With the 2003 International Plowing Match in Lanark County coming down to the wire, organizers are keeping all eyes focused right where they belong... on the bottom line.
They're not making any rash predictions about possible profits. And they're not making preparations for any wildly exaggerated turnouts at Carleton Place Sept. 17-21, based on nothing more than the fact they're located on the doorstep of the National Capital.
Because of that location, 2003 organizers realized early on that they would have to erase the lingering bad taste left by the 2001 IPM held "across town" at Navan: They'd be drawing primarily from the same, now skittish, Eastern Ontario audience pool.
A forward-looking production in many ways, the 2001 edition was marred by dismal final numbers including a massive deficit. While that bad taste was washed out to some degree by successful after-the-fact attempts to satisfy creditors, the agricultural community and the Ontario Plowmen's Association which sponsors the show were worried about a repeat performance.
If anything, the 2003 organization can be accused of low-balling the numbers. When asked, committee members will modestly state they're planning for 40,000 visitors, a number they concede could go to 60,000. Both those numbers are low by traditional IPM attendance standards.
But it's a good strategy. It's like the political back-roomers who call a meeting in a hall they know will be way too small so they can smugly brag about standing-room-only later. If the 2003 gang gets 60,000-80,000, they'll look like geniuses.
Unfortunately, the 2001 crowd predicted 200,000, only to end up with about 50,000. The broadcast profit of $1 million evaporated. Over in 2003 country, they'll predict profitability but they demurely decline to name a number, the bane of reporters everywhere.
The 2003 committee keeps its nose quietly to the grindstone, soldiering along with fundraiser after fundraiser, lining up sponsor after sponsor, trying to cover as much of the cost of the event as possible - it could go as high as $4 million - in advance.
We think the approach is going to pay off.