Overpriced worlds an embarrassment

ERIC FRANCIS -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 10:14 AM ET

As bad as Joannie Rochette's collapse was yesterday, it paled in comparison to the horrific efforts of Skate Canada officials who not only let their sport down this week, they also embarrassed the city of Calgary.

While the World Figure Skating Championships provided one Canadian medal, two additional berths at next year's event and a handful of touching moments, it will be remembered more for its laughable marketing efforts, overpriced tickets and empty seats.

Exposing the arrogance of Skate Canada officials who mistakenly figured people in one of Canada's wealthiest cities would show up regardless of price, an average of roughly 7,000 were witness to the daily proceedings in the cavernous 'Dome.

Yet, somehow Skate Canada's acting CEO William Thompson insisted that figure was actually "a bit above" expectations -- this just five years after Vancouver sold out the event in 24 hours, albeit a year before an Olympics.

"Obviously we could always hope for more but in terms of our expectations we didn't fall short," said Thompson with a straight face.

At least Rochette openly admitted she was disappointed in her performance.

The biggest failure of the Ottawa-based organizers stemmed from stubbornly refusing to sell single-event tickets until a month before the event, leaving thousands of fans disappointed before Christmas when they hoped to buy themselves, friends or family members seats. Instead, they were asked to pay as much as $950 for an all-event pass.

Underlining just how out of touch officials were, the price in Vancouver for a similar pass was $595, which included a chance to see Jamie Sale and David Pelletier, Shae-Lynn Bourne and Victor Kraatz, Elvis Stojko and a host of Olympic champs.

"(Pricing) is one area that as an organization we can do a better job in terms of doing our analysis of the local market," said Thompson.

"To be perfectly honest and very realistic, I think there are many areas we can improve -- local marketing was one. The profile of the event was clearly lower than it could have been. There's no question there have been lessons learned from an organizational point of view.

"A lot of our team is quite new ... we will do it better in the future."

That future will very likely never again involve Calgary -- at the worlds anyway -- as figure skating fans tuning in around the globe saw and read about the humiliating crowd counts. It reflects poorly on a city that has long prided itself as Canada's home of amateur sports -- a city that did well to support the Canadian figure skating championship in 2000 and the brilliant 1988 Olympic figure skating showdowns. In many people's eyes, the mere idea of bidding for these championships was a mistake given the long history of big-name withdrawals following the Olympics.

"I don't actually think that hurt at the end of the day," said Thompson, who saw the crowd count range from 5,700 Monday to a peak of 9,843 yesterday.

"There were enough strong competitors and there's so much movement now with the new system. Maybe we could have had a little more with (Olympic champ) Evgeny (Plushenko) coming. The sport is obviously very much in a rebuilding phase but a lot of good things happened here.

"That proves something is working right and the judging system is competitive and fair."

Skate Canada owes its athletes and the city of Calgary an apology.

Oh, and a rebate.


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