In 1995, a performance named “Eiskunstlauf der Weltklasse” (“World Class Figure Skating” in English) was held in the Küsnacht district in Zurich, Switzerland. The tickets were between 15 to 34 Francks, a price point enticing enough to attract many locals to attend, the majority of which claimed that they enjoyed the show very much. After the show, booking agent Reto Caviezel and Swiss figure skating superstar Oliver Höner celebrated the success at a local bar.
Höner had a vision. It was just missing one crucial component: live music.
“I produced classic skating shows, but decided that was not really what I wanted to do moving forward,” he remembers, “I was sick and tired of ice hockey rinks and wanted to move to a multifunctional venue. In order to do that, I had to attract a bigger audience and come up with a concept.”
His concept – to fuse ice-skating by Olympic and world champion skaters with live music performances by major artists – was both simple and inspired. “It had to be live music,” stresses Höner. “That way, we could attract music fans and fans of figure skating. Music brings such a different dynamic to the show, it is the engine. “In such a crowded and over-served live market, managers and agents are rightly looking to new platforms such as Art On Ice to showcase their artists’ hit repertoire and grow new audiences in high-value territories,” says Höner.
The better the singer, the more motivated the rest of the cast. And for the artist, it is interesting to play a show based around their music and also find a new audience of [skating fans], who may not have previously been familiar with them.”
Since starting in 1996, Art On Ice has gone on to feature performers such as Nelly Furtado, Ronan Keating, Mick Hucknall, Leona Lewis, Jessie J, James Morrison and The Jacksons.
In the beginning, people were skeptical about whether the mix would work – but it has done better than they ever could have expected. So much so that, more than 20 years after its first show, Art On Ice is still reaching new heights. According to trade publication Venues Today, it was the No.1 grossing event in the world for shows of a comparable size in 2017, taking into account capacity, attendance and ticket prices, with revenue nearing £5 million (~¥44.09m RMB).
“It is important to have big stars but we have built the Art On Ice brand to a level where we still sell a lot of tickets – probably about half – before we announce any of the names that are going to appear on the show,” says Höner.
Emeli Sandé is the star of the 2018 series, which begins in Zurich’s 11,200-capacity Hallenstadion in Höner’s native Switzerland on March 1. Tickets are priced 69.80 to 249.90 Swiss francs (£52-186).
“I’m a big Emeli Sandé fan and her music is an ideal match,” he says. “She has a beautiful voice, with great emotion in her performance but also in her lyrics. That helps us to create great numbers and great choreography.
“The headline artist performs eight to 10 songs per show, the second act five or six, and the third and fourth acts will do three songs,” explains Höner. “The show must have a certain flow, so sometimes we need to change the song arrangement. It might be different from what an artist would normally do in their concerts, but nothing is set in stone and we work very closely together.”
The production will also feature Swiss band Pegasus, teenage soprano Laura Bretan and cellist Tina Guo. Entitled The Original, it will move on to Lausanne and Davos following the Zurich dates.
“The most challenging part is when everybody comes to Switzerland and we have two days in the venue to make sure everything works, including the lights and special effects,” explains Höner. “It is a real challenge to get it done within those two days.”
Art On Ice has only ventured outside Switzerland on rare occasions, visiting Sheffield, Budapest, Prague, Tokyo, and Shanghai, but talks are ongoing regarding potential tours.
“I’m in deep negotiations with China, we’re talking to Paris and we’re also considering Milan. However, I think the decision will be made after the shows in Zurich in March,” reveals Höner, who is tight-lipped on potential UK dates.
Aside from Art On Ice, Feld Production’s Disney On Ice and IMG’s Stars On Ice are also very successful commercial figure skating franchises on the international market. Disney’s production was founded in 1981, and it would go on to tour on 6 continents and in 75 countries. Stars On Ice, on the other hand, started in 1986, putting up over 1,500 shows in the past 29 years. The two entered the Chinese market in 2016 and 2017, respectively. It’s worth noting that the rights to Stars On Ice in the Chinese market are valued at over ¥10m RMB thanks to investors’ confidence and optimism.
In the Chinese market, Shen Xue and Zhao Hongbo struck a partnership with the sports entertainment management company, SECA, in 2010 to introduce the first Chinese commercial figure skating brand “Bing Shang Ya Zi” (Elegance On Ice).
In 2016, their sponsorship contract with Amway Artistry ended, and as a result, they were forced to change the name to “Bing Shang Sheng Dian” (Spectacle On Ice), maintaining the same crew and management team. Their old sponsor would then move down south to sponsor the first-ever figure skating show in Taiwan called Asian Stars on Ice, featuring skaters from Japan and South Korea.
The show was held at the Taipei Arena on July 17th, 2016, with a lineup including Marin Honda, Mariko Kihara, Takahito Mura, and Julian Yee. Promoting the show were Kwan Kwan Marketing Corp and Chinese Taipei Skating Union.
This year, commercial figure skating company Wings on Ice received an investment of over ¥10m RMB. As we near the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics, the Chinese figure skating scene is sure to grow at a steady pace.
Translated by Kane Ge
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