It still remains to be seen if guests will flock to Whistler for its annual ski and snowboard festival but corporate sponsors are coming to town in a big way.
Coca-Cola is back in the lineup after a year's hiatus. Monster Energy upped their sponsorship dollars this year. Microsoft Zune filled the gap as title sponsor of the main stage, which was left empty last year. And Happy Planet has chosen the festival to launch a new product.
Even the challenged automotive industry is continuing to stake its claim on the festival, with Pontiac GMC returning this year as a gold level sponsor.
Compared to last year, sponsorship dollars overall are up about five per cent, a testament to not only the hard work of the production company, Watermark Communications, but also the continuing success of the brand - the Telus World Ski and Snowboard Festival (TWSSF).
"We're a lucky place to have great partners to be sticking with us through thick and thin," said Sue Eckersley, president of Watermark.
But the strain of these economic times is evident in other ways, she said. Entry level sponsors in the $15,000 to $20,000 range have pulled back their investment in the festival, as big name players stepped up to the plate to make up that shortfall.
"We're definitely down in the number of sponsors," said Eckersley.
Motrin, for example, is not back this year, despite being a presence at the festival for several years. Its reason for not returning, said Eckersley, was "economic times." It has been a familiar refrain from low-level sponsors.
And so, festivalgoers, used to pocketing their free samples of Motrin and other goodies as they walk through the village streets, will notice their absence at this year's festival, April 17-26.
"They'll be less things that you'll receive," said Eckersley.
The change to bigger sponsors, particularly in the global economic crisis, also comes with some added pressure - the big corporate players are trying to eke out as much bang for their bucks as possible.
"The expectations are significantly more high," said Eckersley. "They want more exposure. They want bigger placement. They want more for less.
"People are being forced, really, to be very savvy with their dollars."
Given the global downturn in the economy, which has rippled through Whistler, Eckersley is pleased to see local companies continue to support the end-of-season festival.
Wayne Katz, owner of Moguls, Zogs, and Gone, is once again feeding the entire event crew throughout the festival. It's something he's been doing for several years now. And he committed once again this year despite business in his three locations being down 12.5 per cent overall. Specifically, at Zogs, he had a drop in sales for the first time in the 13 years he has owned the outdoor fast food stand in Mountain Square. Every year prior to this season Zogs had seen an increase in sales.
"We've got to stick together during difficult times," said Katz.
The festival, he added, is a good fit for his clientele and so the investment is not purely altruistic, he admitted. He gets to promote his three establishments.
"It's an age group that lends itself well to our establishments."
Like Katz, property managers have also seen the continued value in supporting the festival.
"They've really stepped up to the challenge," said Eckersley, who understands the difficulties of this season. "As a community they've really rallied."
And she hopes there's good return on the investment. Festival sponsors have bought out one hotel entirely and another one is near capacity.
"Hopefully there's been some good return," she said.
Tourism Whistler's confidential 120-day Pace Report is not promising at this point in time but this season has been all about last minute bookings.
"Bookings are pacing behind where they've paced last year and previous years," explained Jeff McDonald, Tourism Whistler's manager of corporate and member communications.
"But we've seen... last minute bookings are becoming more and more common."
With the recent snow, and an aggressive marketing campaign soon to begin on the airwaves and other media, Eckersley is hoping the visitors will flock to Whistler and support the 10-day festival.
Every extra dollar that comes in now is going to promoting the festival.
And while it would be a huge coup to beat last year's numbers, something she always aims to do and has done in her 10 years working on the festival, Eckersley said she would be happy to hold the numbers from last year.
"It's a late festival so hopefully there'll be lots of sun."
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