Figure skating before television (BT) was an adult social activity of ballroom dancing on skates and a sport for daughters of the well-to-do in competition. The skaters often switched to tennis in the summer. The cost of ice and instruction kept the lower income folk away as the balletic overtones repelled many boys. For a long time, the sports’ official headquarters was a filing cabinet supervised by Theresa Weld Blanchard, who ran the ‘Central Office’ in a corner of a multipurpose room. National Championships were held in rinks, there were no team events and skating was unrecognized by schools. The sport was financed in rinks by the skaters’ local clubs and the governing body depended upon modest dues from members and even more modest test fees. It worked because essentially everybody was an unpaid volunteer.
After WWII, ABC Sports added the sport’s major events to its “Wide World of Sports” TV productions, paying a fee to the United States Figure Skating Association for the rights and money began flowing to the sport. It’s headquartered today in its own two story building next door to the Broadmoor Resort in Colorado Springs, CO. Theresa Weld Blanchard has been replaced by a double handful of employees under an Executive Director, a group that has taken the management of larger competitions from the local clubs that once ran them.
But the TV money that paid for all that has stopped; most income remaining is the original member dues. The dues have been allowed to languish, unnecessary in the flood of TV money; they are now too modest and even if raised to current levels, will no fund the mansions erected upon the TV income. Past volunteer leaders arranged the saving and investment of a portion of the TV largesse as a rainy day fund; that is all that now stands between the sport and a very unpalatable retrenchment.
In a comic parallel with Congress, the sports’ management has continued the spending patterns of the past into the reduced income of the present, though relying on past savings rather than on borrowing to do so. Both U.S. Figure Skating and Congress find it politically inexpedient to face their new, reduced financial realities. And both will soon enough be forced by circumstances to face them.
Figure skating has another issue to face as well: it owns no ice; it is fully dependent upon rink owners who are either local governments or private enterprise. Federal and local energy policy is pushing these facilities toward insolvency, aided by insurance costs.
What will happen? As the new depression closes in, many will close. Few will pay the high costs of figure skating competition and few rinks will sell much ice to the sport, which wants fewer using the ice as skills mount. Instruction will become cheaper as ex skaters look to recover something from their sport and the shrunken Headquarters that is coming will cut services, returning many once again to local clubs to provide.
But our age does not provide the willing volunteers of yore; their absence will be offset by services from instructors and rinks, who have money to earn by doing so. From its present quasi-volunteer management, figure skating will follow roller skating by becoming a creature of the rinks that house it. Skaters whose attention is on the ice will likely notice little difference, except that skating will eventually be cheaper, with more outlets than learning triple jumps in order to engage more people.
Competition excluding triples could enlarge the sport’s base, reducing costs and enlarging once again the expression of art. Dropping private instruction would both reduce costs and improve coaching.We have written earlier on engaging more males; another lost demographic that should be restored is the adult social ice ballroom dancers who once numbered in thousands and helped keep rinks profitable.
Much could be accomplished…if the sports’ management were to stop imitating Congress!