Whistler Sport Legacies (WSL) released its latest annual report last week, including financials for the organization in charge of Whistler’s 2010 Olympic legacies.
The good news is that revenues are up. Whistler Olympic Park is getting closer to covering its annual costs, while returns from the Whistler Sliding Centre were higher than the previous year. As well, demand for athlete housing was high, and Whistler Sport Legacies was also able to leverage its assets to host other events that were revenue generators.
While operations are still heavily subsidized by public funding, WSL president and CEO Roger Soane said revenues are actually ahead of projections at this point.
“We’re certainly doing better than we were predicted to do,” said Soane, who took over the position from the outgoing president and CEO in February. “When the strategic business plan was put together by KPMG, they certainly didn’t expect us to be where we are today — they actually expected that it would take a bit longer to get to where we are.”
In the case of Whistler Olympic Park, the Nordic skiing venue earned revenues of $1,387,925 from March 31, 2012 to March 31, 2013. Expenses were higher than previous years at $2,161,212, with some capital improvements including trail development adding to the total. On paper, that’s a loss of almost $800,000, but compared to the previous year’s costs — $1,523,532 — the venue could be within a few hundred thousand of breaking even this coming season. Season pass sales are already ahead of last year, said Soane.
The Whistler Sliding Centre is more challenging, with annual operating costs of almost $2.2 million and revenues of $836,921 for the financial period ending Mar. 31. Soane said they could probably recover more of those costs by expanding the public bobsleigh and skeleton tours, but that would take away from the track’s mandate to provide a venue for high performance sport development.
“Demand for the public slide program has been good and we expect to do better this year. It’s a product that people like and want to buy, but it’s a matter of time and track access holding us back when it comes to that revenue source,” he said.
“We’re reaching goals we set and achieving them and exceeding them, but our mandate is for high performance sport and that’s the balance (of spending), especially when we talk about the Whistler Sliding Centre, which is open eight hours a day, six months a year for athletes.”
WSL also finished this year with a healthy bank balance, the result of the improved performance of the Games Operating Trust — a $110 million fund created by provincial and federal governments to provide permanent funding to the Olympic legacies in Whistler and Richmond — and the ongoing provincial “Transition Grant” of $2.5 million. Provincial funding will decline over the next few years, and in 2015 — the last year of approved grants — will be less than a million dollars.
As a result, WSL finished with over $3 million in additional revenues by the end of March 2013.
Soane said that WSL is putting those extra revenues away to help fund the legacies as provincial contributions decline. However, there’s also a good chance that the venues will continue to receive some sort of government funding on a permanent basis going forward, given that facilities like the Whistler Sliding Centre generally operate at a loss but are considered important to the national Olympic program.
Soane said they are looking at every possible source of revenue going forward, from hosting private functions at facilities, to renting out facilities for events, film locations and more. They are also looking at a plan that would allow them to use the sliding centre in the summer months for a wheeled attraction.
As well, Soane said they would need additional resources to be able to grow operations to provide athletes with even more services. For example, a tech centre has been proposed for a lot next to the High Performance Centre in Cheakamus Crossing that would have trampolines, an air bag and other equipment that national teams in a variety of sports could use.
In that sense, Soane said that WSL is still a young organization with three-and-a-half years in business, compared to WinSport in Calgary. WinSport (formerly Calgary Olympic Development Association) has been operating and improving on Canada’s legacies from the 1988 Olympic Winter Games for 25 years now, and just invested over $100 million in a new Performance Training Centre.
To a degree WSL and WinSport do compete for the ability to host athletes and teams, but Soane said both groups also work together closely to ensure that their programs are complimentary.
“There’s no doubt that they’ve built a spectacular facility, and we look at that as being complimentary to us,” said Soane. “We’re not necessarily in competition. We offer two different venues, and while we often offer similar training grounds for sports we’re still different. If you talk to ski jumpers, jumping in Calgary and jumping and Whistler Olympic Park are two very different things, for example. The Calgary jumps are great to learn on, but Whistler’s venue is closer to what they’ll be competing on in the World Cup.
“Same with sliding — Calgary is great place for the development of the sport, but for the driver who wants a more technical or faster track, Whistler is the next level up. They want to come here and train.”
For more on Whistler Sport Legacies, visit www.whistlersportlegacies.com.