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Why has figure skating's popularity declined among US audiences?

Olympian Gracie Gold Performs at Rockefeller Center

Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Olympic figure skater Gracie Gold skates at The Rink at Rockefeller Center on January 14, 2014 in New York City.

The 2014 Winter Olympics kick off in Sochi next week, and viewers across the country will be tuning into watch luging, snowboarding and curling, among other sports. 

But will they be watching figure skating? Maybe not with as much enthusiasm as they have in years past. 

The belle of the Olympic ball throughout the 1990s, figure skating seems to have lost some of its luster among U.S. audiences over the years. Gone are the days of recognizable stars like Michelle Kwan, Tara Lipinski and Nancy Kerrigan. Instead, the three young women currently poised to represent the U.S. on the international stage — Gracie Gold, Ashley Wagner, and Polina Edmunds — tend to stay out of the public eye and subsequently out of advertiser's minds. 

"Figure skating has lost a bit of its iconic status, " said Shawn McBride of the marketing firm Ketchum Sports & Entertainment. "We're seeing that the demographic is slightly older than what is most attractive to advertisers and broadcasters."

While it appears that younger audiences aren't connecting with figure skating, they are connecting with Olympic action sports like snowboarding, made more popular through annual, high-profile competitions like the X-Games.

Along with these extreme sports comes larger-than-life personalities with vibrant social media accounts that help viewers create deeper connections with athletes. 

"Not taking anything away from the incredible athleticism, not to mention the commitment and sacrifice by these athletes, at its core figure skating rewards poise at the expense of passion," said McBride. "What we're really seeing is a cultural shift among sports fans...with the explosion of social media and the opportunity for a lot of these athletes to take control of their image and showcase their personalities. That is not, frankly, coming through as significantly in figure skating as it is in some other sports."

There are some bright spots, however. Ratings for this year's U.S. Figure Skating Championships are up 40 percent from last year among adults 19-49. In addition, though the U.S. team isn't as major a player as it was in the 1990s, this "underdog" status could propel the U.S. team to push the envelope. 

"We as a country have somewhat become almost underdogs, if you will. That's a dynamic that we know all Americans love," said McBride. "I think that makes for great drama and an "us against them" mentality heading into Sochi, the team has something to prove, and I think Gracie Gold and Ashley on the women's side certainly are going to be ready to get after it. We'll see some great skating of course."

Talk to Take Two: Do you plan on watching figure skating during the Olympics in Sochi? Tell us why or why not in the comments!


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