The Festival International des Sports Extremes — or FISE — has been in Edmonton for three years. Now, organizers are hoping the city will extend its partnership but in a tough budget year, councillors are being very deliberate about funding priorities.
This year, the free public festival moved from Hawrelak Park to Louise McKinney Park.
Still, over three days in the summer, attendance was just 25,000 — not the anticipated 100,000. But organizers are confident the event will grow quickly.
“The freestyle sports right now are really booming and that is what we expect to happen in Edmonton,” said Alexandra Dardebet, a sales and project manager with FISE.
She admitted FISE was hoping for a larger turnout in Edmonton but said there were factors out of their control, like weather.
She believes “the Olympic effect” will lead to a big boost in numbers.
“We are approaching the Olympics as well, in just about two years’ time. There is an exciting opportunity for 2019 with FISE being an Olympic qualifying event,” Dardebet said.
That means BMX Freestyle will be a medal event in time for the 2020 Games in Tokyo.
“There is an opportunity to continue to grow in Edmonton,” she said.
But councillors want proof.
“We saw 25,000 people each of the last few years, which is not a small amount but at the same time, for the total dollars we’re putting in — at $1.2 million per year — we do have to be asking, especially in a tough budget, is that what we should be spending $1.2 million on?” Coun. Andrew Knack asked.
He said councillors heard Wednesday the event did see an economic return and the city did see a return on its investment, but it’s still a tough sell in the current economic climate.
It would be an easier decision, Knack said, if FISE could offer some guarantee the festival would grow and draw more people from outside the city into Edmonton, where they’d also spend money at hotels and restaurants.
“That’s different than just spending $1.2 million on a free event for everyone when we’ve got a lot of different needs across the city right now.”
FISE told the city that about 4,000 of the 25,000 festival attendees came from more than 80 kilometres outside Edmonton.
While Knack was encouraged by those numbers, he wondered if it’s enough to justify the expense. He said a deal that sees the city reduce its funding over the years as the event grows might be more feasible.
— With files from Scott Johnston