LOS ANGELES, Jan. 20, 2005 – Montreal is one of the world’s most attractive, cosmopolitan cities. The charming mix of architecture, commerce and cleanliness make it a joy to visit.
Unless you are a sports fan.
Consider how in the space of about a week, the pride of Quebec has descended to the bottom of North American sports cities and perhaps to a spot as the worst sports city in the world.
In 1969, then-Mayor Jean Drapeau led the successful bid for the 1976 Olympic Games, brushing aside financial concerns with the famed boast: “The Olympic Games can no more have a deficit than a man can have a baby.”
Plagued by construction problems, the Games ended with a deficit of more than $1 billion (Canadian) and a main stadium that wasn’t even finished.
Bond issues and other post-Games re-financing mechanisms used to get the 1976 venues built will not be retired until approximately 2034 according to published sources. That means a child born the day after the Games closed would be 68 years old by the time the bonds are paid!
The Bottom Falls Out
But that’s ancient history compared to more recent adventures:
• In October, the announcement was finally made that the moribund Montreal Expos – owned by Major League Baseball since 2002 – will be moved to Washington, D.C. Playing at the Stade Olympique, the Expos were the only team to draw less than a million fans at home, ending the season at 717,155.
• Earlier this month, the Olympic Installations Board received a study which indicated that the stadium could not be imploded, but would cost C$500 million to deconstruct! If imploded, clearance of the site would require the removal 20 tons of debris every seven minutes for seven hours a day for nearly three years.
Of course, the Board, having received its second study concerning demolition of the stadium, claims that it will keep the stadium intact.
• This week, the international governing body for swimming – FINA – removed the 2005 World Aquatics Championships from Montreal, citing the lack of financing. Sponsorship projects were $8 million short and ticket sales have been slow. They don’t have to worry about that any more.
The Championships are scheduled for July 17-31 and there are few alternatives. FINA is asking for candidates to make themselves and their concept for the competition known by February 15.
Although reports have cited Long Beach, California – the site of the highly-successful, but money-losing U.S. Olympic Trials in 2004 – as a front-runner, it’s unlikely that the city or its convention and visitors’ bureau will risk losing more money by trying to put on the event on such short notice. More likely sites are Athens, Greece where the 2004 Olympic Games were held (but will anyone attend?) or even more likely, the Middle East emirate of Dubai on the Persian Gulf. Financing will not be a problem there.
• We’ll only mention the National Hockey League strike here to show that we’re aware of it.
It’s a bad week for Montreal sports fans. I’d say it could be worse, but I doubt it. One suggestion: before the next federation or league picks Montreal as the site for a major event or a permanent team, can I suggest some wisdom from Tom Cruise and Cuba Gooding, Jr. in the film “Jerry Maguire:”
“Show me the money!”