A consortium of local governments, nonprofits and private businesses teamed up last year to save the popular event after the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation canceled both the summer and winter games amid a growing state budget crisis.
The 2011 games were hailed as a success, with about 1,000 athletes participating. Organizers are setting their sights even higher for next year, according to Jim McKenna, president of the Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism.
During a press conference Wednesday, Oct. 12, McKenna said revenues for this year’s games matched up with expenses. Those expenses, he added, were paid for with some leftover money from the state as well as more than $100,000 in donations from municipalities and private businesses.
“We were in a position where we decided we were going to keep these games going,” McKenna said. “Everybody was back on board, all the municipalities came back to the table and said, ‘We’re in once again.’ And we decided at that time that we were going to reach out a little bit and expand the marketing of the games statewide. For us to be successful, we had to probably double the revenues we raised.”
To help with marketing, organizers partnered with Behan Communications, a Glens Falls-based firm that will sell sponsorship opportunities for the games.
“We’re in the very early stages of reaching out to sponsor candidates, people with statewide reach, people that we think would want to have their brand associated with (the games),” said Bill Callen, project manager at Behan Communications.
The 2012 Empire State Winter Games have been moved up on the calendar, taking place between Feb. 2 and Feb. 5 rather than the last weekend of the month.
Jim Goff, events director at the state Olympic Regional Development Authority, said the move works for all of the traditional sports, although organizers are still working out some kinks for the alpine races. He said new sports have been added to the slate for 2012, including slope-style skiing and long-track speed-skating.
Ski jumping, which had been missing from recent Empire State Games, will also be included on the 2012 schedule, Goff said.
Olympians John Napier, (bobsled) and Erin Hamlin (luge) were also at the press conference. Both athletes reflected on their experience competing in the Empire State Winter Games.
Napier started competing in bobsled at the age of 8 and participated in the games every year until he moved on to international competition. He said for young athletes, the Empire State Games are often the pinnacle of their season.
“When I learned last year they were in danger of not having the Empire State Games up here, it was kind of heartbreaking thinking that the legacy of the games wasn’t going to happen,” Napier said. “I think it’s very important to have a competition that’s affordable for people to compete in.”
Hamlin said the games broke up the monotony of non-stop training. She added that the pomp and circumstance of the games prepped her for larger events in the future.
“They have opening ceremonies, you even get clothing for it — it’s like a warm up for the Olympics,” Hamlin said. “Having that experience is pretty cool when you’re 11 to 13 years old.”
Communities outside of Lake Placid, like Wilmington and Saranac Lake, helped foot some of the bill for this year’s event, and plan to continue that support next year.
Saranac Lake village Mayor Clyde Rabideau said his community is glad to be a part of the effort.
“When one door closes, another opens,” he said. “Right away, the communities coalesced into a working group. We’re very thankful to be part of the team.”
Photo by Chris Morris
Olympic luge racer Erin Hamlin, right, recalls some of her memories as a young athlete competing in the Empire State Winter Games as Olympic bobsledder John Napier looks on during a press conference in Lake Placid on Wednesday, Oct. 12.