COLUMN: No winner for us in the world of curling

A week ago Sunday, I was flicking through the television channels when I spotted curling...

A week ago Sunday, I was flicking through the television channels when I spotted curling.

Since I occasionally enjoy watching the sport, and was tempted to attend in person when I read that Abbotsford would host the world masters championships, I did the next best thing and clicked on the channel to catch the women’s final.

Aside from the action on the ice, what really garnered my attention was the lack of fans in attendance at this world-class sporting event.

I’ve seen more people at my granddaughter’s ball games. As the camera panned the crowd it wasn’t difficult to realize that Abbotsford has a huge white elephant that when even “the best” of arena sports hardly attracts anyone.

And for all those people watching televised coverage of the curling championships from around the world, it must have been surprising, and for us embarrassing, that so few attended.

Curling may not be the fastest or most exciting spectator sport, but it is an activity in which Canadians excel. Both the Canadian men’s and women’s teams emerged victorious last weekend.

Why then did so few turn out to watch?

I can’t believe, with virtually every community in B.C. having curling rinks, there aren’t thousands of amateur curlers who wouldn’t give almost anything to study how the best in the world play their game, and thus fill our 7,000-seat arena to the rafters.

But obviously that wasn’t the case.

Perhaps it was the cost of the tickets, or the way it was promoted – maybe even the event itself.

However, something is terribly wrong, and terribly disconcerting for taxpayers who must support this sports facility, that world class events attract so few paying customers.

What will it take, or is it even possible, to make this arena more than a financial millstone around the necks of city council and its beleaguered ratepayers?

I’m not certain anyone can be blamed for this.

After all, voters approved the initial expenditure under Plan A, and we now have this very good facility.

It just seems no one is interested in using it because regardless of one’s opinion of the management team that operates Abbotsford Entertainment and Sports Centre, it has brought in major events.

A few succeed financially, but most of the activity in that facility attracts so few that at the current usage it will never even come close to paying for itself.

Which leaves but two choices – keep it as a community asset that will forever be a drain on tax revenues, or try to sell it along with its total debt.

For the right person, a dollar might be good exchange.

Fact of the matter, should it be sold/given away, is that it will remain an arena and entertainment centre. No one is going to buy it, with the kind of debt it has, to simply tear it down. The land isn’t worth that much.

Perhaps with a new owner the centre might be successful. If not, it could be a sizeable tax write-off for someone with very deep pockets.

As it stands now, the only pockets that are being depleted are those of Abbotsford taxpayers, and even hosting world championship events obviously aren’t able change that.

 

markrushton@abbynews.com