Crowds were down, as expected, at this year’s Canadian Finals Rodeo — but the Western spirit ran high, despite the need for pandemic masking and proof of vaccinations.
Westerner Park’s CEO Mike Olesen estimates the CFR injected about $25 million into the local economy, compared to the $30 million it would have in a “normal year.”
He called the five-day event that wrapped up on Sunday at Westerner Park a success. “I think considering the size and scope of the event, and us restarting as an organization, it showed our ability to put on a large-scale event without a lot of prep time.”
Olesen noticed that many hotels and restaurants in the south end of Red Deer were noticeably busier during the CFR.
This year’s rodeo crowds were about 80 per cent of what they were in pre-pandemic 2019. Olesen said about 24,000 people came through the doors of the Centrium last week.
“Our target was to break even and we’ll be quite close to that, ” added Olesen, who believes this is better than in previous years when the Westerner Park lost about $1 million annually from the CFR contract, which was later renegotiated.
Given the uncertainties in 2021, event organizers believe they achieved this year’s fiscal goal by tying the amount of prize money and the cost of animal fees to the size of the crowd. “It was important that we negotiate that to ensure we had some financial stability,” said Olesen.
About 130 rodeo contestants participated in the CFR, and it took about 1,000 staff, contractors and volunteers to put on the sports and entertainment spectacle that ran Nov. 3-7.
With fewer rodeo riders and ropers from the U.S. and outside of Canada, more opportunities were available for Canadians to qualify, said Olesen. He believes about 30 rookies got the chance to participate in their first-ever CFR as a result.
Olesen believes most spectators were amenable when asked to produce proof of vaccination, although about 10 per cent opted to pay for a rapid COVID test instead.
“People were generally co-operative and ready for it. We felt we had good speed in getting everybody in…”
Perhaps the biggest challenge to running such a large event during the COVID pandemic was having to remind and “keep educating” people about the need to keep masks over their noses and mouths, said Olesen.
Westerner Park had a supply of mask available and did its “due diligence” in reminding people to use them — stopping short of getting into confrontations, he added.
He praised his staff and volunteers for working efficiently in a challenging environment to create a “positive atmosphere…
“It was quite nice to get started again.”
Olesen and his team will take what they’ve learned from the CFR and apply these lessons to AgriTrade, which is the next large event happening this month at Westerner Park.
CFR will be returning to Red Deer next fall.