2009-11-30

Bird's Nest snow festival to woo winter sports fans

BEIJING, Nov. 30 -- The Bird's Nest may have been built for last year's Summer Games but Beijing's stunning Olympic stadium will soon be targeting fans of winter sports.

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As temperatures have begun to drop in recent weeks, so too has the number of visitors to the 80,000-seater venue, which cost 3.6 billion yuan ($527 million) to build.

And, fearing another harsh winter, National Stadium Co Ltd, which owns the Bird's Nest, yesterday unveiled ambitious plans to spend 50 million yuan on a spectacular "snow festival".  

From Dec 19, visitors will be able to pay 120 yuan to enjoy skiing and snowboarding, among other things, on its newly constructed slopes.

The stadium owners expect to attract more than 20,000 visitors a day - twice as many as it currently does - during the two-month festival, which will include countdown events for both the Western and Chinese new years.

Officials revealed it would take just 5,000 visitors a day to cover the costs of the project.

"It's not a bad idea. You can ski on man-made snow in Dubai, so why not here?" said Heiko Grasse, a tourist from Munich, Germany, yesterday.

Famous outdoor equipment makers and local brands are in talks over sponsorship for the event, the Bird's Nest owners said yesterday, while the capital's television network will also provide 500 hours of coverage.

"The Bird's Nest will not have a cold winter again," Wu Jingjun, the new president of National Stadium Co Ltd, told China Daily yesterday. "We will create seasonal events almost every month from now on with assistance from the government and, importantly, the public."

Yang Cheng, a newly appointed vice-president of National Stadium Co Ltd, said the snow festival would run for five consecutive winters if successful.

The Beijing municipal government took a controlling stake in National Stadium Co Ltd last August in a bid to boost profitability.

Despite the fact that work to build new luxury diners and arcades has been put on hold, as well as a controversial move to sell the venue's naming rights by CITIC Investment Holdings, the company that used to hold a controlling stake, sports industry analysts say a State-controlled company would help the venue get more permits to host profitable events such as the snow festival.

Before the switch, CITIC made 260 million yuan from their post-Games operations, with 70 percent generated by tours given to about 8 million visitors since last October. But as tourist numbers have dropped from 50,000 to just 10,000 a day, the stadium is desperately in need of a new commercial mechanism.

Wei Jizhong, a senior consultant to the Beijing Olympic organizers and chairman of China Sports Industry Co, said it seems operators have finally found the right commercial model for sustainable development.

"The public, especially the growing middle class, will find the idea of having a skiing playground in downtown Beijing innovative. I would consider this a success if the State-run owners can strike a balance, or even subsidize a little," Wei told China Daily.

In an official statement released on its website last week, National Stadium Co Ltd said the venue would seek "more non-profit social benefits" while "hosting top-level events".

In the latest bid to boost popularity, the company is also offering 40,000 yuan to the winner of a global campaign to select a new mascot and logo for the landmark.

The Bird's Nest was recently given a green light by the government to host a friendly soccer match involving Spanish giants Real Madrid next August. The deal followed the news that the Race of Champions will continue to be staged at the venue for at least two more years.

"To sustain growth in the future, the Bird's Nest should create a long-term establishment similar to the Super Bowl in the United States," said Wei.

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