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Olympic antihype: why the Grand Prix in Sochi is a marketing failure

Empty corridors in the evening twilight. Red walls, reflecting a rare, as if not real, childish echo. Where to go to get out of here, or at least to the stands? There's really no one to ask. Unless the young ones still have Ilya Averbukh and Tatyana Tarasova from the pictures of the “Ice Age”, which are here on every corner. And they are unlikely to talk to you.

This is usually how B-horror games start, but here we have an AAA+ tournament. Well, at least that's how the Russian analogue of the Grand Prix series was positioned. The most popular skaters in the world, the best arenas, an amazing organization – we don’t need this West at all. Let them bend there without us, and in the meantime we will straighten our shoulders and rush straight into space on Russian Rockets, the arsenal of which is replenished with each new season.

Reality breaks on this very ice, scattering into small shiny fragments. The second stage in the Olympic Park of the already legendary Sochi Games-2014, the Iceberg Arena, where Adelina Sotnikova brought Russia the first ever gold in women's singles, and our team, led by Evgeni Plushenko and Yulia Lipnitskaya, won the team tournament. A place prayed for by so many sports legends that it takes your breath away with excitement. A place of power, a place of glory, which, contrary to the proverb, turned out to be completely empty.It seems to be a paradox, but it was the stage in Sochi that did not arouse any interest at all. This is how, for example, the grateful audience of Iceberg met the short program of the Olympic, by the way, champion Mark Kondratyuk

Further you get into an absolutely deserted corridor. The height of the women's free program, by the way. The nerve is really in the air, even hanging an ax.

Oh, here is our sector! We go inside with a sincere desire to work properly on the press stand, and there … There are not enough chairs. We are watching the performances of our wonderful skaters standing.

Well, okay, not standing. Fortunately, the stewards do not rage and allow you to choose any free seat in the stands. It's good that no one goes to figure skating anyway.Then the unexpected happens – you want to eat and drink. We leave the podium into the dark corridor we have already fallen in love with, we are trying to find a cafe. And it is right here. Pay attention – there is a sign even in Chinese. That is, guests from Asia will be able to understand that food is what it is. True, there is one “but” – all food outlets during the stage were closed. The arena staff shrugged their shoulders at the logical question “why”.

The trouble is that among the few spectators, almost everyone is with children. Growing organisms need to be fed, watered and entertained, otherwise parents will be more willing to take them to some football, where most of this is most often in abundance. with food, which almost always have a queue.At tournaments under the auspices of the Russian Figure Skating Federation (FFKKR), it was always good with both food and activities. In the covid season 2020/21, the stands of the federal program “Sport is the norm of life” traveled through the stages of the Russian Cup, where there were animators, and table football, and draws. Sponsors bring all sorts of entertainment at the national championships. Here is a ringing emptiness.

Tickets for the Sochi stage ranged from 1.5 thousand rubles to 2.7 without a service fee. On the one hand, it's not much. At the same Moscow (first) stage, fans said that they bought tickets for a short and free skate in the amount of more than six thousand. On the other hand, the local public does not really like to go to anything, and it is not so easy to drag people from other cities. For example, a flight from Moscow is not only about five thousand one way, but also four hours on the road instead of the usual one and a half. But we also need to solve the issue of housing, which is traditionally not the cheapest in Sochi.

Yes, and in the same Kazan, where the third stage will take place, you can find tickets for 500 rubles – you see, the difference is significant. Plus, getting there is much easier, and there are hardly any problems with accommodation. On the same stage, many people could not get to the Sochi stage precisely because of the high prices. Some of them asked me to find out how they are installed, and with this question I turned to the Director General of the FFKKR Alexander Kogan, but the conversation turned out to be not very meaningful. “And what about ticket prices?” Alexander Ilyich asked and disappeared behind the doors of the room under the stands.

