Spokane climbs onto a national stage today as it begins hosting the 2010 U.S. Figure Skating Championships at Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena.
Skaters and their fans have already begun arriving for competitions that will decide the U.S. Olympic team for next month’s games in Vancouver, B.C.
Practices start today. Competition begins Friday and will last through Jan. 24. “I love it when we get to this point. My God, we are here,” said Barb Beddor, co-promoter of the event who has spent more than two years planning the show.
Twelve national champions will emerge in ladies, men’s, pairs and ice dancing after 10 hours of live weekend coverage of top events on NBC-TV.
While tickets to premium events run from $50 to $400 per seat – and seats are still available – the broader public can be part of the fun in a series of free events downtown.
Organizers have put together a FanFest venue at River Park Square, which will host concerts, off-ice awards ceremonies and autograph signings.
“It will be a real festive downtown area,” said Harry Sladich, president of the Spokane Regional Convention and Visitors Bureau.
The payoff is significant.
An economic impact study suggests that Spokane will see a $25.7 million benefit from the skating finals, primarily through income to hotels, restaurants, shops and Arena sales.
Local and state tax collections could reach $1.3 million.
“This will be a great piece of business for Spokane,” said Tom McArthur, communications director for the Davenport Hotel and Tower, which will serve as headquarters for the event.
“This city takes on a different spirit when there are things to do and people to meet,” McArthur said. “It’s like having company over.”
Organizers said they are confident the competitions will run smoothly, in part because of their success in hosting the 2007 U.S. Figure Skating Championships, which won them praise from skating officials, Beddor said.
But, “this is a much different event than ’07. We’ve added a lot,” said Toby Steward, co-promoter.
In 2007, the competition was built around a final weekend.
This year, the competition has been lengthened from eight days to 10 with two days of practice beforehand, in part to match the schedule for Olympic skating competitions that begin Feb. 14 in Vancouver.
Men’s and pairs competitions are being held the first weekend, with ladies events and ice dancing the second weekend. That will mirror the Olympic schedule and give competitors sufficient time to rest up and practice for the games.
“We have two big bookend weekends,” Beddor said.
Advance ticket sales have been strong, although they are currently below the record number sold for a figure skating championship – 154,893 seats sold in Spokane three years ago. As of Tuesday, 140,558 seats were sold, the second-highest total for U.S. Figure Skating. The next-highest attendance at a figure skating championship was in Los Angeles in 2002, with 125,000 seats. Capacity for all events, including junior and novice competitions, is 234,000.
Organizers have been hoping to exceed their 2007 ticket sales, and it’s possible that coverage of the event could draw late purchases from across the region, especially during the second weekend of competition, they said.
A core group of skating fans is expected to descend on Spokane, and organizers say they will want to take advantage of amenities the city has to offer.
“They are rabid fans, as we lovingly call them,” Beddor said, adding that they like to shop and eat out.
Event times have been loosened this year to give fans a greater chance to explore the area. To make it easier for fans to come and go from the Arena, officials there agreed to issue wristbands and provide a separate entrance for those who bought all-event ticket packages.
Fans can take advantage of an expanded downtown shuttle system operated by Spokane Transit Authority, which starts Thursday. Fares are 75 cents a ride, $3 for a day pass, or $12 for an 11-day pass.
If Spokane’s last skating championship is any indication, even second-tier events should draw larger-than-normal crowds, something that encourages younger competitors and makes the city look good to skating officials, Beddor said.
Tickets to those events are less expensive. For example, tickets to the junior men’s finals on Sunday are $25 to $60, while the novice dance finals on Jan. 20 are $15 to $40.
Nearly 700 volunteers will work the event, providing on-site medical teams, van drivers, greeters and announcers for the practice rounds.
Security plans are in place through police and fire departments, city officials said.
Sladich said the only thing missing is winter. “When NBC covers our city, I’d like to have a little blanket of snow to make our city look pretty.”