Taeri: You're In The Loop - we're here to discuss the ups, downs and sideways of the sport of figure skating, and maybe give you +5 GOE along the way. Let’s introduce this weeks hosts. Hi, I’m Taeri, and I’m lamenting how I’m too broke to consider attending any events next season! You can find me on Twitter @twizzlesetc.
Gabb: Hi, I’m Gabb, and I’m finally here to host my first formal episode. You can find me on Twitter @tegomass.
Kite: Hi, it’s Kite, and I’m enjoying the break that we have from skating AKA ice show season. You can find me on Twitter @mossyzinc.
Taeri: So to start off the section on figure skating related news, we have some retirements this week. Polina Tsurskaya from Russia, Larkyn Austman from Canada, Kaetlyn Osmond from Canada and Maxim Kovtun from Russia have all announced their retirements. We wish them the best.
Gabb: So the Ice Dance Rhythm Dance pattern for the 20/21 season was announced. For the Seniors, it is the Ravensburger Waltz, and for the Juniors, it's the Westminster Waltz [Note: The assigned Rhythm is Folk].
Taeri: And for Team USA, the Shibutani's, Ashley Wagner and Mirai Nagasu all confirmed that they will be sitting out the 2019-2020 season.
Kite: And from Russia, the Junior Ice Dance team of Elizaveta Khudaiberdieva and Nikita Nazarov, who were the Junior World Silver Medallists this year have announced their split and seem to be looking for other partners currently, so we wish them the best of luck in that.
Gabb: In Canada, we have Lee Barkell, formerly a coach at the Toronto Cricket Club. He has announced that he is leaving TCC and will be relocating to the Granite Club. So we hope that it's a good fit for him and wish him the best. And Stephen Gogolev, the current Junior Grand Prix Final Champion who was being coached by Lee Barkell, is now being coached by Rafael Arutunian.
Kite: And finally, news that just broke a few days ago, Shoma Uno from Japan has announced that he will be moving his training base and is leaving his longtime coaches Mihoko Higuchi and Machiko Yamada. We don't know yet who his new coach is going to be, but we do wish him the very best of luck in this transition. For more figure skating related news, as well as all of the program announcements for the upcoming season, you can check out our Twitter @InTheLoPodcast.
-end segment- 2:35
START: The Cost Of Figure Skating
Gabb: So, figure skating is undoubtedly a glamorous sport. It has the reputation of being pretty expensive for those who are doing it. So this week on the podcast we are talking about the money. We're talking about the hidden and upfront costs of figure skating for the competitive and just casual skaters.
Taeri: It seems like in every competition cycle there's a number of skaters, especially those from smaller federations, who talk about their financial struggles. There are just a lot of little things that factor into making the sport burdensome like travel, housing, and accommodation - not just for the skater but for their coaches and their families. We've looked into multiple ways that skaters fund their own careers and it honestly varies based on factors like a skaters federation, their world ranking, even their popularity to get booked for shows. The simplest ways some skaters receive money is to win events, but very few skaters rely on prize money to fund their careers.
Kite: And that's because prize money, even for the biggest ISU Championships, like Worlds, is peanuts compared to what skaters actually require to maintain their training environment and to travel. Actually, the most funded event of the past season was World Team Trophy, which awarded a total of 1 million dollars in prize money. The prize money is awarded based off where each country places, and it's split evenly between the team members - which sounds like a lot, but home federations can then deduct up to 10 percent of the prize money that is given to the skaters. And skaters that are performing in the exhibition also receive appearance fees for being there, which cannot be deducted by their home federation but the federation is allowed to take some of the prize money for itself.
Taeri: That's like taxes. That's kind of unfair.
Kite: Yeah, basically. A 10 percent tax doesn't sound like a lot, but even 1 million dollars when it's split among 6 teams and however many people per team, it doesn't actually shake out to be that much money in the grand scheme of things.
Taeri: And for Worlds, the top six skaters or teams that placed received money, but there’s just a large disparity between who wins the event in first, versus someone who's in sixth place. So for example, a singles’ skater received $64,000 for winning Worlds , while the skater in sixth place received only $8000. Of course, Worlds is one of the biggest events that the ISU hosts, so prize money is more inflated than like the Challenger series, where the victors received only around $4000, or 4000 Swiss Francs.
Gabb: And for the Grand Prix Series during the 2018/19 season, there was allotted prize money of $180,000 between each discipline and it ranged from 1st to 5th place - 1st being you win $18,000, and then 5th place, you only earn $2000. And skaters are expected to attend the exhibition and the award ceremonies, press conferences, and social events or else they could get some money deducted from that prize money.
Kite: Yeah, I remember in 2013 or 2014 when Yulia Lipnitskaya, who was still competing then, missed the award ceremony at one of the Grand Prix events and they ended up deducting part of her prize money because she misremembered the time and didn't show up. Even getting so little money to begin with and then having all of these stipulations on it I'm sure is not really conducive to helping them fund their training.
Taeri: Oh my gosh, I would imagine there were exceptions to that, for example, if you injured yourself? I swear, if I was a skater, I would have nightmares about missing a ceremony and getting so much money deducted off how much you deserved.
Kite: It's like missing an exam in college but just so much worse.
Gabb: And there's so much stuff too - press conferences, social events, it's not just award ceremonies. It's a lot of stuff.
Kite: Yeah, so as you can see, the prize money even at these big international events is really not a lot for skaters training to be internationally competitive. So we're going to talk briefly the costs of adult, non-professional and casual figure skaters. So for the US, the USFSA has a document detailing the collegiate funding for skating programs at universities in the United States. This is based off what the university is able to provide to its skaters, and they can provide anywhere from no funding to full funding for their skating programs as of the 2016-17 season. Funding within the universities is broken down into travel expenses, lessons and events, and for schools that don't have on-campus rinks, rink time also costs additional money. So the USFSA seems to be pretty hands-off as far as funding collegiate skating goes, and the bulk of the responsibility is placed on the school to find the funds to send their skaters to competitions and provide them with a training environment.
