Rick Traer 2.0

In retirement, Rick Traer, Sport Tourism Canada’s new CEO Emeritus, will promote Canada internationally as a preferred sport events host
By Angela Kryhul

At the end of July, Sport Tourism Canada (STC) CEO Rick Traer will officially hand all leadership responsibilities to his successor, Grant MacDonald, and retire as one of Canada’s longest serving CEOs in the sport and tourism industries.

That doesn’t mean Traer will disappear from the organization he helped found 21 years ago. In his new role as CEO Emeritus, Traer will represent STC internationally and lead Team Canada delegations at SportAccord, Smart Cities and other international conferences, as well as continuing to serve on the board of the International Association of Event Hosts (IAEH).

ADRENALIN editor Angela Kryhul spoke with Traer about his new role and the post-COVID landscape for hosting international sport events.

Describe the atmosphere in which Canada must compete to host future international sport events.
Historically, Canada has been a top-five destination for hosting international events, but the responses we received in our survey (Bouncing Back – Preparing for a Sport Hosting and Economic Reboot – Part 2: International) from the international federations, should make us take notice.

With 10 provinces and three territories, all with their own (COVID-19) restrictions and regulations, it becomes a heck of a challenge to establish any sort of common approach to attracting international sport events to our country… it really puts us at a tremendous disadvantage internationally where other countries either have no restrictions or they’ve made concessions for hosts of international sport events.

Canada has hosted some (bubble) events successfully, including the 2021 IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship in Edmonton and the recent curling events in Calgary. But, if you talk to the rights holders, there’s no way that model is sustainable in terms of the additional costs combined with the loss of ticketing income.

We know there’s a pent-up demand for hosts of international sport events just as there is for domestic events. From a recovery standpoint, the approach we’re promoting is that the first stage will be inter-community events that allow travel between and among communities, whether it’s provincial, interprovincial or national.

I think international sport events will probably be a little bit further behind in terms of opening given our current restrictions on entering the country. But we’re not the only country that has those challenges and North America is still a very desirable continent to host international sport events simply because of the size of the market.

Is it now time for Canada to implement a national sport hosting strategy?
For several years, we’ve advocated for a national hosting strategy that clearly identifies a path forward in terms of bidding and hosting international sport events, whether single sport events or multi-sport games.

Many countries are taking a much more targeted and strategic approach to hosting. The United Kingdom, for example, has done a magnificent job of capitalizing on the legacy of hosting the Olympics and recently released a strategy that very clearly outlines what their objectives are (i.e., to host 97 events across 44 sports, including 46 world championships) over the next 10 years.

If we’re interested in emerging from the current crisis and establishing our competitiveness internationally once again, a great place to start is to relook at the funding formula in a way that would allow us, both from the host community and rights holder standpoint, to be able to compete for some of the very attractive events that generate lots of benefits for not only the host community but the province and the country as a whole.

There’s an opportunity for Canada. Discussions are in progress, but it takes a long time for any significant change to occur.

The COVID-19 pandemic is arguably the most turbulent period the industry has ever faced. What will you remember most about the past 15 months?
It was an exhausting, non-stop, flat-out effort by our board of directors and our staff and contractors to try to stabilize the industry. Sport Events Congress 2020 was cancelled 10 days before the event and then we went straight into more of a ‘how can we serve the industry during this unprecedented crisis.’ We ran 13 webinars to remain connected to the industry and transitioning our 2021 Congress to virtual was a heck of a learning experience. Our events team, led by Krista Benoit, did a tremendous job in creating a virtual experience that brought us a lot closer to the in-person experience than anything else we’ve experienced.

Thinking back on your years leading STC, describe the most gratifying moments and what you’ve learned about yourself as a leader.
Starting an industry organization from scratch and looking at where the industry is today, is the most gratifying. We started with 18 founding municipal members. (The organization now has over 500 members, including 140 municipalities, 300+ national and provincial sport organizations, 20 post-secondary educational institutions and a variety of companies and agencies.) We developed a number of industry tools, the most significant being the Sport Tourism Economic Assessment Model (STEAM), the world’s first web-based economic model specifically designed for the sport tourism industry. It really laid the groundwork for the ability to generate economic impact data, which was sadly lacking within the industry.

What did I learn about myself? I guess the easy answer to that is to hire good people and just let them do their work. 

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Read the Sport Tourism Canada press release highlighting Rick Traer’s career and new leadership roles announced by the organization.

Watch: STC’s best wishes video