Olympics tough sell for local businesses

Geetha Raghavan, the owner of Blue Line Sports in Lougheed Town Centre, says she
Geetha Raghavan, the owner of Blue Line Sports in Lougheed Town Centre, says she's confident excitement for the Winter Olympics will build once the Games begin in earnest. But, she says, nothing can match the thrill of 2010, when customers lined up down the concourse after Sidney Crosby's overtime goal won Canada the gold medal in the men's hockey final.

Four years ago Geetha Raghavan could barely keep officially licensed Olympics and Team Canada gear on the shelves of her Blue Line Sports store in Lougheed Town Centre.

With this year’s Winter Games starting on Friday in Sochi, Russia, she says the Canada merchandise in her displays is proving a tougher sell.

“It’s been slowly going, but it’s not like a rush yet,” says Raghavan, who recalls people were lined up outside her shop and down the concourse after Sidney Crosby scored the overtime goal that won a gold medal for Canada in the 2010 men’s hockey final.

She says her customers have been more focused on the Super Bowl that was won on Sunday by the nearby Seattle Seahawks. And with this year’s Winter Olympics dogged by controversy and taking place so far away, enthusiasm has paled compared to the last Games, just a SkyTrain ride away.

In fact, the 12-hour time difference between Vancouver and Sochi is proving particularly problematic for local pubs that were often packed for all of Canada’s hockey games when they were being played at Rogers Arena. This year most of the games will be broadcast live in the early morning, not exactly prime partying time, says Andrew Wong of the Mountain Shadow Pub.

And while they’ll show the replay broadcasts on the big screens scattered around the pub, “everyone will already know the scores.”

The Great Bear Pub on Kingsway will be opening for breakfast during Canada’s first three preliminary round games, Feb. 13, 14 and 16. They begin at 9 a.m. and to ramp up the excitement the pub will be giving away a Team Canada jersey during select games.

But an early morning opening isn’t possible at the Admiral Pub & Grill in North Burnaby, says its manager Rolf Ragnvaldsen. Even though its liquor primary license would allow such an opening, he wouldn’t be permitted to serve alcohol and he’d have to throw everybody out and close a half hour before his regular opening time at 11 a.m., likely just as the third period is about to start.

“It’s kind of like a Catch-22,” says Ragnvaldsen.

Still, he’ll make the best of a bad situation by running a contest for Olympics’ viewers who could win tickets to the Heritage Classic hockey game at BC Place in March.

“It’ll be on anyway,” says Ragnvaldsen of the Olympic broadcasts. “But it’s not the same kind of excitement.”

At the Mountain Shadow, Wong and his staff have yet to formulate a plan to ignite the Olympic spirit in customers. But with the football season over, and the NHL on hiatus for two weeks to accommodate the Olympic tournament, it’s not like there’s much alternative.

“We don’t exactly have an NBA following,” says Wong, who will be outfitting his servers in Canada T-shirts.

Blue Line’s Raghavan says she’s confident interest will pick up once the Games begin in earnest. With racks of $130 Canada hockey sweaters and $60 hoodies waiting to be sold, she’s banking on it.


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