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Bringing Down the House

Elisha Chauhan asks whether opening and closing ceremonies for major sports events should be held outside the walls of a stadium in order to truly showcase host regions and their iconic landmarks.

When it comes to opening and closing ceremonies, every host region wants to outdo the last, whether that be the Olympic Games or even cricket’s Ashes, which held its first ever launch event in July to the bewilderment of spectators and cricketers alike.

A good ceremony does two things: it creates a common cultural memory and also a moment of national pride for the host, according to Scott Givens, president of major event production firm FiveCurrents.

But what better way for a local organising committee (LOC) to capitalise on tourism via global broadcast spectacles, than to hold it among the regions landmarks and on its streets, rather than inside a stadium that could be anywhere in the world and still look the same.
Not only does this show-off the city, but it would also make the local community feel more a part of the event – an emotion that can’t taken lightly given the growing public scrutiny of money spent on hosting major sports events.

“I believe the next frontier of ceremonies is to host them in public spaces,” Givens told SportBusiness International. “The creativity of venues is really important. Hosting ceremonies in non-traditional environments hasn’t quite started to happen yet, but we will begin to see non-stadia venues being used soon.”

In or Out

Givens stated that using the typical Olympic model of hosting athletics events in between the opening and closing ceremonies in a national stadium, is extremely difficult to organise in terms of staging, with the changeovers also adding to the bottom line.

“Often, the co-sharing of a venue with sport creates a very high cost for ceremonies,” he said. “For example, in London for the 2012 Olympics, FiveCurrents installed a massive set in the middle of the stadium for the opening ceremony, which had to be taken out to accommodate the athletics events, and then had to fit another set for the closing ceremony.”

I believe the next frontier of ceremonies is to host them in public spaces

Not only is there an additional cost in the management of different events, but according to Givens, hosting the ceremonies in either a dedicated or public space would allow the performers sufficient time to rehearse, especially for the closing event that has historically been a smaller spectacle than the opening ceremony as there’s little to no time to put together a huge set following the sports programme in-stadia.

“I know multi-use venues always seem more efficient, but in truth when the uses are incredibly different – as is athletics compared to ceremonies – that creates huge costs,” he added.

However, Kathy Henderson – senior vice-president of marketing and revenue of July’s Pan American Games in Toronto – said that ceremonies need to be held in-stadia in order for spectators to properly honour and welcome the participating athletes.

“We are actually required to host ceremonies by the Olympic Charter, where heads of states declare the Games open, cauldrons are lit, athletes are welcomed and where oaths are declared for the integrity of the Games,” Henderson told SportBusiness International.

“Organisers hold ceremonies in-stadia because there is a consumer demand for that – communities want to welcome the athletes or say goodbye to them. “There are pieces of this that are mandatory, but around the ceremony we are also given the opportunity to broadcast to the world what the region is about, and why the particular event is going to be unique, so there is a tourism purpose to ceremonies too.

“That can be replicated in public spaces, but in a contained and controlled space you also have the opportunity to deliver a broadcast that is seen by hundreds of millions people.”

However, Givens argued that it is “absolutely possible” to install all the broadcast and technical equipment needed for ceremonies in public spaces.

“I think that technology really conforms to the space and creative. We organise a number of events beyond ceremonies that are hosted in non-traditional spaces,” he added.

Last month’s Parapan Am Games, meanwhile, did host its closing ceremony in the public space of Nathan Phillips Square, where around 15,000 people showed up every night to watch entertainment the Toronto 2015 LOC put on for free, according to Henderson. The arts and cultural programme, dubbed Panamania, also included daily victory celebrations for medal-winning athletes.

“We organised a mix of that [stadia and non-stadia events], as a result of consultations with our stakeholders and local communities. They wanted a combination of formal ‘spectaculars’, as well as highly accessible community-feel cultural events,” she added.

The Wrong Direction

Even before a single firework could go off to mark the end of the Pan Am Games in its closing ceremony, over 50,000 people declared their opposition to it. 

However, it wasn’t the previously criticised CA$2.5bn budget of the Games that disgruntled the Canadians, but rather the headlining act of the sign-off show – controversial American musician Kanye West.

Whilst West’s inclusion was shunned for bearing no relevance to Canada or the event – which in itself triggered booing and even walk outs from the spectators when the rapper walked on – he cut his own performance short by throwing his microphone into the audience and storming off stage due to technical problems with the music.

Although the criticism of ceremony was limited to West alone, it shows how important it is for local organising committees to get residents on side and catered for when hosting major sports events that are significantly funded by the taxpayers.

Fortunately, hosting a festival for free every night of the Games to 15,000 local people as well as providing an eclectic arts and culture programme across the city, made up for the limited 45,000 tickets on sale for the closing ceremony at the Rogers Centre – whether or not West’s performance had gone south.

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