As investments go, massive sporting events can be among the hardest to quantify – especially when they are held somewhere else.
But spending $2.6 million on the 2010 Vancouver Olympics is an “investment,” agree the Yukon’s government, sports and culture representatives.
“As we strive to have our economy remain strong, this is an opportunity that we cannot afford to miss,” said Premier Dennis Fentie, sporting a blue Olympic blazer and standing in front of a poster-sized photograph of Tombstone Park.
“If we do it well and we do it together – First Nations governments and the Yukon government – there’s many, many successes for the Yukon,” said Council of Yukon First Nations Grand Chief Andy Carvill.
Only two years ago, Whitehorse’s 2007 Canada Winter Games saw massive injections of capital flow into the local economy to build projects like the Canada Games Centre and the Athlete’s Village.
But as for attracting long-term tourist dollars and investments – the driving justification behind the Yukon’s Olympic support – nobody can say for sure whether the Canada Winter Games were a good buy.
The Canada Winter Games “could result” in increased tourism, said a post-Games economic assessment.
“No one can predict what the magnitude of the value of that publicity and increased awareness will be, but it will doubtless have a future economic impact,” read the 48 page document released in late September.
Still, on Wednesday morning, the Canada Winter Games were an oft-cited reason for pledging almost $3 million to the Vancouver Olympic cause.
“It really is building on the success of the Canada Winter Games, which really put northern arts and culture on the national stage,” said Elaine Taylor, minister of tourism.
“What this is doing is that now we’re going to be able to take that on the international stage,” she said.
The $2.6 million comes on top of $166,667 already paid to VANOC, the Vancouver Olympic Committee, in 2008.
All told, the Yukon’s Olympic grants will equal about $87 per person.
Almost one-third of the Yukon’s Olympic budget, $800,000, is devoted to media and marketing efforts, a small slice compared to the $6 million to $8 million the Yukon typically puts towards tourism promotion.
The international media is coming to Canada with the romantic image of the nation being “cold, snowy and full of igloos,” said Denny Kobayashi, the Yukon government’s manager of marketing operations for North and South America.
“Well, guess what? We’re going to show them igloos, we’re going to show the snow – the type of things they want to cover are what we’re going to present to them,” said Kobayashi.
Another $75,000 will pay to bring the Olympic torch relay through Whitehorse, Dawson and Old Crow. And $120,000 will fund a massive concert at the Canada Games Centre featuring a “tier 1” Canadian recording artist, like Celine Dion or Rush. That event will be filmed by a CTV camera crew and will be mixed into Olympic coverage on a single day. In total, 16 Canadian cities will hold similar “celebration sites.”
Much of the remaining $1.6 million is earmarked to dispatch Yukon cultural ambassadors to Vancouver’s Olympic proceedings.
The average Olympic attendee may very well find themselves wandering into a Kim Beggs concert, a Dene Games demonstration or a First People’s performance.
On February 20th, VANOC has even sanctioned “Yukon Day,” a chance to “dominate” promotional activities for a day, rather than just spreading them thinly across the entire length of the games, said Laurel Parry, manager of arts for the Department of Tourism and Culture.
Once the Yukon’s flavour has been broadcast to a global audience, it’s only a matter of time until businesses are compelled to “come and invest,” Fentie said.
Only 10 days before, Rod Taylor, president of the Yukon Tourism Industry Association, related a mushing trip he took with the head of broadcasting for NBC sports, the head of broadcasting for CTV sports and the head of Australian media conglomerate FoxTel.
“At the end of the day, they were absolutely blown away with that they’d seen, and all three of them have committed to coming back to film some significant vignettes,” said Taylor.
Throughout the month-long coverage of the games, NBC statistics suggest these vignettes would be shown six or seven times to “a minimum audience of 100 million Americans,” said Taylor.
“Try to imagine what it would cost for Yukon tourism to get that exposure if they tried to buy it – it’s impossible,” he said.
The Olympics are “one of the greatest bargains in the history of tourism,” said Taylor.
The Yukon tourism branch estimated that Olympic marketing efforts will pull in more than $8 million in unpaid media coverage and tourism spending, representing a “10 to 1” return on initial investments.
The Sydney Olympics, held in 2000, stand as the best example of how Olympic Games can boost a tourism market.
“It is their success that is really driving what we’re doing here today,” said Taylor.
Between 1997 and 2004, Australia saw 1.7 million visitors coming to the continent as a direct result of the Games, generating almost $6 billion in earnings.
The Vancouver Olympics have been lauded for trying to involve cultural and ethnic groups from across Canada.
“For the first time in history, indigenous peoples are full partners in the Olympic process,” noted Carvill.
By contrast, Canada’s last Olympic foray, the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics, saw Team Canada appear at the opening ceremonies dressed in tacky cowboy regalia.
“That was very much an Alberta experience; this is a pan-Canadian experience,” said Taylor.
“Thirty three million authors make this story, and the story starts right now,” said smiling, racially-diverse athletes in a VANOC-sanctioned video montage preceding Wednesday’s announcement.
Against Chariots-of-Fire style theme music, the video flashed images of Paralympians, teary-eyed medal ceremonies from Games past and Terry Fox.
Contact Tristin Hopper at