Holmenkollen tries to lure back fans

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World Cup ski jumping and ski racing are set to return to Holmenkollen in Oslo this weekend, and organizers are hoping that cheering crowds will return as well. Grandstands were embarrassingly empty last year, after a sharp rise in ticket prices, but now tickets are cheaper, some local embassies have tried to help stir interest and there’s even a (controversial) plan to sell beer on Saturday.

The City of Oslo had to cover most of the costs of building the new Holmenkollen Ski Jump needed to host last year's Nordic skiing World Championships. Budget overruns were enormous, with little state funding, so some Oslo politicians and residents are wary about committing to an Olympics. Holmenkollen is also expected to be used in an Olympics in 2022, but may need further improvements by then. PHOTO: Ski VM/Stian Broch

The City of Oslo spent a fortune rebuilding the Nordic winter sports facilities at Holmenkollen. Now organizers are having to work hard to get folks to attend the annual World Cup competitions at the site. PHOTO: Ski VM/Stian Broch

Most of the world’s top ski jumpers and cross-country skiers , including the Norwegians who won a pile of gold medals at the recent World Championships, will be in action during the three days of World Cup competition at Holmenkollen from Friday through Sunday. There will be combined jumping and racing from 9:30am Friday, the combined finals and the men’s tough 50-kilometer race on Saturday, and the women’s 30-kilometer race and men’s ski jumping on Sunday. Among the Norwegian stars competing will be Petter Northug in the men’s 50K race, Marit Bjørgen and Therese Johaug in the women’s 30K, and ski jumper Anders Jacobsen.

To make sure there will be more Norwegians and other spectators cheering from the sidelines and the grandstands, organizers at the ski associations Norges Skiforbundet and Skiforeningen have been promoting Holmenkollen for months. They learned a hard lesson last year, after more than doubling the price of tickets in the wake of the prior year’s successful World Championships and the massive investment in the rebuilt ski jumps and related facilities at Holmenkollen. They assumed crowds would still turn up, but they didn’t, and even King Harald V remarked that “it was a bit sparse” in the grandstands.

To make matters worse, the food and drink on offer was also expensive and poor, and even the pølse (sausages resembling an American hot dog) was cold. The sports bureaucrats’ embarrassment was complete.

So they stated early this year in not only promoting the annual World Cup at Holmenkollen, which has drawn crowds of nearly 100,000 in earlier decades, but in getting help to do so. The City of Oslo, which owns the costly facilities at Holmenkollen, provided popular Mayor Fabian Stang to drum up support and even the embassies of Poland, Sweden, Germany and Austria (all of which have top athletes competing in the Nordic skiing events) got into the act. Poland has long had large groups of fans at Holmenkollen, especially for the ski jumping, but newspaper Aftenposten reported recently that the other countries have cooperated in mobilizing their own winter sports fans.

There are a lot of seats and standing areas to fill at Holmenkollen, and organizers are hoping for a much better turnout at the annual World Cup competition this weekend. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no

There are a lot of seats and standing areas to fill at Holmenkollen, and organizers are hoping for a much better turnout at the annual World Cup competition this weekend. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no

The organizers are selling much more than just top athletes in action. They’re also promising entertainment and lots of music, featuring groups including Katzenjammer and Valkyrien Allstars, and even commissioned a new “Kollen song” that’s due to be sung often. One of the main commercial sponsors, United Bakeries, will be selling fresh baked goods and there’s also an emphasis on higher-quality, organic food. There will be a “shopping street” with vendors selling souvenirs and sports fans’ paraphernalia, and organizers also were promising “good drink.”

The “after ski” events and beer sales plan set off some controversy last week, of the type often seen as occurring “only in Norway.”  While beer sales are an integral part of major sporting competitions all over the world, not least in Europe, Norway maintains strict regulations controlling sale and consumption of alcohol, with punitive taxes and limits on accessibility.  Sports officials often repeat the standard claim that “alcohol and sports don’t mix,” even though Norwegian athletes and their coaches are themselves quick to pop open champagne bottles when they win. Beer sales are generally forbidden. Now beer is due to be available but only on Saturday, when the men would be racing in the 50-kilometer event. “Sunday is still a family day at ‘kollen, and then only non-alcoholic drinks will be served,” John Aalberg of the organizing committee told news bureau NTB last week.

Most importantly, the organizers claim they’ve cut ticket prices in half, which means they’re back to around the same level as two years ago. That’s still higher than in years past, when a day at Holmenkollen was a popular family event and it was possible to view the action from several spots for free. Now only card-carrying members of the ski association will get in for free in those areas, while prices for standing and seat spots in the arenas start at NOK 100 and still run to more than NOK 400 (USD 72).

Sverre K Seeberg, chairman of World Cup Nordisk and one of Norway’s top skiing officials, claims the event (formally called FIS World Cup Nordic Holmenkollen 2013, external link) will nonetheless offer good value for the money. He’s been encouraged by the pace of early ticket sales but organizers were still hoping for a good turnout over the weekend.

“We’re trying to give the public a ‘total experience,'” said Seeberg, who learned that organizers no longer can simply expect the public to head for the hills at Holmenkollen as they did in years past. “Competition for folks’ time is very hard and we must offer both good athletics and a top experience.”

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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