Taeri: Yeah, just personally, I consider myself a casual skater. I spent roughly 11 years of training to compete, and after that, when I entered college, I realized there's a very high barrier of entry into the sport. There's just a lot of obstacles to staying competitive and also just to keep consistent, even as an adult casual skater. And I think it's important to note that every time someone steps onto the ice, that in itself costs money. Figure skating at my university, which I actually didn't join because it required you to wake up at 5am every Wednesday, requires its members to pay a membership fee so that they can purchase practice ice, and that can cost anywhere from $10 to $15 every time without skate rentals. And just if you want to get started on skating and not rent skates every time, skates can also range from hundreds to thousands of dollars and boots can break down so much quicker if you're training every day or you're skating multiple times a week. There are also so many other costs that stack up in addition to that, such as if you want a private coach or if you want to take classes more frequently, that can range from $20 to $50 a week. That's just based off my own experience skating in the US, specifically in California, but I would imagine that the costs all rack up for anyone interested in starting.
Kite: Yeah, to go back to what you said about buying boots, I think Gabb and I both recently bought skating boots just to skate recreationally. (Gabb: Yep) They were fairly pricey for just beginner equipment - I think mine were around $100.
Gabb: Yeah, mine as well were about $100 and I don't even use them that often, which is really sad.
Kite: Same, but that's a very steep cost to get just the basic equipment to even get started in a sport and then if you get more serious, obviously, the costs ramp up pretty quickly.
Gabb: Yeah, and I can't imagine how hard it would be to find places to skate if there's not any rinks around you.
Taeri: The most annoying thing I've had to buy, because I lose them so often, are skate guards. And people are like "Oh, you should just leave them on the side of the rink when you practice," and I always end up forgetting them. So like over the course of my tenure, I lost them every few months, which is kind of sad. It's tragic.
Kite: The hidden costs, guys. So we've gone over the costs of boots, from a casual skaters perspective, we've gone over the prize money that you receive from competitions. So we're just going to touch briefly on choreography [and music], which is another big area, kind of a money sink that people might tend to overlook a bit. So there is someone called the Skating Music Guy, who helps skaters cut music for programs and he has a website and he charges between $90 and $150 to cut music, depending on the level of the skater and the type of program - whether it's a Short Program or a Free Skate or for Ice Dance. It's actually probably on the more inexpensive side for music production for skaters, because hiring professional sound engineers can obviously run the costs up. And then choreography costs and paying a choreographer can run up to $10,000 per program. So the cost of music edits and choreography is also quite a significant portion of expenses that is rarely touched upon in interviews with skaters.
Gabb: And one thing about music for programs, I found that for Ice Dancers it tends to be more expensive, especially for the Rhythm Dance, because they needed more specific music that fit the beat of the season.
Kite: Yeah, cause the Rhythm Dance always follows a pattern, so the whole program has to be choreographed and cut around the pattern so it's more expensive for Ice Dancers.
Gabb: I was looking this up a few months ago and I thought that was really interesting.
Taeri: There's just a lot of overall added costs, I think some people even hire choreographers, they pay per hour, so that's like another coaching fee. But moving on, high profile, Olympic level skaters, even if they've "made it" in their careers, they've also chimed in about how this entire journey for them, financially, has been difficult and basically how they've paid for it. It's definitely insightful, coming from Olympic level skaters, to share how difficult it was for them to start paying for things when they were so new or Junior level.
Gabb: So we have a lot of Olympic level skaters who have to pay a lot of money for their skating, and one interesting skater would be Javier Fernandez from Spain. He came from a small federation, so he didn't get much funding, and after Boston Worlds , most of Javier's earnings came from ice shows. So that was either going to Japan for his ice shows, or Canada [or Revolution on Ice in Spain] - that's how he got most of his money to do his figure skating. And for Javi, he started skating because of his older sister, and because both siblings were skating, it ended up being a lot of money for his parents and their combined training costs were about one-third of his family's monthly income. Paying for these expenses while training with [Nikolaj] Morosov in New Jersey, his father got a second job, his mother went back to work, and the monthly training costs were between $2200 and $3300. It wasn't until after his World title in 2015 that he started receiving funding from the Superior Sport Council, the Spanish governmental agency.
Kite: It's kind of saddening that after winning two World Championships he still had to rely on performing in ice shows and things like that to really make money.
Gabb: Yeah, and he's in so many of them.
Kite: It's like, if a two-time World Champion can't even really live on the money that he gets paid for winning competitions, then most other skaters even at that level really have to look at alternative sources to fund their skating.
Taeri: Alex and Maia Shibutani also said after the 2018 Winter Olympics that winning an Olympic medal actually helps them be in a more solid position for funding by the USFSA and the US Olympic Committee. They've constantly reiterated that how much support they receive is based on their results and, like Javier, they talked about ice shows being a source of income for them and how much money they get every season depends on different factors like the number of shows they do in one offseason, where the shows are located and how many performances within a show that they complete.
Taeri: And in my opinion, I feel like the Shibs have a very great brand in and of itself, they have their own merchandise too, but I feel like it's taken them years and years to build this brand, and it's peaked with them winning those double bronze medals for them to finally release something as big as merch.
Kite: Yeah, they were the only medalists in individual [figure skating] events that the US had at the 2018 Olympics, which definitely brought them into the public eye more. I would say probably before the 2018 Olympics, they were not as well known among the general public. Of course, skating fans who followed them knew who they were but it wasn't until they won the bronze medal in the individual event at the Olympics that they really came to public attention and started gaining popularity and momentum that allowed them to kind of take their career in this new path, and it's not really something every skater has an opportunity to do, so they're definitely in a pretty special position as far as being able to build a consistent brand and kind of earn money that way.
