Tracking ISU and U.S. Figure Skating Events, Issues and Governance
As we approach Governing Council and a critical election, it is time to focus on the real issues
I believe we have a very bright future, a great pipeline of young stars, momentum in multiple disciplines and age groups, including Synchronized Skating, Adults and Theatre on Ice – and we can really thrive – but only if we can work together to implement the strategic vision needed to lead U.S. Figure Skating into the future. It is critical to our sport’s future that we significantly grow our membership. To stimulate that growth we need to review our approach in many areas – and be willing to accept change. We also need the right leader and I want to share some of my ideas on how we can make that happen – working together.
The real challenges impacting the future of figure skating in the U.S., while certainly impacted by international decisions, are more fundamental and require an innovative and insightful approach.
Most critically, our testing and competitive structure needs a new approach that will reduce the financial burden on our skaters, particularly from entry level through Intermediate, where we see a huge drop off in participation. For example, leveraging our summer and early fall non-qualifying competitions to advance within our qualifying structure could limit skaters’ expenses while benefiting the local organizing committees of those non-qualifying competitions.
We also need to create even more opportunities to retain our skaters who want to continue to compete – but not at the elite level. To address this, we will redefine and rebrand the ‘Test Track’ to allow our skaters to advance and compete through senior level, with a focus on artistry, skating skills and interpretation.
To achieve these goals, we will focus a team of experienced officials, coaches and former skaters on each topic, with periodic updates to our membership to solicit comment and with initial recommendations by the 2015 Governing Council.
Growth is also dependent on our Grass Roots and Basic Skills strategy. An exciting collaboration being developed with USA Hockey will potentially bring in thousands of new participants – but we need to be ready to guide those skaters from entry level into our programs such as Basic Skills, which continues to be very popular. However, many bridge programs from Basic Skills do not convert enough skaters into full membership – primarily because of the economic “shock” of going right to private lessons.
Working with the program directors and clubs who have developed successful bridge programs, the PSA, and Headquarters, we will develop opportunities with multiple options for continuing in our sport that are economically viable to those skaters and their parents and attractive to rink managers to implement.
Also critical to stimulating growth is a refresh of the image and branding of our sport. We need to appeal to both current and future generations to encourage them to choose figure skating as a preferred activity and to have their children participate as well.
Our audience is aging and if our sport is going to not just survive but thrive, we must get this right. We have had great recent success in attracting high profile sponsors and we need to continue to focus on our value proposition and the presentation of our major events to attract both members and new viewers. While it is easy to blame the ISU, other countries such as Japan, Russia and South Korea have growing and enthusiastic audiences (i.e., sell outs every night at Worlds in Japan) – we need to address this as a challenge for USFS and our new strategic plan being developed, makes this a top priority.
While international news has dominated recent headlines, our approach needs to be well-developed and strategic rather than a “knee-jerk, storm-the-castle approach.” I believe there are two aspects to the international strategy we need to address.
The first is how we support our international skaters, including financially, and how we help get them the experience they need to compete at the championship level. Our sport has become much more global and more competitive at this level and we need to update our development strategy accordingly. Our elite skaters and their accomplishments inspire people, both old and young, to follow and participate in our sport. We need to look at how we can additionally support our skaters in their development and training, and financially, so they can reach their goals and continue to inspire a new generation of skaters. My support of our skaters extends well beyond this campaign and my role on the Board and has been direct and interactive, judging many non-qualifying and qualifying competitions annually, attending Champs Camp as faculty and visiting practice sessions to provide feedback and encouragement.
The other aspect of our international strategy we need to focus on is how we continue to build our influence within the ISU. We cannot influence the ISU agenda unless we have long-term, trusting relationships that can persuade other federations to support our positions. These relationships needed to be rebuilt due to the unilateral actions of a few, and we can’t let that ever happen again. U.S. Figure Skating has made very good progress in putting together a team that understands how to build relationships and get Championship events secured for the U.S. (also a critical component of our business and financial plan) and get our positions, such as eliminating anonymous judging, supported. Eliminating anonymous judging is essential to re-establishing the sport’s credibility and must be a top priority and requires a fully engaged president. The role of president is critical to credibly interfacing with ISU leadership, federation leaders and other NGBs, and I have and continue to build strong relationships with these leaders.
As our athletes are critical to our sport’s public image, our clubs are the backbone of the organization and critical to membership growth. Our clubs face a wide variety of challenges, from dealing with rink management to implementing SafeSport to competing with hockey for ice time. While U.S. Figure Skating support for clubs is good, I think we need to further build on our support model to help the small clubs with the expertise and support they need to grow, larger clubs with targeted programs to retain members and all clubs with high quality membership information from the new membership management system. As the current Midwest VP and as a Board member for the past five years, I have been directly involved in helping clubs solve many challenges, which include issues ranging from implementing SafeSport to competing for ice time with hockey.
As a partner with Deloitte & Touche, my clients, most of which are global financial services firms, engage me and my teams to help them solve some of their most complex business, technology and operations challenges. Every organization has challenges; how they address them determines whether they will succeed and grow. I am exposed to leading-edge thinking and innovation in business and technology, and experienced in negotiating complex and global deals and I will bring this experience to provide positive leadership to our sport and the role of U.S. Figure Skating President. I look forward to working with you to help our sport thrive!
Sam Auxier – Midwest and First Vice President, U.S. Figure Skating