By Jason Menard
Amidst the lament of shopkeeps in the downtown area and discussions of empty seats at early events, some are question what the World Figure Skating Championships mean to London, Ontario.
The simple answer? Potential. Hope. A future.
And, most importantly, opportunity — to both build upon the foundation set by successfully staging a global event and to learn from our mistakes.
Whether or not the World Figure Skating Championships return a dime to the city, it should be considered a successful investment in London’s future (and this is heady praise from someone who remains at odds with the Canada’s London tag line and most certainly is not a fan of figure skating as a sport.)
The World Figure Skating Championships are an investment that should pay off with dividends in the future. It’s been a steady progression: from the early, heady days (maybe two plastic surgeries ago) of Cher, to the euphoria of the Memorial Cup, to the announcement of Pearl Jam choosing the Budweiser Gardens as one of its two North American dates, the facility and the city have been slowly building to setting a precedent.
With the World’s under our belt, that precedent has been set and the question no longer needs to be asked.
We’ve proven that we’ve got the infrastructure and the wherewithal to host big-league events. Sure, the Memorial Cup is nice, but it’s regional. Could the city host a World Junior Hockey Championship? Why not? (Yes, you need a secondary facility, but I covered the Ottawa WJC and remember sitting with a crowd exclusively of friends and family for an Latvia/Finland contest — the Western Fair’s rink would suffice.)
We’ve also reminded our own citizens what civic pride means. Sure, the presence of multiple officers at every street corner was, well, gestapo-like, but Londoners marvelled at the cleanliness of the downtown to the point where there have been several calls to make the Clean Team a permanent addition to the city.
The main negative from the event came from the businesses in the downtown core who didn’t see the windfall that they expected from the presence of this international event. But maybe that’s less about the opportunity and more about certain establishments’ unrealistic expectations that money would fall into their laps.
Hopefully, restaurateurs and other small business owners will learn from their mistakes for the next event. Instead of complaining about how customers are staying away, businesses need to find ways to actively recruit both new and old patrons to their establishments. Offer attendees a discount or free appetizer.
Or, better yet, extend those offers to the citizens of London. Show how much you appreciate the customers — and potential customers — who can be your lifeblood for the other 51 weeks of the year when there isn’t a World Figure Skating Championships around. Why not celebrate Londoners and invite them to the spectacle with a special offer with proof of residence.
It’s not enough to expect people to stay; you need to convince them to stay. Attractions of this nature tend to exert a tremendous gravitational pull — attracting both tourists and locals alike to an environment that may be out of their daily routine.
Likely London won’t be a high-traffic tourist location in the future for those who attended this event (after all, how many Canadians are booking flights to Ufa after attending the World Juniors?). But how many Londoners visited our oft-maligned downtown for the first time in months or years? How do we learn from our mistakes and bring them back next time?
Because there will be a next time.
If anything, that will be the dividend from our investment in the World Figure Skating Championships. We’ve proven that we can host an event of this magnitude. Now we’ve got to learn how to take advantage of the opportunity provided by those events.