Taeri: I feel like team USA is actually pretty savvy about it, like I've seen Nathan doing his little spon-con on Instagram and I'm like, "You secure that bag, king." And then Adam Rippon is also really great at that too.
Kite: And I think sponsorships kind of come into it as well, being sponsored by brands and using that to build your brand as a way to earn money, but that's very dependent on where you're based and what country you represent, because it's mostly a big fed thing, being sponsored by companies and getting merch to be able to promote them, and getting money that way. But definitely, the minority of skaters as far as that goes are able to supplement their income significantly
Taeri: And talking about big federations, some federations, or some countries where figure skating is really popular, for example in Canada. the government plays a role in helping skaters fund their careers. In Canada, elite athletes can qualify for this program called the Athlete Assistance Program, in addition to receiving money from Skate Canada. For example, if you're a senior skater, you've skated in the Grand Prix series for example, you can technically for around $21000 a year for the senior level tier, and if you're an up-and-coming junior skater, you can qualify for the development tier where you receive around $12000 every year. And in total, the Canadian government has allocated $635400 for skating costs every year for skaters who qualify for the senior tier. So if a skater makes a top 3 finish at Canadian Nationals, or they participate in Worlds, they will most likely qualify for the senior tier, aka the most assistance, and the development tier, as I mentioned earlier, is reserved for more junior level skaters. For that, they have to have a top 8 finish at Junior Worlds, or participate in the Grand Prix, Challenger, or Junior Grand Prix Series in addition to participating in the Four Continents Championships.
Gabb: And Skate Canada does have a lot of programs to help fund skaters. They had a lot of programs, some of the most interesting ones I found were that they had ‘The High Performance Grant’, which helps Canadian skaters who participate at the Canadian Nationals, and those who've placed first through fifth in senior, junior, and novice events are eligible for this grant; except, if you're under the Athlete Assistance Program, you won't be able to receive that grant. But basically this grant, Skate Canada has allocated $48,000 for the Seniors, and it ranges from $13,000 for the first place finish to $5000 for the fifth place finish, and then for the Juniors they have the allocated total of $8700, and for novice skaters $5400, and the range isn't that big compared to seniors but it ranges from $2000 for the first place finish to $700 for the fifth place finish. As well as this grant, they also have the Bryan and Baldwin International Competition Grant, and this specifically helps for only the travel Expenses. So, this grant covers every major competition, such as the Grand Prix series, for juniors and seniors. It also helps for junior and senior Worlds, Four Continents, and the Challenger Series. And what I found interesting with this grant is that it also helps for synchronized skating, a grant of $4000 is given for each ISU competition except Synchro Worlds. So that's pretty helpful because there is a lot of people in the teams, so I'm pretty sure that helps a lot. And, finally, there is the Own The Podium Fund, which assesses the performances of potential Canadian athletes for the next Olympics. It helps them on their journey for the quad. For the Pyeongchang Olympics, there was a total of $4,595,000 that was allotted just for figure skating. For the start of this quad, just last season, the 2018-2019 season, there was a total of $1,660,000 that was used just to help skaters.
Taeri: Canada has money, dude.
Kite: Yeah, they definitely want to build up not only their senior skaters, but their younger skaters too. And speaking of building up younger skaters, one of the other big feds is Russia. From 2002-2006, they actually increased government funding for figure skating ten times, but by 2010 there were some Russian figure skaters like Evgeni Plushenko who started complaining about not having enough funding leading into the Sochi Olympics from the Russian government. Maria Butyrskaya, who was a Russian World Champion, ran a figure skating school at this time and required assistance from not the federal government, but the Moscow government, just to buy ice time, because it cost upwards of a thousand dollars per day just for her students to be able to rent out a rink to train on. And so, Russian figure skaters are somewhat in a more fortunate position as far as funding goes because the top elite core of skaters have their training and travel expenses covered by the federation, but they can be responsible for paying for their own living expenses if they're living outside of Russia in some special circumstances, like Evgenia Medvedeva who's moved to Toronto and who pays for her apartment. But unfortunately, it is quite expensive for beginning skaters and young skaters to enroll in schools at all and get started, because the entry fees and the tuition for these schools is quite expensive.
Gabb: For young skaters who are just starting out into figure skating, [they] pay a minimum of $10,000 a year, and that includes costs for the sport, the school, the boots, the blades, the costume, the choreo, just training, and if there's any travelling as well. So, it's a lot.
Kite: That's like tuition at some colleges, starting to pay that from when a skater is really young, it definitely adds up and they can't even really access that pool of federation funding until they get to a certain level, so it's definitely a lot of pressure on the skaters as well as they grow up to relive some of that financial burden.
Taeri: I would imagine their families view it as an investment, considering how rooted figure skating is in Russian culture. That's surprising to me that number, but when you think about it culturally, I can kind of see why people would invest in that.
Kite: It's a lot to pay now, but if they end up being the next olympic champion, it's something that kind of pays off itself, but it's so rare to get to that level, and it depends on so many factors outside of your control that it's still quite a significant investment for parents to make for their children when they're so young. And then moving on to the United States, which, unlike Canada and Russia, does not have really any federal funding for figure skating; it mostly just comes through the federation. The USFS does provide financial assistance to skaters who are competing internationally in the Grand Prix events and in ISU championships, and they do have some scholarships and funds that are available for skaters, and eligibility criteria range from financial need of the skater to their academic achievement. So, if they're in college, and they're making good grades, they're able to access these funds. The USFS website actually states that skaters who are just starting out are not able to receive any assistance directly from the federation, so they're encouraged to seek help from skating clubs and local organizations. In the 2017-2018 season, the USFS spent a total of 14.5 million dollars on skating costs for all members in all disciplines, so this includes figure skaters, and synchro skating, and all levels. Also in the 2017-2018 season, the USFS reported net assets of 84 million dollars to the IRS when they were filing taxes. So they're definitely getting a significant sum from membership fees and also from the contracts that they have with broadcasting companies, and as far as travel and lodging goes the USFS does cover basic travel to events for skaters, so it covers the cheapest economy tickets and all the necessary hotel and lodging expenses, and they also cover the costs of the coaches according to how many skaters from the club are competing.
