By Alison Taylor
The Meadow Park ice rink will close for five days in November as Whistler plays host to a celebrity curling showdown between the men’s and women’s U.S. teams.
Though local hockey groups and the skating club will lose ice time, both municipal staff and council agreed the economic benefits of having Whistler promoted on NBC for two hours of prime time TV outweigh the cost to the community.
The value of the media exposure is in the realm of $715,000.
John Rae, the municipality’s manager of strategic alliances and marketing services, told council they should think of the curling broadcast as a two hour infomercial on Whistler, reaching roughly six million households in the U.S. on American Thanksgiving Sunday.
That’s would be the equivalent of 60 per cent of the households in Canada watching the same show at once.
That, Rae joked to council, is more than you would get for a showdown between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Vancouver Canucks in the Stanley Cup.
“We’re very excited about it,” Rae told council.
Council also was excited. Councillor Ralph Forsyth asked if he, and others, would be able to watch the curling live at Meadow Park. Can I see Bruce Jenner and Kenny Rogers curl, he joked.
Rae countered: “I guess you can, you’re a councillor.”
Both curling teams will have a fifth celebrity player who will interact with the teams both on and off the ice. It is not clear who those celebrities will be just yet.
This is a deal between USA Curling and Events Whistler, the organization with representation from the Resort Municipality of Whistler, Tourism Whistler and Whistler-Blackcomb.
To make the deal work Events Whistler must put up roughly $50,000 to cover travel expenses and prize money for the teams. The Canadian Tourism Commission may offset some of those costs, which will be shared three ways between the organizations.
In addition to its $18,000 share, the municipality will also lose out on about $7,000 from closing the arena to the community.
The total budget cost for the RMOW is roughly $26,000. There is money in the strategic alliances division budget to cover that cost.
Within the two hour broadcast, Whistler will get three 30-second advertising slots as well as eight vignettes about the resort.
Councillor Gord McKeever said it was a great time of the year — opening weekend for the mountains — to get out there with several hundred thousand dollars of media exposure.
Still, the municipality is aware of the effect on community groups.
Not only will the groups lose ice time in November for the curling challenge, the rink will also be closed for three to four days over the Canadian Thanksgiving weekend in October for an international figure skating competition by Skate Canada.
“There is impact on the community,” admitted Rae.
Acting Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden said she was pleased to see the curling deal come before council for comment because it’s a change from policy regarding the Meadow Park Sports Centre. Generally the policy ensures some sections of the rink or the pool stay open even during competitions.
The rest of the sports complex will be open for business during the curling challenge but the rink will be closed entirely.
Rae added that the inconvenience to the community could be mitigated by giving advance notice and rescheduling the ice time.
The deal is one of the success stories to come out of the Torino Olympics. It was during those Olympics that a Whistler delegation met U.S. curling representatives and the idea of the celebrity curling challenge was born.