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City of Richmond ices exclusive deals for sponsors

The Richmond International Midget Hockey Tournament attracts 1,200 players to Lulu Island every December. - Don Fennell file photo
The Richmond International Midget Hockey Tournament attracts 1,200 players to Lulu Island every December.
— image credit: Don Fennell file photo

Sponsors are welcome—but not welcome to set the rules.

That's the message coming from city hall, after city council endorsed a new policy that aims to bring fairness to city-subsidized events.

Council's policy stems from a hockey tournament last December, in which organizers made an exclusive arrangement with a hotel and some players faced possible exclusion if they didn't book rooms there.

"Participants had to use that hotel or either suffer financially or risk not participating in the tournament when they had participated for many years," said Mayor Malcolm Brodie this week.

The deal attracted attention from city officials because organizers of the event—the Richmond International Midget Hockey Tournament—were paying a subsidized rate to rent ice rinks from the city.

Council heard Monday that it's becoming a trend in sports for sponsors to call the shots. And until now, the city had no policy to control the practice.

Under the new policy, organizers of city-subsidized events are not allowed to require participants to use a particular product or service as a condition of participation. Moreover, organizers can't charge participants higher fees or penalties if they choose not to use products or services of a sponsor.

According to Vern Jacques, the city's senior manager of recreation, tournament organizers regularly negotiate sponsorship fees with hotels or transportation providers to offset costs.

Hoteliers often ask to be the exclusive sponsor—sometimes with the expectation that staying there is a participant's condition of entry to the tournament.

"However, in the public sector, providing exclusivity to commercial sponsors sometimes results in complaints from local businesses that may perceive the process as unfair," noted Jacques in his report.

Leaders of some local sports organizations felt the policy should only deal with accommodation, but the city is applying the policy to all products and services—such as transportation, food and beverages.

"This would ensure that any sponsorship deal would not result in a tiered pricing approach or participation restrictions," according to Jacques.

Council is expected to ratify its decision later this month

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