Taeri: One thing I wanted to add about USFS and, wow, [their] 84 million in net assets, is that whenever a skater wants to reach a new level, like if you want to test into novice or intermediate, you would have to pay a certain to test even if you don't pass that test. That money still goes to the skating federation. So can you imagine over the course of a skater's career they would have to test at least ten times, and that is accumulated. Those are things you don't really see, but you need to pay to progress in the sport essentially.
Gabb: I was looking into some of the US skaters and for the Parsons, they've been skating for twelve years or so, so far. And when it started for them, it was just $1000-2000 per year, and then it just increased to an average of $40,000 to $75,000 per year, and these were the numbers they gave us in 2016. So far they've spent a total of $500,000 just to cover ice time, coaching, choreo, dance class, costumes, ice skates, registration fees, travel expenses and all of that. And even back in 1994 with Tara Lipinski, the training costs were about $50,000 and that included living expenses, coaching expenses, ice time, travel, costumes. And she only received two grants worth $6000 just to help the expenses, which is really little compared to how much money she was spending just to become a skater and stay in the sport.
Kite: And that $50,000 in 1994 money, so that definitely would be more now in 2019. I think in the early 90s it was probably easier for skaters to make a living off of just performing in shows and thing like that, more so than it is now because the coverage of figure skating has really decreased since then. So it's really only gotten more difficult for skaters to fund their careers as time has gone on.
Taeri: Yeah, I think in the US, it's definitely very much an upper class sport. I consider myself coming from a lower middle class family, but everyone I met I had the feeling that they had family wealth or they were able to pay for a lot of thing. It's described as a pay to play. They would have more time with coaches, for example, or be able to afford more ice time. That's crazy how it was still $50,000 in 1994, so I can't imagine what it's like now.
Kite: I remember reading this New York Times article recently that was talking about this group that was trying to bring figure skating to girls living in Harlem in New York, which is of a lower socioeconomic status, more broadly across the population there. Obviously it's going to be a lot harder for them to get access to coaching and ice time and all these things, living where they are. So I thought that was something that was really special that people are out there trying to make this sport more accessible to a wider demographic in the US, than to just, like you said, the children of upper middle class families.
Gabb: And for Japan - just a disclaimer that the documents that we had were all in Japanese so it's pretty hard to read - but basically what we've gotten from it is that the Japanese Federation spent nearly 200 million yen in 2018 just for their special athletes program, and that included training, equipment, competition fees, living expenses - everything was pretty vague so that's basically the most concrete I could go, but I also saw that they spent nearly 800 million yen just on marketing stuff such as broadcasting, advertising, and public relations, which is a LOT.
Taeri: It's fascinating that they spent more on PR than on their special athletes support program actually.
Kite: I feel like it's not entirely surprising to me, to be honest.
Gabb: Figure skating is really popular in Japan, so I see why they would invest that much for a sport just to popularize it more.
Kite: It's definitely more accessible there than it is here. Even in the summer when they have ice show coverage on local channels, things like that that you would not have in the US generally. But yeah, it's 4x more that they spend on marketing than on actually developing their skaters, which I guess somewhat concerning, but it's not entirely surprising to me.
Taeri: And onto small federation skaters and as we've continuously mentioned the barriers to entry in the sport are so ridiculously high globally and we've seen really talented skaters from small federations openly struggle to be competitive because of the lack of funding or resources they receive. And in countries were figure skating is not as popular, for example in Southeast Asia there is a lack of internal resources which means that skaters have to train in a different country to receive that top tier coaching.
Kite: Yeah, so one example is Julian Yee from Malaysia. Whom some people may know actually trained in a mall on a mall ice rink when he was skating in Malaysia because there was a lack of suitable facilities for him to train in. And he ended up moving to Canada and finding a coach in Canada and had to crowdfund his training costs. He was able to crowdfund about $16,000 towards his training costs in Canada to become the first Malaysian figure skater to compete at worlds. But like, the Malaysian federation is not big. He's really the first high profile skater that they've had so he's had to go out of his way and kind of appeal to the public to continue funding his skating. Something similar has happened with Donovan Carillo from Mexico who previously had to crowdfund his training and competition costs because he got basically no funding from the Mexican federation. So he was basically coaching part time at his rink and his coach trained him for free and he stayed with his coach because his family was too far away. Last season especially he had to miss quite a few events due to a lack of funding to even get to competitions which was really unfortunate. And then very recently, like in March of this year, he started receiving money from CONAD, which is a Mexican government agency, for some of his training and medical costs. So hopefully some of the financial struggles that he has faced in funding his training are going to be lessened now that the government and seeing that he is getting results.
