Oliver Höner: “Our aim is to grow Art on Ice in Asia”

May 24, 2011
By Nadin Vernon
Photos © Art on Ice Production AG, Infront Sports & Media (China) Co. Ltd, Silvia Ulenberg, EMJO

Fans from Asia have been travelling to Switzerland to see Art on Ice for many years, and this year Art on Ice is travelling to Asia for the first time, to debut its show in Shanghai. A dream cast of skaters featuring the full pairs podium from this year’s World Championships (Aljona Savchenko & Robin Szolkowy, Tatiana Volosozhar & Maksim Trankov and Pang Qing & Tong Jian) as well as former World Champions Stéphane Lambiel, Isabelle Delobel & Olivier Schoenfelder, reigning European Champion Sarah Meier and several others will be performing next to world-renowned Chinese pianist Lang Lang and pop singer Jane Zhang.

I had a chat with Oliver Höner, CEO of Art on Ice Production AG, to find out a bit more about the show.

Exciting times for Art on Ice, Oliver. Tell me a little bit about how the show in Shanghai came about.

We always wanted to conquer Asia, and while we obviously haven’t achieved that yet, this show in Shanghai is a very good start. Infront Sports & Media, who is a Swiss marketing agency that’s very active on a global level, approached us to say they would now be in a position to take the show to Shanghai. They are very experienced when it comes to sport events and have become very strong in China due to their work with the Chinese Basketball Association. On top of that they have good contacts to Chinese broadcasters, so naturally they didn’t have to ask us twice and things moved pretty quickly from there.

The show was only announced very recently, you’re working at very short notice.

Yes, that’s right. Everything happened at very short notice, but we just have to go with it. Whenever you make a new start it works like that, it wasn’t much different when we started off in Switzerland 16 years ago. Back then I remember us wondering if we should maybe wait another year to be in a better position, but most of the time you are still in exactly the same situation, so we said, let’s just get on with it and that’s what we’re doing here. And I think we’re in a good position, there is a brand new arena in Shanghai, the Mercedes-Benz Arena. It’s a dream venue that will seat around 17,000 for us and Art on Ice will be the first ice event to take place in the facility.

Out of all the Asian markets, how come you specifically chose China?

Things developed very quickly in China. Originally we wanted to start off in Japan, and we do have contacts there and are in talks about shows in 2012. So that’s still happening, but it’s just taking a little more time over there and in China things moved very quickly which is why Shanghai is going to be our first station.

How is the ticket sale going?

Well, it only just started but I heard that one company already bought 500 tickets on the first day tickets were released. Things are looking good, but it’s far too early to predict how many we’ll end up selling. There is a lot of interest though and we‘re noticing it over here, too. We’ve had many enquiries from Asian countries and there’s been a lot of feedback from Japan and Korea. So it sounds like people are planning to travel to Shanghai from there to watch the show.

How can the show in Shanghai be compared to the one in Zürich?

The show is going to look quite different, because we’re going to have a different set up with the stage, as it will be integrated in the ice. So we will have a stage that’s centrally located and not at one end of the arena, like in Zürich. We won’t necessarily have it like that in future, but it’s just a new concept. We have solo artists in Shanghai, not an orchestra or a band, so there’s no need for an enormous stage. Hence I decided to go with this new idea of having the stage in the centre and it will make everything look a little bit different, too.

Will the show feature some programs that have already been performed in Zürich?

Most of the show will be new, there may be two or three numbers we have used before, but everything else will be different.

How is the show set up in terms of the proportion of live and taped music?

It will be around 50/50 so the live part is a bit less than in Zürich where around 80% of the show features live music, here it will be closer to 50%. We have two acts, Lang Lang who will be performing around eight or nine songs and then Jane Zhang, a local artist who is very popular in China, with around four or five songs.

Given the local artists you have chosen for the show, I assume your target audience goes beyond figure skating fans?

Yes, definitely. That’s where we see our big chance, by reaching a wider audience. And I think it’s important in China that we offer an entertainment product rather than a show that’s purely aimed at figure skating fans.

Are you offering corporate packages, too?

Yes, there will be some packages, probably not as extensive as the ones we offer in Zürich. Initially we will be operating on a smaller scale, but always with the goal to extend in the coming years.

So we’re not looking at a one-off here, you’re planning to be back next year?

Yes, we are currently looking at a five year plan. So we’re not using the approach of ‘Let’s try it and if everything works out perfectly we’ll carry on, if not we’ll give up straight away’. We are looking at a much longer term strategy and decided on a five year plan with our partner to establish everything.

And in parallel you’ll be working on expanding to more countries in Asia?

Yes, our goal is to tie in the shows in the Asian cities, so that we can fly our skaters out there once and they can perform at several shows. We’ll have to see if it will be possible to realise it in such a way, but this is the plan. For the moment, the most important thing is that we’ve made a start and I really hope that Japan will then follow. There are so many skating fans in Japan and I hope that this show in Shanghai will give the local promoters in Japan the courage to think ‘Well, if they can pull this off in China, we can do it here, too’.

Are you involved in the promotion side of things at all?

Not really, no. I have to trust our partner over there to take care of things and do what is necessary to successfully promote the event. And I’m confident they’ll do well, they have a lot of expertise in this area via their partnership with the basketball league, All-Star Game, etc. And our main advantage is that we’ll be known China-wide with this show in June as there will be a live broadcast on CCTV.

So when is everyone arriving in Shanghai?

I will probably fly out around four/five days before the show but the technical team will get there a bit earlier to set up. And then before the main skaters arrive, we’ll be there with our choreographers Marvin [A. Smith] and Salome [Brunner] to work on the group numbers with the dancers. The main cast will arrive about two days before the show.

Do you have further expansion plans outside of Asia, too?

We do, but it’s too early really to pinpoint developments in any specific region. We are in touch with several markets and intend to give more focus to the international market. We have one resource now who is entirely focused on this, as it always gets pushed in the background otherwise. We are so busy with various projects in Switzerland, we’ve now taken on a music festival in June, that we really need a dedicated person for our international expansion plans so that we can move a bit faster with these new markets.

Well, I wish you a successful debut in Shanghai, good luck with everything!

Thank you!

Art on Ice Shanghai will take place at the Mercedes-Benz Arena on 18th and 19th June. For more information and tickets, go to www.artonice.com.

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