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Tough Mudder tops event funding list

Third-party producers feel effects of May long weekend investment



Tough Mudder, the military-style obstacle event coming up on its third year in Whistler this June, is the only event to get a boost in funding from the public purse this year.

Whistler's investment in Tough Mudder is increasing $16,000 (roughly 15 per cent) to a $128,000 — that's in stark contrast to all other third-party investments, each of which got lower levels of investment this year.

"Tough Mudder aligned with our goals especially in terms of room nights and period of need and specifically when you look at June, they turned that weekend from a 50 per cent occupancy to 90 plus per cent occupancy, which was the biggest turnaround we've had in terms of an event," said municipal Chief Administrative Office Mike Furey after the breakdown of the 2014 Festivals, Events and Animation (FE&A) program was released at Tuesday's council meeting.

"Those are the key reasons why we provided them with an increase."

But with the Tough Mudder weekend putting the resort almost at capacity, why increase funding this year by 15 per cent?

"One of the key motivators is that period of need and really wanting to secure that," added Furey. "And it's a competitive business... There are lots of cities, I think, vying for their event."

More people are expected at the 2014 event, and the money will be used in part to shuttle tough mudders from the event grounds in the Callaghan Valley at Whistler Olympic Park back to Whistler.

Last year's weekend event had an economic impact of more than $7.5 million, with $4.2 million of that occurring in Whistler

Tough Mudder is just one portion of the overall Attract, Retain, Augment program (formerly Augmentation). That budget, including the Test and Development program, has decreased to $882,000 — down $124,000 from last year.

The third-party investments are as follows:

  • Tough Mudder — $128,000, up $16,000
  • Ironman — $250,000, same as last year as per the five-year deal, with $100,000 each year as part of a fee
  • World Ski and Snowboard Festival — $107,000, down $28,000;
  • Whistler Film Festival — $79,000, down $11,000;
  • Crankworx — $75,000, down $5,000;
  • Wanderlust — $65,000, down $25,000;
  • GranFondo — $65,000, down $10,000;
  • Cornucopia — $55,000, down $20,000;
  • and the Children's Festival — $28,000, down $17,000.

And in Test and Development:

  • Spirit Within — $10,000, down $25,000
  • and the Readers and Writers Festival — $20,000, down $10,000.

There is no investment in the Longboard festival, which received $19,000 last year.

Other unsuccessful applicants were the Whistler Cup, the Whistler Beer Festival and the BC Bike Race.

Dave Clark, race director at the Whistler Half Marathon, applied for funding in 2013 but not this year.

"After last year's experience... we decided based on the information we had received... in official chatter, there wasn't even much point in us even pursing an RFP (the formal process of application)," said Clark.

With a program focused on generating room nights, Clark felt there would be no appetite to invest in the Whistler Half Marathon, which has been a sell-out every year. Yet, this year corridor runners are accounting for 20 per cent of participants, compared to 33 per cent last year — a noticeable shift toward more destination guests.

"I didn't see any surprises," added Clark, of the 2014 investments. "It was pretty much a carbon copy of last year."

Noticeably absent from the list was WinterPRIDE, Whistler's annual gay ski week.

"They were successful," said Jan Jansen, the municipality's general manager of resort experience, after the council meeting.

Jansen is referring to the $37,000 given to WinterPRIDE in the fall, outside of the normal planning cycle. That money was ultimately handed back to the municipality because executive producer Dean Nelson was unable to secure talent in the time.

After learning that PRIDE will not have those funds held in trust for its January 2015 event, Nelson couldn't help but express his exasperation.

"I'm just frustrated that the time doesn't work for the first-quarter events, in my opinion," he said.

WinterPRIDE, as in 2013, will be considered separately from the other events.

"I am concerned that a planning process in July/August will again be too late to make any decisions for Quarter One events," said Nelson

If he learns his funding fate later than September, he will again be under the gun to secure talent.

"How does it make sense to invest in augmented enhancements with less than 90 days?" he said. "Can a producer really effectively market to a long haul destination guests with anything less?"

While the Attract, Retain, Augment budget has dipped, the overall FE&A program has grown to a budget of $3.16 million.

One of the biggest shifts this year is to amp up Original Programming, specifically the major investment of $290,000 in the May long weekend Go Fest. The municipality is the executive producer of that festival, contracting Crankworx Events Inc. as the festival producer.

The FE&A program is funded from Resort Municipality Initiative (RMI) money that is collected as hotel tax in Whistler, with the province handing a portion of that tax back to invest in tourism-related projects.

While his program isn't reaping the rewards of that funding, Clark said: "The program is amazing. We're so fortunate as a community to have it."