Taeri: It just really sucks when up and coming skaters who are really talented just have to think about money. Because I'm like "what if you were in an environment where you didn't have to worry about money? What could you do then?". So it kinds of makes me really sad when I think about that. I also came across an old article in around 2014-2015 about Michael Christian Martinez who is a skater from the Philippines. He is the first ever figure skater from Southeast Asia to compete in the 2012 Youth Olympics and the 2014 Sochi Winter [Olympic] Games. Like Julian he also skated I think in a mall and he talked about the lack of the support athletes receive from the Philippines [government] and despite his family seeking out multiple avenues of funding, his mom has said that "It's still not enough". So just an example to look at the numbers of what the Philippines Sports Commission provided for him for Sochi, and this is for the actual Olympics, they pledged a $50 daily allowance. Or $1200 for the 24 days he would spend in Russia. The Commission also paid his coach directly $7,200 for his coaching duties but none of that money he ever was able to touch. Prior to the Olympics at one point Michael said he was receiving around $100 to train a day, but his mom actually said that it cost them around $400 a day to train the US.So although that offset the percentage of the costs he still had to pay for most of it. But as skaters can also receive funding based on the results they achieve, Australia, a smaller federation, funds its skaters based on a set of criteria. So if they finish in a top 10 of a competition, if they qualified for the free program, or if they finished in the top 50% of skaters in the free. So for example an Australian skater that goes to a Grand Prix event and is in the top 50% placement will receive $500. If they were in the top 10 placement at Worlds they will receive $5,000 if they were a single skater or $7,500 if they a team.
Kite: Yeah I think there's definitely a correlation between the number top skaters a federation has and kind of the amount of money that they put towards funding those skaters. Because you can see from small feds it's very very difficult for a skater to really break into the international ranks. If they're already at such a disadvantage just funding wise not being able to get the support that they need from their home federation to get coaching and travel and registration fees and all of that stuff. And this is quite apparent in the U.K. So U.K Sport which is the government agency that provides funding for the Olympics and Paralympics slashed 100% of their figure skating for this upcoming Olympic cycle, so 2018-2022. Their previous cycle's funding for 2014-2018 was 1.57 million dollars and actually during that period of 2014-2018 figure skating had the second lowest funding amount from the organization after wheelchair curling.
Gabb: Yeah I was looking at the British ice skating website, and there was a funding section and the most up to date document was dated 2015 and any of the links in the document just lead to 404 error pages. Which is very sad. But I read through their documents and basically the biggest suggestion that they had for funding is to go through the internet and rely on the internet for crowdfunding.
Kite: That's very sad.
Taeri: And this is from the British ice skating website too...wow.
Gabb: Yeah it's the official one.
Kite: And Britain was like pretty strong in figure`skating in the 80s and just with all the funding issues that they've they just haven't had like a top skater breakout and it's probably correlated to the fact that the government and the federation are no longer putting the resources into it that they used to.
Taeri: Yeah, so I was curious about how many skaters use GoFundMe to crowdfund. I actually came across a GoFundMe of this up and coming American figure skater. Her name is Wren Warne-Jacobson. Who was trying to crowd-fund enough money to attend US Nationals. She has qualified for two national championships, and to get there, that means she had to rank high enough at regional and sectional competitions. Which means that she's a pretty good skater, but she hasn’t been selected to participate in a Junior Grand Prix series or ISU Challenger, but you know she's only 15, so there is definitely still room to grow. What shocked me on the page was the expenses estimated to attend Nationals, which is a domestic competition for her. The estimated costs that her family put was $6,540 and she was asking for around $3,000. Most of the costs actually come from coaching fees -- around $3,500 -- but competition entry fees for her season cost $370 and practice ice at nationals actually would cost $160. So I'm just like "Wow" I thought if you qualified for Nationals, you know they would actually allow you to practice. But you still have to pay for practice ice. That is a lot.
Kite: That's very surprising. I didn't know that. Just to kind of piggyback off of that into some skaters who are up and coming or were up and coming. One of the areas of contention of funding in Japan is from Ice Dance. Because as some of us know quite well, JSF does really not put a lot of energy into funding Ice Dance. Or they have not historically put a lot of energy into funding, promoting Ice Dancers in Japan. So Chris and Cathy Reed were a sibling team who competed in Ice Dance for Japan. And their mother actually gave an interview in which she said the JSF charged the parents for some of the costs despite paying for travel and accommodations at competitions. The JSF initially paid the costs and then ended up billing the parents for some of the expenses. Which apparently was quite unexpected for them because they thought they were just going to be fully funded and that was going to be it. And the Reeds were also unranked in the World standings for awhile despite being Japanese National Champions so their funding chances from the federation were low because they were not internationally ranked. Their training costs were about $60,000 per year, which is actually probably on the cheaper side for an elite team competing internationally but still a pretty significant sum to ask for parents to pay upfront every year. And then finally the JSF actually takes 20% of the skaters appearance fees in ice shows directly from the skater. So basically a tax like Taeri said. And Japanese skaters participate pretty extensively in ice shows and there's a lot of ice shows going on in Japan even right now. JSF docks 1/5 of their appearance fees every time they're skating in ice shows. And this is kind of seen in USFS as well. So the USFS will take 10% or $150, whichever is less, when skaters appear in ice shows. But this money is actually taken from the contractor and not directly from the skater. So the skater is allowed to keep all of the earnings that they make from the ice shows if they skate for the US, but in Japan that is not the case. So kind of just compounding some of the financial stress that is placed on the skaters, is that even when they have the opportunity to earn some money on the side by skating in shows they're not allowed to keep all of it.
Taeri: To hear a perspective directly from an internationally competing skater, we interviewed Tim Koleto, who with his partner Misato Komatsubara competes in Ice Dance for Japan.
-end segment- 39:53
START: Tim Koleto Interview
Lae: So I'm here with Tim Koleto even though we are very far away and only connected digitally, but Tim and his partner Misato are Japanese Ice Dancers and we're here to basically ask him a few questions about the cost of figure skating for them. So, hi Tim, how are you?
Tim: Good! I'm doing well. I'm enjoying some early summer training in Montreal. How are you?
Lae: Good, good. There's a lot of training going on even in the off season.
Tim: (laughter) Absolutely.
