parents are paying $300 for hockey skates, $100 for a helmet, $50 each for a chest protector, shin guards, and elbow pads, $100 for pants, $100 for gloves and up to $300 for stick. A season of travel hockey can run anywhere from $1000 - $15,000 and up, depending on various factors. Of course figure skating and hockey are both referred to as elitist sports…only the rich participate. There are politics in hockey just as there is in figure skating…what is it?

Could it be the potential of college scholarships for hockey players? There are currently 35 DI and 51 D III women’s hockey teams. But is that truly it? The reality is that only about 1% of hockey players receive that full ride. Are they having more fun? Are hockey dad’s pushing there girls into hockey?

The only reasonable conclusion a person could point to is the public favors hockey over figure skating. It has to be our image…Tonya Harding, judging scandals, negative media, and the divisiveness IJS has caused with our current and former fan base. Image is everything!

Point in case – a new reality series “Jersey on Ice” on TLC. The sneak preview available online is disturbingly offensive to those who coach. The show focuses on four coaches, all non-PSA members, who try to one up each other. In the 2:00 minute preview, these coaches who are wearing more make-up than a Vegas show-girl, and display a wide variety of poor professional conduct. There are multiple instances of swearing, coaches arguing in front of their skaters in public and one shot of the four sitting in a bar having a drink! Personally, I am extremely disappointed. This show is a very selfish act on the part of these so-called coaches that could have a large negative impact on a sport that is already fighting for every skater.

I feel like I've written this editorial before…I KNOW I have written this before, many times in fact. We all have to do a better job of selling our sport. We need to keep it fun, exciting, and fresh. Coaches have to be professional, live it! Judges have to keep improving, and become more accessible to coaches and skaters. While US Figure Skating, PSA, STAR and ISI must work together to build a stronger industry, US Figure Skating and PSA must work harder together to grow and keep figure skaters in figure skating.