Grey Cup 2017 'a gift' for city's economy, local businesses say

Business owners in the Glebe and Ottawa hoteliers say they’re expecting to see a boost to their businesses when the nation’s capital hosts the Grey Cup in 2017.


By Jacob Serebrin 


“It’s a gift,” says Elizabeth Kilvert, owner of The Unrefined Olive, a specialty store in the Glebe that carries balsamic vinegar and olive oil.

While she doesn’t expect people to pick up her products on the way to the big game and other events leading up to it, she thinks that tourists – and Ottawa residents – passing through will be tempted to come back and shop in the area.

“Where it does translate to a difference in business is you’ve now got an audience of 34,000 people from all across Canada,” she says. “For myself, it’s a huge amount of exposure.”

Ms. Kilvert, who sits on the board of directors of the Glebe BIA, says “it’s a huge opportunity for the Glebe.”

The Grey Cup will also be accompanied by a five-day festival at Lansdowne Park. That will be good news for neighbourhood merchants, says Ms. Kilvert.

When the Brier was held at TD Place arena earlier this year, she says people used the gaps between games to shop in the neighbourhood. “People were in the district shopping and eating,” she says.

Bernie Ashe, CEO of the Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group, which owns the Canadian Football League’s Redblacks and is hosting the game, agrees.

“This is a great economic story,” he says. “It’s an event that attracts a lot of tourism, a lot of visitors.”

Having those visitors stay in town for a few days is great news for hoteliers, says Steve Ball, the president of the Ottawa Gatineau Hotel Association. OSEG officials estimate that visitors attending the Grey Cup and its surrounding events will account for up to 15,000 room nights during the week.

“The other great factor is the time of year,” Mr. Ball adds, explaining the Grey Cup festival will provide a shot in the arm to the industry during what is usually a quiet time for local hotels.

“Meetings and conventions start to wind down by then,” he notes.

The Ottawa 2017 Bureau is hoping to increase tourism in the city by 20 per cent during the year, bringing an additional 1.7 million people to Ottawa for the country’s 150th birthday celebrations, and the Grey Cup will be a big part of that.

“The overall program is a pretty complex puzzle,” says Guy Laflamme, the executive director of the Ottawa 2017 Bureau. “We wanted to make sure that we were developing a program for the full 12 months.”

Mr. Laflamme says the goal of Ottawa 2017 was to have a mixture of major sporting events as well as cultural activities.

“It was also very important for us to celebrate Canadian symbols, and obviously the Grey Cup is a very powerful and universal Canadian symbol,” he says.

But he says it’s about more than just a football game and the celebrations around it.

“Part of the objective of 2017 is to rebrand, reposition, Ottawa,” Mr. Laflamme says.

The diversity of activities planned for the year “will have an impact in changing people’s opinions about our city and presenting a more vibrant, more modern, more contemporary image for the city,” he says.

Still, some are questioning just how much economic activity the Grey Cup will really generate.

OSEG and the CFL have estimated that the game will create $100 million in economic activity. That’s in line with estimates for recent Grey Cup games in Toronto and Vancouver, which the league said each pumped more than $120 million into the host cities’ economies.

But those numbers have risen sharply in recent years.

In 2005, Tourism Vancouver estimated that hosting the game would bring $40 million – about $48 million in today’s dollars – to that city. That game in Vancouver attracted more than 59,000 spectators, while the 2017 Grey Cup in Ottawa will have just 36,000 seats.

Marc Lavoie, an economics professor at the University of Ottawa who has written about sports economics in the past, says there are also costs to consider such as overtime for police as well as “whether football fans will scare off other potential visitors to the city.”

But Mr. Ashe says the estimates are the result of independent, third-party studies and reflect the fact that host expenses go toward suppliers and workers who are part of the local economy. The Grey Cup is also expected to generate about $15 million in federal and provincial tax revenues, he adds.

“These are not numbers that are necessarily thrown around loosely,” Mr. Ashe says.

“(Visitors) don’t take their money with them when they leave. That money stays in the economy and gets to work. I think that these numbers will prove themselves out over time.”