U.S. Speedskating has partnered with one of the sport’s most decorated Olympians, Apolo Ohno, to create a short-track speedskating event.
The event, which will be called the Apolo Ohno Invitational, will be held Nov. 21 at the Energy Solutions Arena in Salt Lake City. It will air live on NBC Sports Network and feature speedskaters from the United States, Canada, China and the Netherlands.
U.S. Speedskating developed the invitational in an effort to raise the profile of speedskating between Winter Olympics. It pitched Ohno on it last January and tried to underscore that attaching the retired Olympian’s name to it could not only help drive viewership and attendance, which would help the sport, but it also would help to keep his name relevant in the sport for years to come.
“[Ohno] is the most iconic athlete to ever compete in the sport and he remains incredibly popular in the American public,” said Ted Morris, U.S. Speedskating’s executive director. “He’s the guy we wanted to be attached to what we hope will become the biggest annual event in speedskating.”
Octagon Olympics and Action Sports managing director Peter Carlisle, who represents Ohno, added, “His name provides some credibility for the event, and for him it creates this great platform to do what he wanted to do when he stepped away from the sport, which is promote it and breathe some life into it. It’s the right time to try something like this.”
The partners both stand to benefit financially. U.S. Speedskating will be able to sell sponsorships to the event and tickets while Ohno will receive a licensing fee and a small percentage of revenue.
U.S. Speedskating hopes to sign a title sponsor and four associate sponsors. Sponsorship assets include TV advertising, billboards and rinkboard signage during the event.
Morris hopes the invitational can revive a sport that has lost some of its public awareness after Ohno retired after winning his eighth Olympic medal at the 2010 Vancouver Games. During the years Ohno raced, short-track speedskating was one of the most popular sports televised by Olympic rights holder NBC. It is often considered a roller derby on ice, with four to six skaters sprinting around a small rink in 500-meter and 1,000-meter distances. They often collide and wipe out as they race for the finish line.
The speed and success of the U.S. team during Ohno’s years made the sport a staple of NBC Olympics’ prime-time broadcasts, but with no U.S. stars in Sochi last February, it didn’t receive the same amount of TV time. Morris hopes the Ohno Invitational can change that.
U.S. Speedskating plans to energize the audience by adding music, lights and the type of in-venue entertainment people associate with NBA games.
“We’ll try to rock ’n’ roll-ify this event,” Morris said. “The inspiration for me is the Brooklyn Nets. We want to turn the house lights down and the music up and get people excited.”