Contract negotiations for next year's World Ski and Snowboard Festival are progressing positively with many potential problems being ironed out in advance, according to Whistler stakeholder groups involved in the talks.
Doug Perry, the WSSF chairman and managing director of the Resort Communications Group that manages the annual 10-day event, says Tourism Whistler, Whistler-Blackcomb and the municipality are keen to clarify all details of the contract to avoid any misunderstandings.
Perry had earlier expressed frustration with unforeseen bills that arose from hosting this year's event April 13-22, such as new village rental costs and the increasing organizational challenges of holding the festival in Whistler. The event's two major draw-cards, the World Skiing Invitational, and the World Snowboarding Championship, are respectively owned and part owned by RCG.
Following the first post-festival WSSF board meeting this week, Perry says contract talks with RCG could take several weeks, because the stakeholders are keen to go over all details with a fine-tooth comb.
"Last year the contract was a single page and this year it will be around 14 pages," he says. "All aspects of the festival are being examined including policing, sponsorship rights, insurance, financial contributions, trade marking, film footage rights, and who provides what services."
Perry says the event has grown tremendously since its debut in 1996 and it makes sense for everything to be spelled out, so everyone knows where they stand.
He says sponsorship is an issue that needs particular clarification, to avoid conflict between potential competing sponsors and to preserve value to existing Whistler sponsors.
"This issue has big potential for a clash of interests and will take the highest level of co-operation between the stakeholders to avoid this. Fortunately it seems to be happening," he said.
Perry says he will also make a separate appeal to the municipality for flexibility over the $12,000 village rental bill that his company received the day after the 2001 Telus WSSF festival finished.
Bill Barratt, the RMOW general manager of community services, says RCG is the first private event organizer to be billed for using the village space, although the bylaw has been applied since the early 90s for renting the municipality's parks. A revised version of the bylaw was passed last October to allow village space to be entered into the rental equation, and all event organizers on the municipality's books were reportedly informed of the change at the time.
Barratt says events hosted by W5 and Tourism Whistler are exempt from the charges, but hotels or professional event agencies must pay.
The municipality drew some criticism for billing the WSSF, on the grounds it generates visitors and therefore business for the resort in the shoulder season. However Barratt says renting municipal land for a for-profit event is common among municipalities. He referred to the rental of Stanley Park for the Vancouver Sun Run as a recent example.
"Why should the taxpayer foot the bill for costs and subsidize an event because the business sector may make some extra money?" he says. "We (the municipality) represent a broader base than commercial businesses."
However Barratt admits that some events fall into a grey area. "There is a difficult line to walk between community benefit and private interests, and there is some flexibility to waive fees for a non-profit event."
For example, an agreement is being negotiated with organizers of SkateSpace this summer to reduce fees in exchange for skating ramps being donated to Whistler after the event.
Barratt adds that a Tourism Whistler event such as WinterStart and last Januarys World Freestyle Ski Championships are minimal in scale when compared to WSSF.
"The festival attracts more than 8,000 people to the village, which generates costs that need to be recovered from the organizers, who in turn should organize their budgets through sponsors etc."
Stuart Rempel, Whistler-Blackcomb vice president of marketing and sales, describes the WSSF talks as "very productive and positive" but says a full business strategy is still months away.
"Our priority with the month of April is to keep growing the WSSF and extending the season," he says. "It's estimated up to 15,000 people were watching the World Snowboarding Championship big air contest this year and it's very important to Whistler-Blackcomb that we grow this part of winter."