Vahe Gregorian

Figure skating championships arrive at the right time for Kansas City

The Sprint Center was the scene of celebratory skating Wednesday by some local skaters, but come January 2017 the whole world will be watching the skating action there. Area native and American pair skater John Coughlin watched from the podium.
The Sprint Center was the scene of celebratory skating Wednesday by some local skaters, but come January 2017 the whole world will be watching the skating action there. Area native and American pair skater John Coughlin watched from the podium. jsleezer@kcstar.com

Even if you don’t know a Salchow from a Lutz from an Axel, it’s easy to recognize that Kansas City landing the 2017 U.S. Figure Skating Championships is a bonanza for the city and region.

It’s not just that the coveted and compelling event announced Wednesday carries a projected economic impact of $18 million and an anticipated attendance of about 100,000 and will draw to the area about 1,700 athletes, coaches and officials, who in themselves will consume 8,000 hotel room nights.

It’s not just that the spectacle that will unfold Jan. 14-22, 2017, at Sprint Center (junior and championship level events) and Silverstein Eye Centers Arena in Independence (juvenile, intermediate and novice) will be covered by several hundred national media and enjoy national television coverage on NBC the final weekend that typically is rebroadcast internationally.

“You can’t buy that kind of advertising,” said Kathy Nelson, president of the Kansas City Sports Commission.

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Which takes us to another reason this is a very fine thing:

If nothing kills a bad product faster than good advertising, well, then a good product should flourish in the spotlight.

And whatever matters we might have to contend with around here right now, who can dispute that this is a surging time for a place so transformed since the last time it played host to the event in 1985 at Kemper Arena?

The epicenter of the world-class event might be at Sprint Center, where you’ll see competitors destined for the 2018 Olympics.

But another world-class showcase waiting to be discovered by an entirely new audience surrounds that.

The U.S. Figure Skating Championship is scheduled for Jan. 14-27, 2017, at the Sprint Center. Champions will be crowned in ladies, men’s, pairs and ice dance. By Jill Toyoshiba.

Asked what he’s most eager to share with visitors, Mayor Sly James of Kansas City paused and smiled.

“I’m really having a hard time choosing between, like, the Yelp (ratings) No. 1 museum (Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art) or the Yelp No. 5 museum (National World War I Museum and Memorial) or the Plaza or the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts …,” he said. “You can go over to the Negro Leagues (Baseball) Museum. Power & Light District is cool.

“The downtown streetcar will be working pretty well by then, and we’ll have probably another 4,000 downtown residents.”

For all that, though, James had a broader point to make.

“The people of Kansas City are special, and if we needed any (more) proof of it, we got it: 800,000 people down there to celebrate the Royals. Three arrests,” he said. “You can’t beat it. That’s special. That’s what makes us different. That’s what people remember, because it’s face to face and personal.”

It’s one thing to hear that coming from the mayor, of course.

It’s another to hear that distinction articulated by U.S. Figure Skating senior director of events Bob Dunlop.

Kansas City had bid for the event before, he said, most recently for 2011 and 2012.

As he considered the reasons it won this time, the first thing he noted was the collaborative effort spearheaded by the Sports Commission in conjunction with Sprint Center, Visit KC, and Independence arena and city officials.

“They didn’t have previous connectivity like that,” Dunlop said.

Dunlop declined to name other cities that had bid. But he said that synergy, combined with the revitalized downtown and two vibrant facilities, made it a uniquely appealing effort.

And one whose ultimate success hinges on U.S. Figure Skating’s faith in the people taking it on.

“It’s less about a building (and) more about the people within your city that helped to make this happen,” Dunlop said, later adding, “That’s probably why you’re seeing these events popping up (more here).”

That’s the other pivotal point in this:

The area has been gaining momentum in attracting sports events here for several years now, most visibly with the MLB All-Star Game in 2012. In 2013, in another coup, the Sports Commission secured 14 upcoming NCAA championship events — more than any other city.

There’s a reason for that.

“There’s no other city like this right now that has this kind of team in place for (a local organizing committee),” Nelson said.

Now that spirit of partnership has established a new frontier of visibility and opportunity, even for a city that’s been host of 10 NCAA Final Fours and regularly is the site of the Big 12 basketball tournament.

After all, the U.S. Figure Skating Championships have been contested since 1914, meaning the event not only will have plenty of celebrated alumni who will attend the 2017 event but also represents what Dunlop called “a long-living product. It means something. It’s (stood) the test of time.”

Now Kansas City seems ready for its own new test, which Dunlop suggested could lay groundwork for more of the same, even as the Sports Commission and its coalition are pursuing other major events.

“If this goes well,” Nelson said, “we’ve got people who are waiting in line up to talk to us now.”

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