Sell-out Canada Sevens event the result of Metro Vancouver's Olympic legacy
On Saturday, Vancouver will welcome the world for one of the most popular tournament series on the planet. Equal parts carnival and sporting event, the Rugby Sevens Series is as known for its festively-clad attendees and party atmosphere as it is for the 14-minute, high octane, seven-on-seven matches running throughout the day.
And while Metro Vancouver might not be known as a rugby hotspot, the event is generating plenty of buzz. After selling out the entire 28,000 seat lower bowl at BC Place weeks in advance, organizers added another 5,000 general admission tickets in the upper bowl.
It’s not easy for cities to land major international tournaments like the Sevens Series. It took five years of bidding and planning but organizers had a major card to play: the region’s Olympic venues and wealth of Olympic experience.
Michelle Collens is the City of Vancouver’s Manager of Sport Hosting, and in 2011 she made the business case for bringing the Sevens to Canada for the first time.
“The Olympic legacy was definitely a huge factor. It's the human resources, not only the infrastructure -- the Canada Line and getting the people to the stadium -- but it's our experience in hosting. And that's the real advantage to us. People have trust in Canada, they have trust we'll be successful."
Canada Sevens CEO Bill Cooper, a former VANOC executive, said stability is what international sport bodies are looking for and the track record of a successful 2010 Games only added to that.
"It's about the certainty that comes with having a group of entities and I'm going to call it ‘capital intelligence’ that exists in the city that we can tap into," Cooper said.
The World Rugby Federation mandates that cities bid for the chance to host the 10-city tournament every four years. When Vancouver bid for 2016, the governing body was expanding the franchise, and competition was fierce.
"You're competing against the world. You're competing against Dublin, you're competing against London, against New York," said BC Place business director Graham Ramsay.
“It means lobbying internationally. It's making sure your building is perfect for it, it's the hotel rooms, it's all your partners, it's the timing."
In January, the City of Vancouver teamed up with Pavco, UBC, Tourism Vancouver and the Vancouver Hotel Destination Association to make a formal alliance and pool $2.5 million in a sport tourism development fund to chase after other major international sporting events. While critics may frown at the idea of public money going toward sponsored, profit-oriented sporting events, there’s a powerful economic argument to be made for going big game hunting: the economic spinoffs can be considerable.
Take the FIFA Women’s World Cup in Vancouver last year. Canada Soccer estimates the nine matches (including the final) generated $82.9 million worth of economic activity for the City of Vancouver alone. Analysis pegged the overall economic impact for Canada at a whopping $493.6 million. The month-long tournament had six host cities across the country.
Even though Sevens only runs for two days, Ramsay saio it’ll be a shot in the arm at what’s usually a slow time of year for the tourism industry.
"We expect $10 million plus in economic benefit. Every hotel room available in this area will be full," he said.
Vancouver isn’t the only host city in the region cashing in on Olympic infrastructure and expertise. The Richmond Olympic Oval is the first venue in the world to officially keep the rings on display, and it’s using that cache to full advantage.
The City of Richmond employs two full-time staff whose job is solely to solicit sporting events for the venue. With multiple hard courts, two ice surfaces and nearly infinite configurations and options for playing surfaces and viewing space, the venue hosts more than 50 major sporting events each year.
"We designed it for what the community needed post-Games and then we took the Olympic formula and fit it into all the technical standards that were in this building for the speed skating," said Richmond Community Services Manager Cathy Volkering Carlile.
A second-level public gym offers an impressive look at the Oval, from its distinctive pine beetle wood roof to the playing surfaces below.
“A kid who's 13, 14 years old in high school team trains right next door to a national-level athlete. That's a real source of inspiration,” said Volkering Carlile.
Aside from being an public community fitness resource, the venue is shrewdly courting regional, provincial and national sporting events that want the top-quality amenities the Oval offers but don’t have the audience to justify a larger venue. It’s proven to be a smart business model.
“From the get-go we considered post-Games use as a part of the program, which has allowed it to be financially very successful. We have about a $4 million surplus and since we've opened the venue we've been operating at a surplus every year,” said Volkering Carlile.
She says the surplus is re-invested into the venue each year so Richmond taxpayers are off the financial hook when it comes to maintaining a venue with a footprint roughly equal to BC Place.
With the Canadian Sport Tourism alliance boasting sports is the fastest-growing segment of the tourism industry, there is fierce competition to get a piece of the $5 billion dollar annual pie. Venues and cities across the country are in fierce competition to draw big-name events to their communities, with the regional spending that follows.
BC Place is already in negotiation for international soccer friendlies and is toying with the idea of hosting cricket events. The City of Vancouver is eyeing everything from figure skating championships to a world junior hockey championship bid to made-for-TV extreme sports.
With a beautiful natural backdrop and distinctive glass skyline, downtown venues with easy access to the airport and entertainment districts, combined with a deep pool of Olympics-seasoned professionals, Vancouver doesn’t need to do much to convince international sports federations we have what it takes to host world-class events. Now the tourism industry has to capitalize on the good will and opportunities that can help fuel the local economy, and the world’s biggest, marquee sporting events are a large part of that strategy.
“We've always been on peoples' bucket lists. 'Oh yeah, I know Vancouver, I've heard about it during the Olympic Games,’” said Collens.
“Now when we attach an event to it we give them the excuse to want to come, that driving extra factor."