Well, I had to find the answer myself. Knowledgeable people have suggested that the prices are not actually managed by the federation, but by the official distributor of the Grand Prix. He usually sets prices based on similar events held earlier in the territory of the subject. In Sochi, for example, Tatiana Navka's summer ice shows, which took place just in the Iceberg, could serve as such. The cost of tickets for them was also quite high.On the other hand, the level of marketing and audience attraction at these shows and official competitions with the participation of our star Olympionists is heaven and earth, and not at all in favor of the latter. Knowledgeable people say that tickets for Navka performances, for example, were sold not only electronically and at the box office, but also as activities for tourists in hotels and other relevant places. Here is an excursion to Mount Akhun, here is a trip to Stalin's dacha, and here is an ice show with Olympic champions. No, no, yes, and you will buy it in order to somehow have fun.

Not to mention visual advertising. Even now, posters of the Swan Lake are hanging in the Olympic Park, and on one of the stands of the Formula 1 track there is a giant banner of the Scarlet Flower with Kamila Valieva and Alina Zagitova in the lead roles.

br>Is there anything similar with the symbols of the Grand Prix stage with – for a second – Alexandra Trusova? Of course no. Nothing, not a single poster, not a single most seedy advertisement. Eyewitnesses talk about announcements of competitions in regular buses in Sochi, but it was not possible to personally verify this. And even if this is the case, visitors hardly travel by bus, and it is almost impossible to get local residents to play sports, they are simply not interested in them.

Geographically, the Olympic Park is stuck between Sochi and Adler, and in order to get to it from Sochi, you need to spend about 40 minutes by car. For example, hockey Sochi, whose match (against CSKA Moscow) took place on Sunday simultaneously with the free program of the Grand Prix stage, organizes a special train for fans to the park and does not skimp on visual advertising. Graffiti on the concrete embankment barriers, banners at bus stops with the schedule of all home games – marketing of a decent level, which definitely needs to be strived for. As a result, about 4.5 thousand people watched from the stands as CSKA took out the local Sochi feet first (6:0), at the Bolshoy Arena adjacent to the Iceberg. While the Grand Prix, God forbid, was attended by 1.5 thousand.

Figure skating, on the other hand, had to bet not only on fans who already know the calendar and come without any barking, but also on casual vacationers. Instead, a tourist who has rented a hotel room nearby has no chance of knowing that under his nose, it turns out that the best tournament in the universe is taking place.

Perhaps, it was simply not necessary to hold a stage in Sochi? It turns out that everything is not as simple as it seems at first glance. As far as I know, the arenas for the Grand Prix were selected in May, and the federation's optimistic statement about the desire to hold it at the KHL venues did not have the most positive effect in the end. It turned out that the clubs of the league are not ready to give their arenas for figure skating, which takes about a week for each stage (three days for the tournament and about four more days for ice preparation). And there are only two free spacious arenas of a really high level in the country – in Krasnoyarsk and Sochi. There was also “Jubilee” in St. Petersburg, but, according to my information, he was not interested in the Grand Prix. So welcome to the Black Sea coast.

Elizaveta Khudaiberdieva, who won the dance tournament in Sochi paired with Yegor Bazin, suggested that the city should have taken over the promotion of the stage, but this is only partly true. Was holding the Grand Prix an initiative of the city administration? No.

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Of course, the issue of branding and advertising is the responsibility of the federation. And here, for the sake of decency, a small reservation should be made – the resources of the FFKKR are not that much. The entire organizational process lies on the shoulders of five people, no more. And keeping track of everything in such conditions is simply impossible. Obviously, it would be necessary to involve third-party forces – PR people, producers, and so on. But they need to be paid, and finding funds for this is not so easy. No, you can, of course, pinch off a piece of the prize money for athletes, but then how to motivate them to skate inside the country in the current difficult situation?Money, obviously, now for them can serve, if not the only, then certainly the main motivator. In this matter, the FFKKR really tried very, very cool. For example, according to my information, a figure skater at the level of first-second places at the stages of the internal Grand Prix will earn more per season than participants in the same Ice Age, which, according to television ratings and general excitement, tears the competition to shreds. In conditions of complete instability, such care for athletes is really worth a lot.

