Could Junos success help London land world juniors?
Officials believe London has proven it can 'punch above its weight' and host big-name events
London's success hosting the Junos last weekend may have improved the city's odds of landing other signature events, including the world junior tournament, tourism officials say.
The Juno buzz has yet to wear off and a final tally of the economic impact is likely weeks away, but Londoners are feeling pretty good after setting the stage for a national audience at the 2019 Junos.
London was considered an underdog when it secured the bid but in the end, the city was up to the challenge.
Tourism London general manager John Winston believes London performed so well, the city has strengthened its case for becoming a host city for the IIHF World Junior Championship, better known as the world juniors.
"I think we've laid the ground work for sure," he said.
This isn't the first time London has excelled at hosting a big event. The 2014 World Figure Skating Championships was a success, as was the Memorial Cup London hosted in 2014.
But the world juniors would add another dimension to London's record as an excellent host city, with its international audience and more than 30 games spread over a 10-day span that follows Boxing Day.
And while the tournament tends to happen in host cities with NHL-size arenas, Winston said London has many advantages.
Top among them: there's already a passionate junior hockey following thanks to the Knights, who regularly fill Budweiser Gardens.
"Junior hockey is our NHL," said Winston. "You would not get a ticket for any of those hockey games. People would be buying the whole series."
Winston believes hockey officials are starting to see that mid-size cities can even have an advantage. He said in cities with NHL teams, costs are higher and logistics more difficult. A tournament in a large city can get drowned out by other events, while midsize cities tend to come together to ensure a signature event goes well. He also said people will be willing to pay more to see the games in a smaller venue, like the Bud.
Past tournaments have shown that bigger host cities, aren't always better.
Buffalo and nearby Orchard Park, N.Y., teamed up to host the 2018 world juniors and the teams at times played to disappointing crowds and complaints about high ticket prices. Fewer than 10,000 people came out for Canada's games in the preliminary rounds and just 5,533 showed up for the team's quarterfinal win over Switzerland.
Winston is certain London would sell out every world junior game, regardless of which team ended up in the final.
London has bid unsuccessfully for the world juniors three times in recent history.
Winston says the biggest challenge is that tournament organizers generally ask the host city to sign on as a guarantor, meaning taxpayers could be on the hook for any shortfall. That's not an ask that Winston wants to make to city council.
"Philosophically, I think it's incorrect to assume that taxpayers' money should be used to guarantee what is really a money-making event for a profitable organization," said Winston.
Still, he believes the guarantor problem can be solved, possibly by spreading the guarantee many organizations, including private ones.
London 'punches above its weight'
Janette MacDonald, CEO of Downtown London, agrees the Forest City is ready for the world juniors.
"We've proven to an awful lot of organizations ... that London does punch above its weight in organizing events like this," she said. "Our resumé keeps building and I think having the Junos on the resumé puts an exclamation mark on it."
"Junior hockey lives in towns like Kitchener and London and Windsor," she said. "We could do a really great tournament. I think we should keep bidding until we get it."