Lae: Awesome. So we're looking into basically the costs of figure skating for this episode and I think as skating fans, on the surface many of us are familiar with the cost of paying for equipment and rink time and coaching fees. But I guess what we're curious about is from sort of an elite skater's perspective, as skaters who have gone to Worlds, who have participated in these international competitions, are there any hidden fees and costs that fans don't usually tend to account for that you guys do have to kind of consider in this entire journey of making skating your career and profession?
Tim: Well as you said there's some really basic stuff that everyone can understand from an outside perspective and those things are ice time and coaching time. Of course there's also equipment. But I think a lot of times people underestimate the costs of having a personal trainer or a gym situation. Actually when I started working with a personal trainer in Colorado Springs as a late teen, that was costing me like $75 per hour session to have a one on one with a personal trainer who made something sports specific for me and talked with my coaches. And that's just the base fee per hour. I'm not even talking about you know gym subscription fee right? So either like a monthly or an annual fee. So that $70 an hour was on top of those annual or monthly fees. And that's something that is super super important for skating at the highest level and isn't brought up very often I think.
Lae: Right. And how often would you be need a personal trainer and going to the gym? Because that's basically every day isn't it?
Tim: Yeah, when I was younger I was going twice a week. Now I go three times a week. And the price is a little different than it was at the time, but you can already imagine if it's $70 per session three times a week...err we're talking about $7,000 per year. That's a big big expense that isn't maybe understood. And then of course the other thing to answer your question. Some of us use sports psychologists. And anytime you work with a psychologist, not just for sports, you're talking hundreds of dollars per hour to work with an expert or professional. These are doctors so it can get very pricey fast. And it's something that unfortunately I think a lot of skaters perhaps don't prioritize because of that. But I think mental health is obviously super important for everyone, but especially athletes under such heavily judged heavily viewed sport.
Lae: Absolutely. And it's often something that I think skating fans miss is that hidden side of conditioning and preparing to do what you do on the ice. There seems to be a huge bunch of processes and preparation that you have to do off the ice and that seems to be what you're saying sort of adds up, right?
Tim: Right, absolutely.
Lae: And so I suppose in sort of that vein, if you don't mind me asking, how is the majority of elite skaters...like what do you guys do to fund that expense? Is it mostly coming out of your own pocket? Do you get support from various federations? And if it's from your own pocket I suppose, are a lot of skaters working on the side? Are they coaching? How are you sort of funding that from your perspective?
Tim: Yeah! So it really depends on the federation that you skate for and also at the level of your performance. Like going back to when I was a single skater for the US, the rink in Colorado Springs would offer a certain number of what they would call "scholarship" sessions. And they would give free ice a certain number of sessions to the skaters there that you could use at your own leisure and you know they would give it I think three times a year. So it wouldn't be enough I think to cover all the ice time but it was definitely helpful. So that's one foremost sponsorship that I experienced. It also depends as I said on the federation that you represent. Federations that are state sponsored obviously have more money to put into the sport from the government. So that ends up affecting the skaters differently. But I've been lucky to have a lot of opportunities and it took me awhile to find my way. I've had three different partners. And the situation has been different every time and occasionally there were times when they said "Okay you can compete at these competitions, but you have to pay for all of it. Travel, hotel, the fee for the competition." So from A to Z, including the coaches, food, everything. So that adds up really really fast. And when you look at it from a competitive perspective and wanting to get international experience, you take those opportunities and you find a way to make it work. Because at that point it's not worth denying yourself having a chance to have international experience and improve your ranking just based on a one time fee. But those fees are exorbitant. I mean just to fly from the US over to Europe was crazy so we would try to do multiple competitions at the same time just to sort of hop around Europe and try to get as many opportunities as possible. And that changed a little bit when I changed to different federations but that is something that a lot of skaters go through. But in a roundabout way to answer your question, I would say the majority of skaters are sponsored by their parents for the first 60% of their career. Until you reach the world level. And then after that, depending on the federation, I mean some people are already getting aid from junior level, but I would say that more than 50% coach a little bit on the side to help. Most of us are still getting help from our parents and some people are lucky to have small sponsorships here or there. Or I'm sure as many people have seen crowdfunding is a great way that people have been able to subsidize new costumes, new programs, and the things that we sort of have to do every year.
Lae: We've seen several of these crowdfunding campaigns and I think like maybe as skating fans it kind of takes us by surprise because it's like "Well, everyone is competing at world level." It's quite shocking in some ways to see that they do need to use crowdfunding. What's the attitude towards that within I guess the elite skaters circle?
Tim: You know relatively it's fairly new. It's something that cropped up in the last seven years or so or five years. And it's been a very lucky way that some of us, myself included, have been able to be blessed by fans who want to help. It's definitely been a huge blessing to me and Misato. But inside the community we all sort of have this understanding of how exorbitant it is to skate. It's very expensive. You know my most expensive year in skating was more than $60,000. So that's a lot of money in one year. And at that time I wasn't crowdfunding. But that was the most expensive it has ever gotten. Probably the cheapest it has ever been is after the junior level maybe low 20s [20,000s] is probably the cheapest it has ever been for my parents. Which is very very expensive. It's definitely a privilege to be able to skate at this level. So all the skaters have like I said an understanding between each other. And I think when people can get help from crowdfunding and from the generosity of people who support us, I think it's really special. I think I speak for all of us when I say we're so grateful for the help that people have given.
Lae: Yeah, absolutely. And what makes you mention the difference between your sort of most affordable year perhaps is the best word...to your most expensive? What sort of caused that massive increase in costs? Was it simply attending more competitions or?
Tim: Yeah. I spoke earlier a little bit about having to sort of self subsidize a few international competitions in order to get exposure and experience. That was the most expensive year for my skating. And at that time I also had gone from skating in Colorado Springs, which is expensive. The ice time in Colorado Springs is expensive. But I was definitely not paying the amount in coaching that I ended up paying later. So just changing where I was skating, where I was training...the ice fee was a little but lower but the coaching fee was much much higher. And then paying for the trips to Europe and for the competition fees and those hotels and all of it, you know made things skyrocket. And a lot of people think that Ice [Dancing] and Pairs is like half as expensive as singles because there's two of us. But the only way I've ever seen that be beneficial is if you lived together. Because everything else is double!
