The one-year countdown to the 2010 U.S. Figure Skating Championships begins today, and supporters envision a grander and more lucrative competition than the record-setting 2007 event.
With berths on the U.S. Olympic skating team on the line, and the Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver, B.C., starting less than three weeks after the Spokane competition, organizers Barb Beddor and Toby Steward say the trials in the Arena will be more significant – and dramatic – than the 2007 championships.
And the extended, two-weekend schedule for the four competitions – ladies’, men’s, pairs and dancing – will give visitors more time to explore Spokane and spend money, they say. Many downtown retailers and restaurant owners complained the 2007 championships didn’t deliver the additional business they were led to expect.
Beddor said a noon rally in River Park Square will start the clock toward the Jan. 15, 2010, opening of the championships, with the goal of enlisting community support for the event.
“We want everybody to feel part of this,” she said. “The hardest part we have is one-upping ourselves.”
A record 154,893 seats were sold for the State Farm 2007 U.S. Figure Skating Championships, with events split between the Arena and a temporary rink frozen onto the floor of the Convention Center. Next year, all skaters will perform in the Arena.
When Star USA, Beddor and Steward’s sports promotion company, asked the U.S. Figure Skating Association about whether the championships might return to Spokane so soon after 2007, Beddor said, the response was positive in part because of the packed, raucous Arena stands.
Some skaters at the 2006 Olympics in Turin, Italy, said they were rattled by crowd noise they had not experienced at the trials in St. Louis, she said.
Also, local government and business groups were willing to pledge $600,000 toward a $1.2 million bid for the event, with the state of Washington making a similar commitment in the form of a letter from state Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, according to Beddor.
The Legislature also approved $100,000 toward the 2007 championships, as well as $500,000 to support Star USA’s unsuccessful bid for 2009 World Figure Skating Championships, which landed in Los Angeles.
Although some downtown businesses questioned the value of the 2007 event, Spokane Convention and Visitors Bureau President Harry Sladich said hotels reported selling almost 15,000 room nights more than they would in a typical January to skaters, their family members and fans. The Spokane Public Facilities District said the event generated almost $1 million in revenue from sales and hotel taxes.
Sladich said quantifying the event’s economic benefits may be difficult, but from a community image and marketing perspective, “the event is priceless.”
Marty Dickinson, president of the Downtown Spokane Partnership, said members are looking at ways to build restaurant business. One possibility: placing menus on Arena shuttles that would suggest takeout spots or restaurants that could get fans in and out in an hour.
Retailers, she said, might offer coupons to those who buy event tickets or attend FanFest, the entertainment, display and autograph-signing event in River Park Square.
Dickinson blamed some of the disappointing 2007 sales on media reports that created the impression downtown was jammed with visitors, which encouraged local folks to stay home.
She said the Downtown Spokane Partnership will work to make sure downtown looks its best for visitors – and for the 11 hours of live national TV coverage planned by NBC.
Beddor said the Star USA contract with the Figure Skating Association forbids discussion of revenues from tickets or sponsorships.
But she said tickets have sold well, with the full, 22-event package going for $595. The first week’s competition, featuring eight men’s and pairs events, sells for $275. The seven ladies’ and dance events scheduled for the second week sell for $375.
Tickets for the Skating Spectacular that will wrap up the championships on Sunday, Jan. 24, sell separately for $75.
Beddor and Steward said they expect Spokane to contract “Olympic fever” as the countdown progresses. Said Beddor: “You won’t believe what goes on in the community when the Olympics are in your backyard.”