The Toronto Blue Jays play the Cincinnati Reds in a preseason game at Olympic Stadium, Montreal.

In spite of growing economic worries and the threat of recession, many Canadian venues are reporting strong years so far, thanks in large part to a number of national and international sporting events. The FIFA Women’s World Cup, CONCACAF, the Pan Am Games and the Canadian National Skating Championships have kept facilities bustling and stands full of
patriotic fans.

Olympic Stadium, Montreal, hosted matches during the FIFA Women’s World Cup in June and sold out the stadium for Montreal Impact’s CONCACAF Champions league final in April. Also in April, the Toronto Blue Jays and Cincinnati Reds played two preseason games at Olympic Stadium, with 90,000 people attending over two nights; incredible numbers for a preseason game.

“It’s been very positive for us as far as getting people back into the stadium,” said Kevin Donnelly, events director for Olympic Park. “In Montreal, there’s a love-hate relationship with the stadium. It’s been there since the Olympics and cost a lot of money at the time to build it, but now that we have this great venue, we have to use it to its full extent. It’s been a fun process of getting new types of events in.”

Along with new types of events came new improvements to the building and new partnerships as the facility prepares for its 40th anniversary next year. Initially, all efforts were focused on getting a new roof for the stadium, said Donnelly. “But years later, things still haven’t been confirmed. So when we did the relaunch, we basically decided we’re not going to wait, we’re going to make things happen. One of the major things to us was the food and concessions.”

A recent RFP process for a new concessions partner was met with eight different bids. Monchateau, a Quebec City-based company, won the deal, and returns have already doubled with the new partnership. Also recently announced, Quebec-based Ticketpro will now be handling online ticket sales for all of Olympic Park after another RFP process.

“The deal structure that’s been put into place makes a lot more sense for us,” said Donnelly. “We’ve had the same deal that’s been renewed on and on for a very long time, so it wasn’t in sync with the way tickets are being sold now. Even scanning, which seems like a very logical thing, up to about a year and a half ago we weren’t scanning. It’s a big step for us that makes a lot more sense. There are a lot more opportunities for smaller events or different types of events that will be coming in where the price structure varies quite a bit.”

Sports also had a major impact this year at Toronto’s Enercare Centre, which recently entered into a new 11-year naming rights deal, changing it from Direct Energy Centre. The $7.5-million (CDN) deal was a relatively seamless transition, as Enercare actually bought part of Direct Energy in 2014, said Arlene Campbell, general manager, sales and event management at Exhibition Place.

“It started as a result of Enercare purchasing Direct Energy’s Home Services Business, so our new naming sponsor continued on with a similar business line but a new owner,” Campbell said. “There was an alignment of values with respect to environmental conservation and community focus. Each partner respected the value the relationship brought to the other. A valuation was conducted which assessed the value of the tangible and intangible benefits of the opportunity, and this justified the pricing.”

Enercare Centre was also recently awarded LEED Gold Certification, one of the first Canadian convention centers to do so.

In July 11-25, Enercare Centre became the main site for the 2015 Pan Am Games and was transformed into Exhibition Centre for the next two weeks.

“This venue divides into four halls for different events, plus the north side of the building has a 10,000-square-foot indoor arena for gymnastics,” said Dianne Young, Exhibition Centre’s CEO. “It was straight rent for us, with a month-and-a-half buildup, and 85,000 hours of technical and skilled labor working on the ground.”

The Pan Am Games is the world’s third largest international multisport event, attracting more than one million people to CIBC Pan Am Park’s four other competition venues, including the Toronto Coliseum, Ontario Place West Channel, the open-air Exhibition Stadium and the Chevrolet Beach Volleyball Centre, a temporary venue erected for the games. Over 7,000 athletes from 41 countries converged on Canada for the first time since the games were last hosted in the country in 1999.

“An outdoor beach volleyball venue was built in our parking lot,” said Campbell. “We ended up accommodating our traditional events plus putting this megaevent on within our season.”

Setup of Exhibition Centre had to be conducted around the venue’s regularly scheduled events, which provided a bit of a challenge. More than 500 new hires were brought on to the venue’s 1,500-person staff for the games. At Exhibition Centre, indoor events included 10 evening volleyball events, attended by 5,000 people at each, 10 rollersport sessions, with 2,000 fans at each and 15 squash sessions, five of which sold out.

Another sporting event, the 2015 Canadian Tire Skating Championship, packed the fans into SMG Canada’s Rogers K-Rock Centre in Kingston, Ontario in January. 

“That was a big event not only for the building, but for the city as well,” said Lynn Carlotto, general manager. “There were 14,000 ticketed attendees here, and economic impact was incredible. For the province of Ontario it was over $3 million and for the local area of Kingston it was over $2 million. It’s people coming here from all over the country.”

Above the ice, the arena recently installed a new video board, and their OHL tenant team, the Kingston Frontenacs, is really enjoying it.

“Our hockey team is having a blast with all of the effects,” said Carlotto. “They’re in there playing all the time and coming up with new stuff for the season.”

By removing a few unnecessary prices, they were also able to add some more sponsorship areas inside the bowl.

“We found that we had sold out in some of our more popular spots, so we redesigned,” said Carlotto. “Where we had previously had some scrolling message boards, we took those down and now we added some midtier signage in the bowl so we have more inventory.”

Beyond sports, country music has also become a popular genre among the Kingston crowd. Florida Georgia Line stopped at the arena in February for a completely sold-out show that grossed over $270,000. Rogers K-Rock Centre was only the second or third stop and the smallest building on the tour.

“It’s a clear indication that bands want to get here,” said Carlotto.

Later this month, the arena will be launching a new website that will be fully integrated with Ticketmaster.

“We’re the first website that Ticketmaster is developing through its new marketing services agency,” said Carlotto. “They just kicked off a new company, Blue, and there are a number of marketing services available through that company, and website development is one of them. We’re the first site that has been developed. The Ticketmaster component is that the graphic designers that work for Blue have designed it, and there’s a direct interface with Ticketmaster. You don’t have to worry about the link and traffic for converting them over to the Ticketmaster site, It’s all directly imbedded in our site.”

“One of the objectives of our new website has been more about creating a personality that goes with the building as opposed to the graphics or other components like that,” said Carlotto. “We’re all in these massive structures and people kind of look at it as a big piece of real estate for events to come and go. Our website is going to be giving the building more of a personality through the folks who work here.”

Interviewed for this story: Kevin Donnelly, (514) 252-4141 ext. 5057; Lynn Carlotto, (613) 650-5079; Arlene Campbell, (416) 263-3030; Dianne Young, (416) 263-3611