More fans than tickets
Excitement already building for Memorial Cup
KITCHENER (May 10, 2007)
News of the coming Memorial Cup hockey tournament has Angela McCall and many other die-hard Rangers' fans thinking about tickets.
"I'm ecstatic," McCall said yesterday after learning the city will host the 90th Memorial Cup in May 2008.
Simply put, there are more fans than tickets.
"I can't tell you how exciting it is. We want to volunteer," McCall says.
On most Friday nights during hockey season McCall, her husband and two daughters, ages six and 10, can be found at the Aud. Her daughters are down at the Rangers' dressing room, shaking hands with the players. They are on the waiting list for season's tickets.
"You get into the Aud on a Friday night, it is a whole other world," McCall said.
It will cost about $450 for a ticket to all nine games. That price doesn't dampen McCall's enthusiasm. "I just want to be part of the whole exciting ordeal," McCall says.
Longtime Rangers booster Tom Embro -- who was in the stands when Kitchener last hosted the Cup in 1984 -- said fans are buzzing about the news.
"Kitchener is one of the best cities for supporting their hockey team," said Embro, a season's ticket holder, who worked as an usher and goal judge at the Aud for more than 20 years and now helps to organize the Rangers Fan Bus.
"All along, I thought it was a toss-up between Oshawa and us," he said. "I just think it puts another little notch in the Kitchener area."
The event is expected to inject more than $10 million into the local economy. About 2,000 people from outside the region are expected to stay in hotels for several days, buy their meals in local restaurants and tour sites around the region.
And the many businesses that will benefit from the tournament can thank, in part, fans such as McCall and Embro.
Steve Bienkowski, the Kitchener Rangers' chief operating officer, led the club's bid for the tournament.
Bienkowski said the Rangers' organization didn't have to pre-sell tickets to demonstrate fan support to the tournament selection committee.
"We were one the few bidders that didn't pre-sell tickets," Bienkowski said.
"I felt I had nothing to prove to the selection committee. I stood up and said: 'We've had 238 consecutive standing-room-only crowds. That's six years of consecutive games.' So they are quite aware of the support we have, and that's a huge factor," Bienkowski said.
And that level of support is going to mean there are some disappointed fans who won't be able to buy tickets.
"It's disappointing for fans who want to come and there isn't room. But we are not going to have a new facility by May of 2008, but I think that question is going to have to start to be raised on a more serious basis," Bienkowski said.
"We have a waiting list for tickets. We are turning people away," Bienkowski said.
The lack of seating doesn't affect the financial health of the local OHL franchise, but it does frustrate fans.
"It is not meeting the demands of the community, and that's what those facilities are for, is community purposes," Bienkowski said.
Bienkowski joined team, league and city officials for the announcement at City Hall yesterday. Mayor Carl Zehr was sporting a Rangers jersey, as were councillors Berry Vrbanovic, Christina Weylie and Kelly Galloway.
"Absolutely elated," said Zehr about the coming tournament.
"The economic impact is said to be about $10 million," Zehr said.
"I think it is also going to elevate the pride in this community, which is already pretty high, but I think it is going to elevate it even further," Zehr said.
Officials in nearby London are still raving about the Memorial Cup tournament that city hosted in 2005.
"The ingredients were all there, it was a magical time," said John Winston, the general manager of Tourism London.
Sidney Crosby was playing for Rimouski. Rimouski and the London Knights squared off for the cup. The National Hockey League was on strike, making the London event among the best hockey going on in the world.
"The final game came down to London and Rimouski and Sidney Crosby. That was a moment in time that made that event very special," Winston said.
More than 2,000 people came to London for the event.
"The streets were full of people celebrating," Winston said.
London's downtown merchants counted lots of cash. Crosby went on to the Pittsburgh Penguins and an NHL scoring title.
"Really look forward to it because it is a moment in time you may not be able to capture again," Winston said.
But London wanted to try -- it was one of the unsuccessful bidders for the 2008 tournament.
In 2005, it cost London $1.8 million to stage the event. Revenue from ticket sales totalled $3.3 million. About 2,000 people from outside the city bought tickets.
Those same people spent about $2 million on accommodation and food. All this economic activity generated about $1 million in provincial sales taxes and GST revenue for the federal government.
"But it's a priceless event that one cannot calculate an impact for either socially or monetarily," Winston said.
The John Labatt Centre is located in downtown London and seats about 9,060. Bob Usher is general manager of the Covent Garden Market, adjacent to the arena, and chair of the Downtown London Business Association, which represents about 6,000 merchants in the core.
"I would say it had a tremendously positive impact. There was a whole buzz in the downtown that was phenomenal," Usher said.
Restaurants were full. There were no empty parking spaces downtown. Pubs were busy before, during and after games.
"There was an awful lot of business done," Usher said.
"We had no real complaints other than from people who couldn't find a parking spot."
As part of the festivities, the Stanley Cup was put on display on the mezzanine level of the market.
"Good luck to Kitchener because I can't see any negatives," Usher said. "There were millions spent."
During May 2005, the Covent Garden Market revenues were up 28 per cent compared to May of the previous year.
"It all occurred during the Memorial Cup," Usher said.