Spokane Does it Best
Rolling out the Red Carpet for the 2016 Team Challenge Cup
Spokane excels at a good many things, but it seems we have found our tour de force in embracing participants and guests who visit our quaint home for special events. While downtown Spokane boasts a singularly unique beauty with features that are rarely found in a city of Spokane’s size, it’s our attitude that is our best feature. We have proven to be welcoming, supportive, gregarious hosts, and it’s getting noticed.
For years Spokane has been the host city for large sporting events such as Bloomsday, Hoopfest, and NCAA Championships. We have also played host to many state sporting events over the years, and Spokane has remained faithful in supporting community events such as Pig Out in the Park, the Lilac Festival, First Night and Valleyfest. Most recently we welcomed the Chinese Lantern Festival to Riverfront Park. Spokane’s response caused them to extend the event for an additional two weeks, and we ended up exceeding their anticipated attendance numbers by 20,000. It was announced recently that this event will be an annual event moving forward. Our desire to get involved with the events we host has gotten Spokane noticed by international event organizers.
When the U.S. Figure Skating Association (USFSA) was seeking a city to host their 2002 Skate America, an international, senior-level, invitation-only figure skating competition, Spokane made the short list. We ended up being selected and proved to be a one-of-a-kind partner. Attendance at this small-scale event topped 28,000 and Spokane went into the record books as the highest attendance location in event history. A handful of years later when the USFSA came knocking for the 2007 U.S. Championships, Spokane showed up in force to the tune of almost 155,000 people. We not only set a record, we obliterated the old record of 125,345. With that kind of support, passion and love of skating, we couldn’t have been too surprised when they asked us to host the event again in 2010. And yes, we came through again when we capped our own record with 158,000 people in attendance, the highest in the event’s 102-year history. Spokane was dubbed “Skate City, USA” during that event.
As you may have seen on local news last September, U.S. Figure Skating Champion, Gracie Gold, and World and Olympic Champion, Kristi Yamaguchi, were part of the USFSA contingency that attended the Greater Spokane Incorporated Annual Meeting to announce that Spokane has been awarded as host-city for the inaugural 2016 Team Cup Challenge. Sam Auxier, USFSA president, who was also in attendance at the announcement, remembers the excitement and hospitality that Spokane brought to the Championship, when he was here in 2007. He joked during the announcement that Spokane even applauded the judges, which is apparently unheard of. Yamaguchi seemed more than pleasantly surprised when the crowd gave the announcement a standing ovation. It seems Spokane has a zest for community that is a rare and appreciated.
“There’s only one first event. It is just a major honor to be selected for the inaugural Team Challenge Cup. This event is going to have legs. It’s going to stick around, and Spokane gets to be the first,” says Barb Beddor, Vice President of StarUSA, the event management agency that placed the Spokane bid for this event. StarUSA, owned by Barb Beddor and Toby Steward, has organized USA basketball, boxing, wrestling, volleyball, hockey and U.S. Figure Skating events across the western U.S. Steward, president of StarUSA adds, “Spokane’s overwhelming response to the previous elite skating events definitely played a part in being awarded this inaugural event for USFSA.”
The addition of the World Team Trophy and Olympic team events in the last few years has proven to have dynamic results among elite skaters, encouraging Van Wagner Sports & Entertainment and U.S. Figure Skating, partners in the event, to launch the 2016 Team Challenge Cup. This biennial, Ryder Cup-style competition between continents is scheduled for April 22-24 at the Spokane Arena.
In a write-up on Sports Business Daily last fall Van Wagner executive V.P., Chris Pearlman, admitted to the “legs” their organization anticipates this event to have in the future when he stated, “My goal is to have this be the biggest global event in figure skating outside of the Olympics.” The general consensus among the establishment is that team competitions push elite skaters to meet each other’s expectations in ways that individual skating competitions cannot. With the team structure there comes higher energy and more camaraderie. This makes for great television and energizes the competitive atmosphere at the events. The teams will be watching the competition, and cheering on their teammates from ice-level team boxes built by Garco Construction on the west side of the Arena.
The international format is designed for the event to be rotated among three continents in even-numbered years, gaining momentum as a post-Olympic tour stop when it falls in Olympic years and creating an additional competition to the schedule in non-Olympic years. The team structure is broken into three continental teams, Team North America, Team Asia and Team Europe. An international figure skating icon will captain each team. This is why Kristi Yamaguchi was on hand for the announcement. She will be Team North America’s captain. Team Europe will be led by 1984 Olympic champion Christopher Dean, of the famous duo Torvil and Dean. Team Asia has yet to announce who their captain will be. Team captains will not be participating in the competition, but will decide team strategy and which athletes will participate in which events.
The captains will also have the task of facilitating selection of the final two spots on their team. The event will feature 42 athletes. Each team will consist of 14 members, three ladies, three men, two pairs, and two ice dancing couples. The top two singles skaters and the top two pairs and ice dancing couples from each continent will be automatically invited to participate based on the International Skating Union (ISU) World Standings as of January 1, 2016. Invitations were sent out to qualifying skaters the first week of January. They have until February 10 to accept the invitation. If the invitation is declined then the next qualifying skaters will be invited, and so on, until each team fills their first eight slots.
