Young stars shine on Icenetwork.com
In 2008, I was floored when I discovered the Ice Network during the week of the U.S. Championships. I had been away from the sport for a few years, and a friend sent me a link to the website. I pursued the site for a bit and noticed that they were offering video coverage of every event during the week-long competition. Although I was skeptical about how much coverage they would actually provide, and wary of whether or not the picture quality would be very good, I decided to buy a subscription. That evening, I tuned in for the senior ladies’ short program and was surprised to be introduced to some of the most talented skaters in the country, many of whom I had never heard of.
Just a few years ago, a skater who was unable to place in the top six after the short program in the senior events at the U.S. Championships wasn’t provided with the chance to be seen by a national audience. Icenetwork.com has changed this. The site, which is a partnership between U.S. Figure Skating and Major League Baseball’s Sports on Earth department, has given local skaters an opportunity to perform for skating fans across the country. By streaming videos of the U.S. Championships, and offering coverage of regional and sectional events, the site enables viewers to root for never-before-seen skaters.
This is a great service to young skaters, their families, and fans. When I was competing at the novice and junior levels, I would have loved it if my family had been able to watch me compete live online. Many of the brightest stars in the sport can be found coming up the ranks in these younger levels. Allowing fans an opportunity to watch these skaters compete at the events leading up to the U.S. Championships gives them a chance to root for skaters who aren’t already in the public eye.
This brilliant feature was a primary goal of U.S. Figure Skating when they set out to create the site.
“Broadcasting our qualifying competitions is important to U.S. Figure Skating because it gives fans access to skaters as they begin their journey to making Team USA. There is great skating that takes place at these levels, and one way to increase the fan base is to allow fans to identify their favorites earlier, building a “relationship” with the skaters. When the time comes for the athletes to compete in televised events, there is increased name recognition and awareness,” said Ramsey Baker, Senior Director, Marketing & Communications at U.S. Figure Skating.
Along with its unique video coverage, the site supplies breaking news, athletes’ bios, and results. There are forums open to the fans, skaters provide video diaries, and subscribers are given the opportunity to replay events at their leisure.
The site also supplies commentary and articles about the sport written by knowledgeable skating journalists. “The Inside Edge with Sarah and Drew,” a blog written by Sarah Brannen and Drew Meekins, is a fan favorite.
Brannen, who is an accomplished author and an adult skater, and Meekins, a former world junior champion, began their blog in 2008. After meeting at the 2005 U.S. Championships, they came up with an idea to provide behind-the-scenes coverage of skating events and personal musings for the site. Posting bi-monthly, the response to their articles has been excellent.
The duo is excited about this year’s Olympic trials, and are going to be on-site blogging about the action.
“This year is going to be one of the most intense National championships ever. The men’s field is so deep that almost anything could happen. That goes for the women too with the return of Sasha Cohen a couple of wild cards. We really don’t know which ladies will make the team, and we’re not even sure who we think would be the best choices. There could a big surprise on the team,” said Brannen when discussing her thoughts on the significant event.
Although Icenetwork.com will continue with its annual video coverage of the competition, a television partner for this year’s Grand Prix events has yet to be named. Because of this, some fans have been slightly worried that the Ice Network won’t be supplying subscribers with coverage of these competitions. Baker addressed uncertainty with me, and she wants subscribers to know that there will be no change in the site’s coverage.
“Icenetwork.com has the exclusive rights to broadcast the Grand Prix series online in the United States this fall,” explains Baker. “A television partner is not yet determined for the Grand Prix series, but when it is, it will be announced by U.S. Figure Skating. The television aspect will only enhance Icenetwork.com because it will spark interest in the sport and serve as a marketing platform for the full coverage that can be found on ice network.com, both live and on-demand.”
While the Grand Prix coverage will be unchanged, there will be one adjustment to the site this season: Events won’t feature commentary by the site’s original contributor, Nancy Kerrigan. Baker says that Kerrigan is still planning to help with some “special projects or assignments” in the future
The site, which carefully monitors its traffic, has reported a constant annual increase of viewers. While some fans have complained about lost feeds or technical problems, I have yet to experience any difficulties with my subscription. With unique content and a growing audience, the future seems bright for Icenetwork.com. I am excited to watch this year’s coverage of the Grand Prix events, and I’m thankful for the continued exposure and reporting provided by the site. Broadcasting performances of regional skaters throughout the country is a wonderful service to the sport. Fans are lucky that we have this newly abundant skating coverage, and I look forward to seeing how the Ice Network continues to evolve in the coming years.