Ice sports face existential problems: They rely upon facilities facing both uncontrollable energy costs and public policy demonizing energy users. Add to that, the families that have provided figure skaters now see declining disposable incomes while the post-competition careers for skaters have largely gone. Finally, the organizations that have provided competitions and officials have lost more than two thirds of their incomes with the loss of TV fees. To see their sport continue, the moguls of figure skating will have to find means to pay for it, or watch it contract to match the available financing.
Facing those realities, the sport degraded its entertainment values by redefining the criteria for judging, accelerating the departure of an already declining audience while increasing the costs both of officiating competitions and of administering the program.
All four ice sports face dubious futures unless an ice substitute or cheap energy become available, but what lies ahead for figure skating is truly dismal. International Skating Union President Cinquanta has recently reacted by asking the sport’s leaders for ideas and by providing his own suggestions. This has generated a lynch mob that is ignoring the sport’s terminal finances in favor of throwing Mr. Cinquanta out the nearest window; executing messengers is always popular. While that will please plenty of figure skating folks, it will not alter the sport’s sorry financial future.
Some believe that the entire decline results from Mr. Cinquanta’s revamped judging system and removing him and his system will cure all. That ignores the falling ratings that led to TV;s retrenchment and it ignores the compromised future of the energy-gbbling rinks and the declining discretionary income of families. It ignores too the loss of most of of U.S. Figure Skating income and the similar loss by the ISU. Both now augment their reduced incomes with investments dating from the TV glory days, money that cannot now be replaced. Mr. Cinquanta has done his job in pointing to the declining finances of his two sports. He has provided his own suggestions. Now the need is for others to add their own and to begin the conversation that the ISU President has begun.
Cinquanta’s primary suggestion is to drop the redundant short program from competitions, saving maybe half the cost of those events and much of the costs of training for them. That is a large, constructive step with no honest downside for the sport. Coaches will see the flip side of the skater’s reduced training costs; perhaps it’s time to reconsider the expansion of classes over private instruction? (Economics isn’t called “dismal” for nothing!) The short program replaced school figures, dropped for economic reasons; today, there is no significant difference between the short and the no longer ‘free’ long program but their durations. That fact of course, will not affect the emotions being aroused by the suggestion. Logic seldom attends a lynching and the President’s fans are rounding up tar and feathers to attack a man who is just doing his job. Hanging the Cinquanta scalp on the ISU headquarters flagpole may be fun, but it will not keep rinks open, nor pay the ISU’s bills. The sports’ opportunists are using the proposal to stir their anti-Cinquanta and anti-ISU pots. Many in the sport seem to have closed their minds to its real problems in Louis XIV “Apres moi, le deluge!” fashion. Figure skating is challenging and beautiful; it deserves better from its leaders … But then, so do America and the European Union, with their uncannily similar finances.