Lae: Right. Oh so there's not even a discount for the fact that it's two of you or anything like that?
Tim: No, not at all. We both pay the hourly rates. So when I moved from Colorado Springs and started Ice Dance that was a big jump in cost. But I also as a single skater wasn't really competing internationally. I did one sort of North American Challenge Skate I think is what they used to call it I think. They would invite Canadian and US skaters. So I did sort of a "fake" international competition. But when I was doing singles I was a little bit of late bloomer so I never really had that international experience before then. So perhaps it would be that expensive in singles but I just never had anything to compare it to. But when I first switched to Ice Dance those first, I would say those first three years were the most expensive.
Lae: So you have competed for a variety of federations. So from bigger ones such as the US to smaller ones. What was it like to make that transition between the two federations? Did you feel any difference?
Tim: Yeah so I skated for the United States mostly on the national level so I didn't have a chance to really compare and contrast those experiences. But I was very lucky as you said to compete internationally for a few federations of varying size. And I was able to ...I think I did three international competitions my first year with South Korea. So I competed in the Ukraine, and then we had Four Continents and then I think we also did Bavarian Open. And the federation was really helpful and allowed us to get a lot of experience very quickly and I'll always be very grateful for that. As far as financially, we just found ways to make it work and I actually recently was just able to pay off one of those credit cards. But it's a long journey to pay for this sport.
Lae: Amazing. Oh congratulations on paying off the credit card!
Tim: Thank you, thank you. One down! (laughter)
Lae: And you and Misato now train at Gadbois, so you have skaters from a variety of federations both big and small there, do you see differences in the way that skaters from big federations tend to go about their figure skating journey and the kind of interactions or expectations or support placed on them versus skaters from smaller federations?
Tim: Definitely. We sort of have a little bit of a mixing bowl and you see a lot of different...the way things are handled vary quite a lot. Those larger federations will have people come in to make sure that everything is progressing correctly and they're very hands on. Which I think is fantastic. They really make sure that their athletes are really being taken care of and that they're getting the support that they need. It's really cool to see that. And I hope as the sport continues to grow that the support for the athletes continues to grow as well.
Lae: Yeah! And conversely do you feel that given there's huge federation support there's more expectation as well placed on skaters that do come from those larger federations?
Tim: Yeah absolutely. I think as...it's sort of human nature right? The more that somebody else is helping you and the more that they're hands on as I said, the expectation rises as well. I've known skaters, not in this current rink, but in other rinks that have struggled with that at a psychological level. Because when your parents are paying for it or you're paying for it personally and you're sort of representing yourself, it has a certain level of intensity. And when other people are supporting you financially and when you're representing a whole country and your flag it creates a lot more intensity and a lot more...you feel like you have something to prove sometimes, you feel like sort of the whole world is on your shoulders and you're an ambassador. And I think that does create an expectation and that can be difficult for some athletes. That's definitely a different kind of pressure than we're used to dealing with in the formative years of our skating that sort of can come as a surprise later.
Lae: And for you and Misato in particular, now that you're national champions in Japan as well, have you felt kind of difference in the attention and your skating journey and the support you've been getting? Since you guys have been achieving the wonderful results that you have this season.
Tim: Yeah, we were very lucky to have a real breakout season, what we felt for us last year. And I would say actually that the federation has been supportive from the beginning all the way until now and they have really done everything they could to ensure that we had the level of success that was possible for us at where we were on our journey. You know moving forward it's been really great for us to spend a lot of time in Japan. We've been able to be there at camps that they put together for younger Ice Dancers and we were just part of an Ice Dance tryout. And it was so fun to see the young kinds and to not just experience the sport for ourselves but to be able to give back. We're so happy that the opportunities don't just involve us and our success but that we can sort of stimulate what's going in the future of Japanese Ice Dance.
Lae: Speaking of that, because, relatively, Ice Dance and Pairs are a less prominent discipline in Japan, how do you feel about the level of support that young Ice Dancers receive ? Not just in Japan, I suppose, but in nations where perhaps the discipline is not as prominent in the media as others? How do you feel about the development of that?
Tim: You know, I think that there's a couple factors involved in that. Some of it is ice time. It can be hard for people to find ice time for Ice Dance and Pairs. We have different requirements and at the higher level everyone can sort of maneuver around each other. But in the formative years it's pretty difficult to have an Ice Dance and a single sessions together. And I think that causes a lot of difficulty because of course in every country we need to have the possibility for a grassroots movement and starting at a young age for these kids. I think that's why we've seen Ice Dance be successful in North America. Consistently successful in North America, and Russia, and places where there's you know schools available. We've been working with the federation. They've already been working for many many years to create a space for Ice Dance and I think we will continue to see that grow in the next few years. But I think ice time is one of the major factors and also media. When you're young kid you look and you see which skaters are on the news and you wanna be that, right? So I think it's less of media having a responsibility to do anything and more just about the way the world works. I hope that in the future we can continue to promote Ice Dance, not just in the media but on our own social platforms. It's [social media] is relatively new in the last decade so hopefully we can continue to promote Ice Dance all together worldwide.
Lae: Yeah absolutely! Because the more media attention there is I suppose then it follows that there would be more demand and young skaters starting out.
Tim: Especially with such a visual sport. Almost everybody you talk to, when they find out we're skaters they say "Oh my gosh I love watching skating!" And sometimes you hear people say "But it's never on. Where do I watch that?" And that's a whole different problem but it's a very visual sport so we're lucky that people want to see it. So I hope that people have a chance to do so.
