Empty feelin'

ERIC FRANCIS -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 7:29 AM ET

Long before the first jump of these world figure skating championships had been attempted, organizers of the event pulled an Emanuel Sandhu.

A face plant, that is.

Following a botched marketing campaign that sold few tickets and created no buzz whatsoever around town, the seven-day event opened yesterday to a half-empty Saddledome.

With no more than 9,000 diehard fans in attendance for yesterday's opening ceremony and subsequent pairs short program, what should've kicked off a world-class event looked more like a weekday junior Hitmen affair.

Not even the French judge could fix these numbers.

Yet, despite the embarrassingly sparse crowd hidden away from CBC camera views, Skate Canada's acting CEO choose to take the ol' glass-half-full approach.

"There's no disappointment -- we're certainly on track from a budget point of view and it has gone the way we would have expected," said Thompson, whose offices have undergone some reorganizing since the recent ousting of CEO Pam Coburn.

"It's a large venue so we don't expect to sell all 17,000 seats but we've got excellent sales of the lower levels and up into the mid-levels. We're still selling a lot of tickets here, so we're on the way back up."

Truth is, there's little hint of civic interest in the event, which comes five years after the Worlds in Vancouver sold out overnight and made more than $10 million.

"There are probably at least a couple of reasons why that's the case -- first, in Vancouver, it was the year before the Olympics, which is obviously a big draw," said Thompson.

"Second, the fact of the matter is the sport was hurt by the 2002 Salt Lake situation and it has taken some time to build back. The more the new judging system is proven to work, the better it's going to be."

The half-empty building is also in stark contrast to the world allround speed skating championships at the Oval on the weekend, which would have outsold a figure skating event typically embraced by Canadian audiences from coast to coast.

"I don't know exactly about ticket sales but what can you do?" shrugged International Skating Union president Ottavio Cinquanta, in town for both events.

"You can't force people to buy a ticket. Normally, Canada appreciates skating, so I hope that these days somebody will get excited and join the other spectators and to see the Canadian skaters perform."

Cinquanta went on to say the relative absence of recognizable and high-end Canadians undoubtedly hurts local interest.

Granted, many of the Olympic medallists aren't here, two of the three events yesterday were qualifiers and the pairs short was in the afternoon.

But in a city that hosted the memorable figure skating battles in the 1988 Games, the reality is one of Canada's richest cities should have jammed the place.

Instead, locals scoffed at the price point of the All Event passes and have yet to fully embrace single-event sales.

While large chunks of empty lower-bowl seating areas were likely paid for yesterday, a full three quarters of the balcony seats were wide open. Yes, it was the first day and solid outings by Canadians yesterday may still open the door for a late rush of support.

But most believe there's a better chance of Sandhu winning than this event selling out like it should.


Videos

Photos