Windsor Council has hooked the city’s economic future to sports tourism. The Council does not seem to realize that occasional sporting events do not constitute sustainable economic development.
Although Council’s members probably won’t admit it, Windsor has gained little if anything from two forays into so-called global sporting events.
The recent and costly FINA swimming competition gained little international interest. Its predecessor, the International Children’s Games, produced even less.
To understand some of the challenges of sports tourism is to understand spectators.
Swimming is not a spectator sport, thus it attracted few spectators, and certainly not enough to fill the east end arena. Yet some $20 million of local taxpayer money was spent.
Even the major leagues can have spectator problems.
Recently, the Toronto Maple Leafs sucked up the city’s sports and entertainment dollars. As the Toronto Star reported April 21, tickets at the Air Canada Centre for Leaf games were selling in the secondary market at a premium, while those for its professional basketball and baseball teams were selling at a discount.
What is worse, as Davin Raiha of Western University’s Ivey Business School told the Star, a big sporting event might actually have negative economic consequences.
He talked of people being, “… turned off from the additional traffic and crowds and other congestion that’s then produced by major sporting events.” This, he said, could deter non-fans from patronizing restaurants and museums.
This should be instructive to Windsor Council.
If it is just replacing one group of restaurant patrons with another, it will not advance the economy.
FINA was staged during a traditionally busy period for restaurants, at least those catering to Christmas parties. To truly understand the value of FINA, the city must determine if it actually brought new money to the city.
With the city paying the full shot, there was probably few new dollars.
Economic evaluation of sports should be based on the amount of new spending, a point Council missed with FINA.
Could the money lost have better been used for something else? After the event, much vanished with little impact on the local economy because so many of the workers were imported.
Given the city’s review of the International Children’s Games, it is doubtful a true evaluation of FINA will be conducted. That and the fact Council quickly dismissed its Auditor General, leaving the city without a qualified person able to carry out a real value for money audit.
Residents should brace themselves for a report praising FINA, specifically, and sports tourism, in general. It will also be a report unable to stand up to scrutiny.