Officials: Skating Week Big Success

Posted: January 12, 1998

All week long, the sound of skate blades cutting across ice echoed from the floor of the CoreStates Complex to the highest reaches of the nosebleed sections.

When the buildings are mostly empty, the acoustics are dreadful.

Although the weeklong U.S. Figure Skating Championships were widely covered by the media and portions were aired live on television, the crowds it drew from Sunday through Saturday afternoon were small.

Attendance throughout the week ranged from 3,852 for the novice events at the CoreStates Spectrum on Monday, to 7,797 for the men's championship Thursday night at the CoreStates Center. That's sparse for a building with 19,500 seats for sale.

Not until Saturday night, when 19,082 came to see the final competition of the week - the women's free skate and the eventual crowning of Michelle Kwan - was there a crowd of championship proportions.

Yet, whenever event officials talked about attendance, it was always with a wide grin and an assurance that tickets were being sold in record numbers.

Yesterday afternoon, when all of the crowd totals for the week were compiled - including yesterday's 13,972 for an exhibition - it appeared they were correct. According to CoreStates Complex president Peter Luukko, 115,004 watched at least one of the week's events.

No other figure skating national has sold this well.

Until this week, the largest total attendance for a figure skating nationals was 114,444 at San Jose Arena in 1996. Saturday night's attendance was the largest single crowd on record, surpassing 16,052 for the ladies final last year in Nashville, Tenn.

``This was our best championships ever,'' said Jerry Lace, executive director of the United States Figure Skating Association. ``We brought the president of the international skating union in for this and even when he was leaving last night he was saying that this is the level he wants to get ISU events, too.''

While the event was impressive and well run for the USFSA, it was also a moneymaker for the host Wissahickon Skating Club of Philadelphia.

``I predicted we would do, businesswise, about $3.5 million,'' local host president Jerry Finley said Saturday afternoon. ``And we're going to be well ahead of what we predicted. We are so far ahead, it's unbelievable. Our ticket sales alone, I know we're over $3 million in ticket sales.''

Against an operating expense estimated at around $2 million for seven days, Wissahickon stands to make a healthy profit. Lace said that the USFSA ``takes very little'' of that profit and the other local clubs who sent volunteers will share in the profit and use the money to build figure skating in the area.

``All of that money will go right back into skating,'' Lace said.

Lace and Luukko said the crowds at the early events drew what they expected - small during the weekdays, building toward the weekend.

But, he said, they are thinking of ways to increase attendance.

Traditionally, the women's short program is run in the afternoon. Lace said some thought is being given to moving that event to an evening close to the weekend.

He said it was not done this year because ABC wanted to run the ladies short program the same night as it aired the men's long program. But skating officials did not want the women to have to skate back-to-back days, so it was held Thursday afternoon and aired Thursday night.

``We wanted to give them a day off,'' Lace said.

``If we had the ladies at night, would it have been better, I don't think you have to ask that question,'' Lace said. ``We're going to look at that.''

While having the ladies during the afternoon probably hurt the total attendance, it did apparently attract television viewers. According to the USFSA, Thursday night's broadcast of the taped ladies short program, and the men's final shown live, drew a rating of 10.5, about 16 1/2 million viewers

Saturday night's live broadcast of the women's final drew a rating of 12.9, about 18 1/2 million viewers

For the USFSA, and the people at the CoreStates Complex, that was the kind of exposure they had hoped for. Such events are not bid on strictly for the money they make on ticket sales, Luukko said.

``You can't have a Flyers sellout, or a Billy Joel-like sellout, every night,'' he said. ``We have 365 days to sell here and this is right in the mix. This is traditionally how this event goes.

``But the national and international exposure is great. It helps our booking efforts and we get the reputation of being able to put on a big show. It helps with our bids.''

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