But a product declared as an elite series of competitions must be packaged accordingly. Demand by inertia, purely on the wave of the Olympic hype, did not happen. Or it turned out to be completely different from what you expect from competitions at a level above international ones. And here it remains to choose from three possible reasons – either the time is now difficult, people are not up to entertainment and you just need to put up with it (which is partly true), or marketing has let us down a lot (which is at least partially true in any case), or it’s all about product. Indeed, at the first stage in Moscow there was no full house either, albeit without gaping holes in the stands.

The fact is that now the Grand Prix is ​​a competition of one or two tops against the rest of the world. In a dance tournament where only four couples compete at each stage, the favorite is known a thousand years before entering the ice, and some completely unimaginable miracle must happen for something to change. In couples, too, only curious failures (like Evgenia Tarasova/Vladimir Morozov in Moscow) change the balance of power. The male loner basically does not fail, but the swing in the results of the guys is a global phenomenon, we are definitely not innovators here.In the women's singles, the leaders – thanks to them, by the way, a huge thank you for staying in the sport after the Olympics, otherwise it would be completely sad – along the way, they are trying to recover from the Olympic stress and somehow get in shape. They are followed by young talents in not very large numbers, by the way, and besides them there is emptiness, as in the corridors of Iceberg. The middle class of figure skaters has noticeably thinned out, so 2/3 of the participants in the Russian Grand Prix are girls who have neither theoretical chances to get close to the podium, nor a fanbase that has developed over a career that could somehow help with the occupancy of the stands.

In this form, the competition is unlikely to be viable in the long run. Clearly, the Grand Prix needs a makeover, either in marketing or some form of change. For example, in reducing the number of stages in order to force the tops to intersect with each other more often, or, conversely, in increasing the mandatory participation rate of skaters from two stages to three. Then the conditional Sasha Trusova will more often intersect with Kamila Valieva, and now this will really be the content that the viewer will fall for even without numerous visual advertising. But, as they say on the sidelines, our stars are not eager to once again compete with each other and proposals such as those outlined above are perceived rather negatively.

Then, perhaps, it is worth strengthening the advertising part? Or at least more actively use the warm-up before the competition. For example, official trainings, which the press is not allowed to attend at the Russian Grand Prix (by the way, there are no such bans at international competitions through the ISU) – why not? I personally talked with some skaters about this, and everyone unanimously says that this is a real show. Views on social networks and traffic on the corresponding notes on the sites confirm this. Yes, from the point of view of the competitions themselves, the results of the training do not mean anything, but does it really matter when there is a steady interest of the public? br>In place of the federation, I would also sell individual tickets for training, but they obviously have a different opinion on this matter. Why is the question. At the Russian Championships in December 2021, this ban was justified to journalists by the desire “not to disturb the athletes once again,” and this thesis sounds a little strange. Yes, it would be safer for them to do it without prying eyes. On the other hand, isn't an athlete the same as an artist? Of course, training at their home rinks is a sacred matter, no one even thinks to interfere in the preparation process. But after all, we are talking about official training on the eve of the start, where, among other things, there are judges and which numerous fans want to know about. This is already part of the competition, albeit not the main one.

I remember that at the 2019 Grand Prix Final in Turin, hundreds (if not thousands) of Japanese fans were on duty near Palavela from six in the morning to get to Yuzuru Hanyu training. Do you know how the Japanese scream when they see their idols? Exactly. Did they scream when Yuzuru stepped onto the ice? They just screamed. Did it worry him? Maybe. But after all, this is the approach of a true professional – to accept external conditions and do your job, no matter what. For some reason, we seem to have a different view on all of this. jpg”/

As a result, we have what we have. How to do it differently in the current conditions is not yet clear. But one thing is for sure: as long as people are interested in churchkhela and the cooling Black Sea in October, much more than the main stars of world figure skating, and the organizers do practically nothing about it, we will not go far.

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