Lae: Perfect. And just touching on the visuals, as you say of figure skating, which is stuff like costumes and music. So can you talk a little bit about the costs of that? And sort of obviously that's something that elite skaters do have to consider when planning out their season and managing their finances.
Tim: Yeah, absolutely! So as far as additional hidden costs like the music, depending on the season, depending on which music you choose, can have varying costs from...a small year would be like if you just paid someone to finish it up and clean up all the cuts. Because most of the skaters, at least that I know, there's two of us in each partnership so somebody knows how to cut music usually. So we put together the preliminary cuts. But last year we skated to Love Story for the Free Dance and the middle section of the music in the original score is sort of this part of the move where they're having a snowball fight in Central Park but the music was really antiquated and very 70s influenced from when the movie came out, so we actually had to have that section of the music recomposed from scratch. So something like that adds on additional fees that you don't necessarily expect when you pick a theme for a program. So that's like another sort of hidden fee that can pop up in the middle of a season, just creating essentially a whole new piece of music. That entire middle section of our Free Dance last year was created from scratch. And then you brought up costumes as well. Those vary quite a lot from what I know between singles and Ice Dance. At least what I was spending. And then additionally to that between the men and women fees can vary quite a bit. My costumes usually range somewhere $1000 to $1700 depending on whether it's a simple costume, let's say a shirt with pants. Or if I have a full suit that obviously requires a lot more construction, a lot more fitted, they have to be made with fabrics that are breathable, stretchable, and not super super hot. Because in the arenas when we compete at championship events it gets really hot really fast. So there's all kinds of little tricks that go into making those suits wearable in a sports situation so that can get pretty expensive. But for the ladies it's anywhere from $2500..upwards I've heard of pretty extreme prices before. And occasionally like after the first competition last year, actually second competition, we got some feedback and after talking with different officials and hearing different opinions we decided to change the costume. So if you see your favorite couple change the costume in the middle of the season that's another three grand possibly right there. Just because we want to change the visual interpretation or it's not fitting the music or it's not giving the impression that we had hoped or the impact that we had hoped. And those are all kinds of hidden fees, almost everything now that I've spoken of you can plan for but those things sort of pop up unexpectedly throughout the season that you don't sort of expect.
Lae: Yeah absolutely and it's sort of a situation where you're having choose between copping that cost but also being able to advance your program, right?
Lae: I suppose the one last thing I would love to speak to you about is because obviously we're doing this episode of helping to educate figure skating fans just how exorbitant the cost is to engage in this sport, because it's very sort of under appreciated. But if you were sort of able to change anything about the way that costs and reimbursements and all of that stuff happen in the sport, what sort of things would be at the top of your mind?
Tim: Oh that's a very interest question. Well you know I have to say growing up as I spoke about before it's one of the most watched, if not the most watched, winter Olympic sport and whenever you meet people and you talk about skating they're so excited by it and they're always happy to see it on tv. It's a shame that such a visual sport isn't as appreciated from a financial perspective in regards to comparing it to sports like golf or tennis. Which are both great and fantastic in their own right, but you have a much greater opportunity to create a living out of it. Because right now, at least for us at this point, what we make goes back into our sport and back into our love and it's not career in the sense that Tiger Woods has a career. (Laughter)
Tim: You know, so it's a totally different situation and I think the athletes and the sports federations and the ISU are all working together in our own way in the hopes that someday we can have sort of a golden age of figure skating in what is now a media dominated world. I hope that we can all work together to find a new space for figure skating in an entertainment industry that has changed so much in the last two decades.
Taeri: Some comments on the interview, things fans generally don't think of as costing a lot of money, like gym time and a personal trainer, do. Even skaters backed by a big fed spend the first roughly 60 percent of their careers being funded by their families, and sponsorships by companies are actually quite rare.
Kite: Yeah, Tim says even at the level that he's at now, he's still getting some support from his parents. And he's competed at Worlds, he's an internationally ranked skater, so it's pretty surprising just talking about how when you're on a team your costs are actually double, they're not half like some people think. Which is just additional stress, I'm sure, on the families and on the skaters. So definitely really insightful just to hear from a currently competing skater who has competed at these big international events and, obviously, we're very grateful to Tim for taking the time to talk to us about it.
-end segment- 1:05:00
START: Shout Out of the Week
Kite: So, our Shout Out of the Week goes to Mihoko Higuchi, who was [one of the coaches] to Shoma Uno until earlier this week. Even though he is no longer going to be coached by her, she was his coach for basically all of his career and it's been really rewarding to see her efforts pay off in making Shoma an Olympic Silver medallist, a multiple time World medallist, and Four Continents Champion. And just watching their coach-skater interactions in practice and at the Kiss and Cry at events was just so wholesome and heart-warming. I'm really going to miss seeing her by the boards while he's skating.
Gabb: Yeah, I'm going to miss seeing them in the Kiss and Cry.
Kite: Yeah, and you know, her sense of style is just unmatched.
Taeri: Fashionable queen!
Kite: For all of Shoma's fans out there, probably want to give her a big thank you for all that she's done for him in his career. Just going to miss her a lot.
-end segment- 1:06:00
Taeri: Thank you for listening, we hope to see you again for our next episode!
Gabb: If you want to get in touch with us, then please feel free to contact us via our website inthelopodcast.com or on Twitter or Tumblr. You can find our episodes on Youtube, iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher and Spotify.
Kite: If you enjoy the show, and want to help support the team, then please consider making a donation to us on our ko-fi page, and we’d like to give a huge thank you to all the listeners who have donated to our team thus far.
Taeri: You can find the links to all our social media pages and our ko-fi on the website. If you’re listening on iTunes, please consider leaving a rating and a review if you enjoyed the show! Thanks for listening, this has been Taeri,
Kite: and Kite. See you soon!