EDITORIAL: Changes may be necessary

Organizers of both the Tour de White Rock and Canadian Open need to address the problem of sagging attendance

Peninsula residents who bundled up and trekked down to either Marine Drive or to Softball City last weekend, to watch the Tour de White Rock or Canadian Open, certainly got their money’s worth.

(Especially cycling fans, since the Tour is free of charge).

But while each July brings out the diehard fans of cycling and fastpitch, this year’s incarnations of both showed signs of what has been a startling trend of late – dwindling attendance.

The lower-than-usual numbers could be chalked up to the weather. It poured rain throughout the final few days of the fastpitch tournament, and thunder and lightning the night before the Tour de White Rock’s Sunday road race no doubt kept a few away, although organizers got lucky when the criterium was staged between storms.

But Tour de White Rock attendance has clearly been waning for years. Where once the sidewalks along Marine Drive were jammed two or three deep, now there is park-bench space aplenty throughout most of the race.

Higher attendance at the Canadian Open was no doubt expected, too. The Canada Cup – the Open’s predecessor – routinely attracted more than 100,000 fans throughout the week. While tournament organizers no longer release attendance numbers, it’s unlikely this year’s event hit anywhere close to that number.

Reasons why both events are seeing a drop run deeper than just the weather, of course.

The Open is just in its second year – and first since re-adding an international division, which was the Canada Cup’s big draw – so they can certainly be cut some slack. And this year’s Tour suffered from perhaps its weakest field in a decade, as many pro riders were bound by other race commitments, and the women’s field had just 22 racers, down from its usual amount of 50-plus.

There are possible solutions. If a change in date for the Tour de White Rock – or for BC Superweek in its entirety – would result in more top riders coming here, then it should be examined. And Canadian Open director Greg Timm has already promised next year’s event will be bumped up a few days, so it will better dove-tail with the world championships, thus bringing more international teams into the mix.

Organizers are wise not to rest on the laurels of past successes. They should remain focused in continuing to bring the world’s best – not just the best available – to our doorsteps, and be wary of taking their remaining fans for granted.

If not, they would soon find out that what Ben Franklin once said rings true: “When you’re finished changing, you’re finished.”

– Peace Arch News

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