Now this is where things get interesting! The final two slots—one ladie’s skater and one men’s skater— will be selected by a worldwide fan vote. The captains pick a pool of up to five ladies and five men from each continent to be announced by March 15. The skaters will be selected from those entered to compete in the 2016 ISU World Figure Skating Championships to be held March 28-April 3 in Boston. Public voting promoted through mostly social media, will begin once the announcement of athletes is made and will run through April 4, one day after the conclusion of the World Figure Skating Championships. The top-voted lady and man will be invited to participate and will have three days to accept. If the invitation is declined the next highest vote will get the invitation, until each team is filled.
Not only are the organizers focusing on bringing new energy to a favorite sport, but they are trying some exciting new interactive components that will engage the international audience before the event even begins. This is guaranteed to feed the momentum in the weeks prior to the April event.
The actual purse for the event has swelled to over $600,000, and will be divided among the finishers, dependent on their final placement. The payouts will consist of a separate purse for each placement in the Singles Team Short Program, and another purse for placement in the Overall Team Challenge Cup finish. The Overall purse will look like this: first place will earn $210,000 ($15,000/athlete), the second place team will receive $140,000 ($10,000/athlete), and the third place team will win $105,000 ($7,500/athlete). There are some other couples and pairs prizes, but let’s just say, no one goes home empty handed. In addition to the purse winnings, the overall winning team will receive a trophy made by Tiffany’s valued at $35,000 and each member of the team will receive a gold medal.
National sponsors and advertisers have been climbing on board since the location announcement last fall. Local sponsors have stepped up, as well. Avista was the only local event sponsor on board before the announcement, which actually swung the vote in Spokane’s direction. “Having a major sponsor willing to step up in the community if Spokane was chosen, added weight to the idea that Spokane was serious,” says Steward. Since Avista announced their leading sponsorship, all of the other major sponsorships have been solidified. KHQ, the Spokesman-Review and KZZU 92.9 radio are the media sponsors, Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center is the medical sponsor, and there will be sponsors for each of the continental teams. Itron will be hosting Team Europe, Avista will host Team North America, and Northern Quest Casino and Resort will host Team Asia. The new Davenport Grand Hotel is the official event hotel.
The exposure for our Lilac City will be substantial. Tanith Belbin White and Scott Hamilton will lead the CBS Sports broadcast team and the event will air on CBS from 1-3 p.m. ET on Sunday, April 24. The entire event will also be streamed live on Icenetwork.
Hamilton, a favorite of skating fans over the years, stated, “I could not be more thrilled that U.S. Figure Skating is producing the 2016 Team Challenge Cup in Spokane. Figure skating team competitions are especially exciting for skating fans because it combines the thrill of individual competition with the drama of skaters working together as a team for a common goal, and Spokane is the perfect host city, having held two previous U.S. Championships in 2010 and 2007.”
Everyone involved with the location selection, from Sam Auxier, USFSA president, to the athletes that have participated in past events in Spokane, is excited for the skaters to experience Spokane’s enthusiasm, support and love. Auxier confessed that Spokane beat out two larger cities for this bid, and our past success and enthusiasm for events such as this one was a substantial factor in the decision. One of the delegates that traveled to Spokane for the announcement admitted that he was not completely sold on Spokane, but the response and energy in the room after the announcement left him so in awe he told Cheryl Kilday, president and CEO of VisitSpokane, that he knew without a doubt that Spokane was the right choice.
So, Spokane, this event is kind of a big deal, and we were selected to host the first one ever. Kilday is excited about what a successful event could mean for the future of Spokane. “This event, in conjunction with our history, leverages Spokane into a national and even international spotlight. It opens doors for us to tell our story and show event planners that their events can meet with success in this community.”
Steward and Beddor, Kilday, Spokane city council president Ben Stuckart, Mark Richard of Downtown Spokane Partnership, and several others have worked diligently to put Spokane’s best foot forward in gaining this bid. They are confident we have what it takes to show the world that Spokane is the consummate host. “If we can get ‘em here, we can wow ‘em,” says Kilday.
Now it’s up to us, the businesses, citizens and skating lovers of the Inland Northwest, to turn this inaugural event into a record-setter to remember. Steward assures that ticket sales and hotel bookings are already exceeding expectations, so we’re on track to “wow ‘em.” Organizers are looking forward to the involvement that comes so easily to this community. They may even open up a little competition for businesses in the downtown area to reward the places that go the extra mile in rolling out the red carpet. There’s a “spirit” here that has been acknowledged by all involved.
So let’s take this opportunity to make history, participate in a “first-time” event, and show the world that Skate City, USA does it better than anyone else in the world.
Robin Bishop is a free-lance writer and editor of Catalyst magazine. She can be contacted at [email protected] or via Facebook at Dragonfly Writer/Robin Bishop.
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