Press: Have I got news for you -
As of now we dispute World Champs with 70 countries represented (or so says FIRS), Panamerican Games, Asian Games, World Games, almost got green lighted for those silly Mediterranean Games (but received a kick in the arse instead), and a popular and truly international World Cup. RollerBlade and other companies boast statistics concerning millions of users around the world. Federations celebrate their increasing number of affiliates, while the big wigs are feebly attempting to include our sport in the Summer Games…
But do we have SERIOUS journalistic coverage for all those events? No way. Not even remotely appropriate coverage, for chrissake. In case we want to know who won this race or that tournament, there’s not much choice: some copy& paste blogs, a few public forums, several official but unreliable/hardly updated websites, a couple of teenagers writing in broken Spanish whatever they fish in all of the above… Stop counting.
Sure, that’s much more than the pre-internet era, nevertheless it sucks. This amateurish approach is only shunned in Colombia, where our sport is high-profiled and consistently present in all media. As it is, certain clubs and regional bodies there even provide PR and speech courses to skaters and coaches! Everywhere else, zilch. In most countries we’re regarded as an exotic semi-athletic manifestation, a weird showcase of some kind.
I fondly remember that short frame of time in the nineties, when ESPN or similar sports channels profusely documented spectator-friendly races starring the likes of Chad, the Muses, etc… I can’t tell whatever happened with those TV showings. Something made ratings go low? Did the skaters start to ask too much money? Or it just wasn’t fashionable anymore? No matter what, we lost a great chance. That’s a pity, no doubt: have you ever seen Berlin Marathon‘s live transmission? Believe me, the aerial images look like some urban stage from the Giro or Tour de France; the view from the ground it’s at least as much as exciting. I’ve tried quite an interesting experiment: to sit down in front of the telly a few people that never saw a skating race, made them watch that video. By the last frames of the men’s race near the Brandenburg Gate, my guinea-pig spectators where as excited as a Brazilian cheering his football team! That’s not to say only road races look awesome on TV: try to imagine what it would be if an elite elimination/points race was to be followed by flying cameras like those used on ice racing… Yes, the same cameras that Sabatino promised would have been employed last year in Gijon.
In conclusion, inline speedskating unquestionably is a spectator friendly sport, as long as the video is professionally recorded/broadcasted with moving cameras. Another aspect that should be improved is the athletes’ attire: how many times do I have to say that the girls’ skinsuits are as un-sexy as my grandma pajamas? Where do you think beach-volley success come from? Finally, good reporters/commentators should be instructed, or at least imported from the cycling specialists (as the Colombians successfully did). Excellent live images can be ruined by a stupid speech from a moron that has no idea about what’s going on at the race. Italians can certainly agree.
Of course huge resources are needed to implement such decent TV broadcasts; live or even cable transmissions… maybe we should work out the cheaper options first.
Papers, just for toilet use
I’ve been in a dozen World Champs or so: as far as I know only the Colombian national newspapers did publish sizable, respectable articles of their homeland events. In all other countries (including Italy and Argentina), hardly half a page appeared in the local daily, at the most. No wonder: only lately did the organizers make available a press office, although usually their releases where late, few and insufficient. Now, I’m not acquainted with the reporters’ job and printed news feed system, but one thing is clear: they need to fill up square centimeters of large pages. Since federations are not able to comply with this simple but crucial task, a good idea is for clubs to send to their community newspapers a dossier with good quality pictures and one or two written pages stating comments and results as soon as EVERY tournament ends. I happen to find nicely illustrated articles regarding dull irrelevant sports with a handful of participants, just because of personal contacts with some journo… Why can’t we do the same? As a matter of fact, I started doing it here with my kid’s club, and it’s slowly but effectively working. It is imperative to establish local community awareness; subsequently as the sport grows in numbers, national level periodicals will be interested in making our reports widely known.
Magazines are not a good idea, though, as several such publications (namely North American) died after a few issues. Their market is extremely limited, evidently, being the main reason a chronic lack of subscriptions… that might be explained on the next paragraph.
Websites, what a mess
Aw, don’t get me started. Every time there’s a big event somewhere, I need to check half a dozen local websites, blogs or forums just to get a general idea of what happened. In fact, I have a collection of about 200 skating sites on my favourites, none of which brings a complete, trustworthy panorama of the international scene. The reason is simple: no specialized website is designed and run professionally; bar perhaps some of those funded by the big manufacturers… which by definition are tendentious. The only true exceptions are WIC’s newly refurbished site (although it’s still a bit too basic and slowly updated), SkateTV.de (decent videos, but in German only), Rollerenligne (French) and the recently defunct portal SkatePodium, which was definitely the best ever seen. Although mostly written in Dutch, it was lovely designed, technically sound and very rich in content (especially the video section), an expensive venture that ultimately proved impossible to be adequately financed.
A few years back Coni Altherr proposed to me and others to create a huge multilanguage portal with a similar concept, but the idea never went underway. It’s a cyclopean task: I believe it is in principle feasible... but financially suicidal. Indeed it poses the same old problem, which is funding. Banners and links advertisement could be implemented, but users abundantly demonstrated over the years that they’re lazy enough to evade that little effort of clicking, aimed solely to maintain alive their –sometimes unique- source of information. I even tried to offer live streaming video on a pay per view system or other exclusive paid contents: some time in the past a poll I conducted -in many countries- established that users are NOT willing to pay ANY amount (however small) to access such contents, as Mr Romani harshly found out a couple of years ago with his Hardskater project. Just like the deceased magazines proved as well, it appears this sport has a zillion passionate fans, but when it comes to shell out a few quid for some premier information, there’s a general run off. So what do you expect other than low quality, dilettantish stuff?
What’s completely inacceptable are the awful, sometimes useless official websites made for World Champs. Cali’s was forgivable just because of its videos; those before and after 2007 where lousy enough, but the Asian versions of late where a complete disgrace. They put on a great effort in every other organizational aspect, but their websites left much to be desired: Zuzhou’s webmasters should spend a decade or two at their nearest gulag, surely they’ll do better farming than programming. While performing a bit better, Anyang’s webmasters may be condemned to live with their Northern cousins for a couple of years at least.
All in all, it seems to me that most people are happy with underdone, biased articles badly written by political arse-lickers, some minimalist rectangle in printed news, and a bunch of seconds of air on local TV if lucky. Not much for a sport with Olympic aspirations… The best things in life are free, aren’t they? In this case, you certainly got what you’ve paid for.