The residents of London were told early on that hosting the World Figure Skating Championships would draw 50,000 visitors to London, Ontario, this week and have a tremendous impact on the economy, injecting millions of dollars of spending.
I was skeptical from the start:
- As I have outlined in previous work, much of the extra spending is often diverted from other local spending and it leaks right back out of the economy (see this)
- The Bud (Budweiser Gardens, formerly the John Labatt Centre, the venue for the event) holds only 8 - 10K. Actually, according the LFPress, the actual capacity for figure skating is slightly under 7K, and even that number has not been reached for any events to date. From the London Free Press article titled "Thousands of tickets remain unsold for World Figure Skating Championships; Fans disguised as empty seats":
There hasn't been a sellout yet in the first three days of competition at the world championships, though Patrick Chan [EE: Chan is Canadian and a local fan favourite] and the men's skate came closest so far with 6,593 tickets sold.
Capacity at the arena has been set at 6,991 and the event is expected to come in at 85 percent over the week (including Monday and Tuesday practices at the Gardens).
There are 11 sessions, which means there were 73,601 total tickets available, and 62,197 [sic. had been sold(?)] as of Friday. Organizers believe the Saturday evening free dance showdown between hometown Olympic champions Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir and Meryl Davis and Charlie White of the United States will be sold out.
- Many of those seats are being filled by people within walking or driving distance; they come in for an event, watch it, and leave, not spending much while they are here. Many other seats are being filled by people who shelled out $1300 for a full event pass. Even adding in all the media and support staff, there is no way this event will have drawn 50K visitors to the city. Indeed, later projections were lowered to 30-35K, which I suspect is still a sizable overestimate.
As is often the case, there is considerable anecdotal evidence emerging on FaceBook that many downtown merchants are having less business this week because of the concerns from locals about parking and traffic congestion. Many traffic lanes are blocked around the venue, and parking at the venue itself has been taken over by media and other equipment trucks.
The major positive impact on the local economy is, as usual, for the local hotel, taxi, and restaurant trade. But the impact on the restaurants in the area was odd: because of anticipated parking problems and because of the congested streets in the downtown area, locals avoided eating in the downtown restaurants. When the events were on, the restaurants were nearly empty; only when there was a break between events, did many of the fans wandered out to one of the nearby restaurants. But those who were attending two events in succession didn't really have time to patronize some of the finer local places, and so they rushed over to the food stands in the local market to grab something fast. Or they ate at the food stands inside The Bud. From MetroNews,
Several local restaurateurs told Metro Thursday about unfulfilled expectations — that the 2013 World Figure Skating Championships had made little to no impact on business.
“I’ll be happy if we break even,” said Seve Sanfilippo, manager of The Rocks on King, a restaurant/bar located across the street from the Budweiser Gardens’ busiest entrance.
... Figure skating competitions of this magnitude demand frequent stoppages in order to resurface the ice. As well, in between events fans only have enough time to stretch their legs and quickly grab a bite to eat.
Rushing outside to get a food fix has been an uncommon occurrence. “People are saying, ‘This is great, we don’t have to leave,’” Moore [manager of Ovations, which runs the food concessions at The Bud] added.
The overall net effect of hosting the World Figure Skating Championships in London will surely be small or negative and short-run. Further, the city spent millions of dollars on security and to spruce things up, adding street decorations, reconstructing a pedestrian area, moving the panhandlers out of the downtown core, rerouting buses, blocking traffic lanes, adding purple-coloured lights everywhere, and sponsoring a massive light show.
It still amazes me that taxpayers are willing to praise politicians who bring things like this to their cities. I truly doubt that the net impact was positive overall.