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Forget Bubbles - Calgary is Pitching Itself as an Igloo for Winter Sports

24 Sep, 2020

By: Mary Helen Sprecher

To date, we’ve been so preoccupied with tournaments in soccer, volleyball and basketball that we haven’t given much thought to what the winter sports season will look like. After all, we’re focused on the summer Olympics and Paralympics right now and wondering how those will play out. But a recent announcement out of Canada has people thinking – seriously – about what might be possible in the years to come – and how one city’s forward-thinking actions could set it back on the path to prosperity..

Calgary, host of the highly successful 1988 Olympics, is taking its cue from cities like Orlando (which hosted NBA action) and Edmonton (a hub for the NHL) that saw success acting as “bubbles” where games could go on – and it is pitching itself as the hub for ice and snow sports throughout the pandemic.

"We're in conversations on a couple of major bubbles that could potentially come to Calgary," Tourism Calgary senior vice-president of sales Carson Ackroyd told The Canadian Press. "With a couple of our key facilities, one of them obviously being WinSport, where do we have a natural advantage from a facility perspective where bubbling could attract a number of events into one spot?"

In addition, he noted to Inside The Games, “You’re starting to see many national sports organizations looking at their competition calendar and looking at how they can hold their events safely and whether they can go after the hub city model and figure out a cost-effective and safe way to run their events. We’ve been connecting with national sports organizations across the country and Calgary has got a number of strategic facilities that give us a strategic advantage over other markets."

Plenty of terrain for ski and snowboard events can be found in Calgary – a city with an international airport, plus decades of experience as a host. And in Tourism Calgary’s view, that makes it an excellent candidate city for international federations looking for a place to complete their season.

The city additionally has four NHL-sized arenas, 15 dressing rooms, convention space and a commercial kitchen, allowing it to host multiple sports events, including indoor competition.

If Calgary takes on the role of bubble (or perhaps in this case, igloo) for winter sports, it stands to woo tremendous business away from other destinations. The International Skating Union (which governs, among other things, speedskating) had been considering The Netherlands as a potential hub for its long-track season. And while the international governing body of skiing (FIS) is trying to move all its action to Europe this season, Canada's snowboard and freestyle ski World Cups in 2021 remain on the FIS calendar for now – something that gives Tourism Calgary even more hope. In fact, Calgary's Canada Olympic Park — a 1988 Winter Olympics legacy structure — is scheduled to host World Cup moguls in January followed by freestyle skiing and snowboard in February.

The economic impact of events at that level are hard to argue with. The 2013 world luge championship in Whistler, B.C. generated $1.1 million in visitor, participant and event organizer spending while generating over half a million dollars in taxes for three levels of government, according to the Canadian Sport Tourism Alliance.

"There is a concentrated, significant effort in reaching out to try and bring this activity to the city to help support our tourism economy and the recovery of the province in general," Ackroyd told the Canadian Broadcast Company. "The sport-event piece is definitely one of the pieces that will come back in the visitor economy around the world, potentially before others."

Calgary has its eyes on the youth market too. Its Sport Facility Supply and Demand Study Report, published in 2014, paints a picture of a city with multiple opportunities to host sports, not just at an international level, but all the way down to youth sports. And those are not limited to those playing out on ice and snow. Golf, martial arts and swimming can also be hosted by the city – as can a host of others.

But for now, Tourism Calgary is emphasizing its suitability to host winter sports and in doing so, has put itself far ahead of the curve.

"There is no one in the world, I’m going to say, who can do it like we can," Winsport chief executive Barry Heck told Inside The Games. "There’s other facilities in the world that could maybe pull this off, but not located in the middle of a major city. There’s hotels, there’s everything. This is not easy, but it’s relatively easy for us to contain it and pull it off, so yeah, we’re excited and very much behind it."

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