President & CEO's Message

July 2015

A message from Marina R. James, President & CEO, Economic Development Winnipeg Inc.

The Power of Sports and Entertainment

More than ever, there exists a sense of confidence in our city that allows us to build world-class attractions and welcome internationally renowned events with a fresh boldness and an appreciation for the direct spending imparted from visitors to Winnipeg.

A perfect example? Winnipeg’s recent stint on the world stage as a host city for the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup. A great venue (the $204-million Investors Group Field), a little luck (the U.S. team played here) and a willingness from the community (and from the public and private sectors) to take part in a rare opportunity all coalesced into a very memorable few weeks. I couldn’t have been more pleased with the way our city came together to ensure out-of-towners experienced Winnipeg in its most appealing light.

Tourists, mostly Americans, were everywhere. They rode our buses, they packed our hotels, they frequented our attractions and they dined in our restaurants. Although official economic impact numbers won’t be calculated until early fall, it’s safe to say the projections proffered by the Canadian Sport Tourism Alliance prior to the tournament’s commencement will be roundly exceeded. Winnipeg was alive during the World Cup; we celebrated, shared and supported. And perhaps best of all (at least for tourism marketing/services and economic developers), it felt relevant.

The FIFA Women’s World Cup was a persuasive reminder of the power of sports and entertainment in propelling Winnipeg forward—both as a tourist hotspot and as a means of providing windfalls in complementary industries. It gave our city a chance to punch above its weight, and it showcased our unique value propositions to those who might not otherwise have had reason to experience them. But it also proved once again that Winnipeg offers fertile ground for employing sports and entertainment as a springboard to more far-reaching economic development initiatives citywide.

Apart from the World Cup, plenty of evidence suggests that Winnipeggers are really beginning to comprehend the economic impact sports and entertainment can have on our city. From MTS Centre and the Winnipeg Jets (and now the Manitoba Moose) to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and the Winnipeg Goldeyes, professional sports play a key role in defining our city—and in adding fuel to the economic engine that keeps many associated businesses humming along. 

Similarly, Winnipeg’s entertainment scene is contributing to the city’s perpetual push toward bigger and better things. We’re popularly considered the cultural cradle of Canada, in part stemming from our ability to attract world-class performing artists—or to nurture them from right here at home. Winnipeggers understand that not every musician worthy of our admiration will sell out either MTS Centre or Investors Group Field, and that’s okay because we offer an array of other exceptional venues that will leave concert-goers with an equally radiant post-performance glow.

From the Burton Cummings Theatre and the West End Cultural Centre to the Centennial Concert Hall and the Pantages Playhouse Theatre—and many others besides—Winnipeggers embrace creative people and give them lots of places to ply their craft. Critically, in supporting these talents as passionately as we’re inclined to do, we’re also helping to create more vibrant districts throughout the city that have either sprouted or sustained a variety of businesses that routinely benefit from this kind of entertainment.

Whether the sports or entertainment draw is big or small, it’s clear that economic development happens in and around its vicinity. While it’s imperative we swing for the fences whenever we get the chance—the 2015 Grey Cup and the 2017 Canada Summer Games are each significant wins—it’s important to acknowledge that incremental advances resulting from smaller-scale triumphs can often serve as catalysts for even more impressive economic growth over the long term.

I’m encouraged that a core group of Winnipeggers are working hard to get this message out. Whether they’re the less-visible ambassadors of Tourism Winnipeg’s ‘Bring It Home’ program, which urges those with a strong Winnipeg connection to champion our city as an ideal place to host a convention or a sport or special event, or the more recognizable faces of Winnipeg’s sports and entertainment community—people like Mark Chipman of True North Sports & Entertainment and Jeff Hnatiuk of Sport Manitoba—they all subscribe to the idea that a rising tide lifts all ships. Ultimately, Winnipeg’s economy benefits when sports and entertainment options are keenly envisioned and smartly executed.

When it comes to finding ways to expand Winnipeg’s economic base, all of this focused effort matters. It matters to the visitors who may choose to come here. It matters to the local entrepreneurs contemplating a business launch here. It matters to those of us working to attract foreign direct investment here. And it matters to people weighing their options about where to settle down, raise a family and pursue a rewarding career.

Research suggests that a rich variety of entertainment and recreational options is a key motivator when it comes to attracting people to a community—and convincing them to stay. And this perception feeds an even bigger motivator essentially expressed as ‘quality of life.’ It’s often said these days that talent is the new business currency: no matter how brilliant your product or plan, you can’t succeed without sufficient numbers of skilled workers to implement it. Perhaps it’s no surprise that in-demand talent wants to live in in-demand places, and yet it’s difficult to create in-demand places without in-demand talent leading the charge. It’s quite the paradox.

Thankfully, Winnipeg is increasingly equipping itself with the tools necessary to address this challenge. Sports facilities and entertainment districts are powerful draws for locals, visitors and potential newcomers alike. And like other large and small North American cities besides ours that aren’t by default catapulted to the top of the desirability index—Edmonton, Alberta; Ajax, Ontario; and Arlington Heights, Illinois, all spring to mind—many of our city’s public- and private-sector leaders are making a carefully considered wager that shoring up our sports and entertainment offerings will pay consequential dividends throughout Winnipeg in the coming years. From my perspective, it’s a solid bet that deserves even more attention (and investment) from this point forward.

Let’s keep playing to our strengths as we build on this momentum together.

Marina R. James MBA
President & CEO