Hosting the Canadian Finals Rodeo was a thrilling ride for Westerner Park.
However, despite injecting an estimated $37 million into the area’s economy, the nation’s premiere rodeo left the host society nursing some financial saddle sores. The not-for-profit Westerner Park estimated earlier this year it lost about $145,000 on the CFR — much of it connected with the first-time costs of hosting an event that spent the last 44 years in Edmonton.
Undeterred, CFR organizers are planning an even bigger event this year and have gone to the province for additional funding to keep the event in the black.
“We’re trying to provide a lot more than we did last year,” said Westerner Park CEO Bradley Williams, adding more than 50 events are plannedh. The Canadian Finals Breakaway, stock dog events, as well as ultimate and extreme cowboy challenges are on the card this year.
“I’m sure it’s one of those things that will just build over time,” he said of the six-day event running Oct. 29 to Nov. 3. “But going from our first year to what we’re going to be doing this year is a significant change.
“And of course those changes come at a cost.”
The Alberta government is providing $250,000, as it did last year, which is the portion dedicated to CFR of the $7.6 million in grants Edmonton got the last year it hosted the rodeo.
Williams said while the funding is welcomed, Red Deer faces challenges that Edmonton didn’t. For instance, a lot more tickets could be sold for events in Edmonton’s Northlands Colliseum than the 7,000-seat Westerner Park Centrium.
Edmonton can also draw on a trading area in the range of 1.5 million people, where Red Deer’s reach covers about 340,000.
“For us to fill our arena takes a lot more work,” he said.
The pitch to the government is that given the economic benefit to Alberta, the CFR is a good investment that will only get better as it finds its footing in its new home.
“It’s a huge national event that we put on here in Red Deer and we’ve got at least nine more years to go,” he said.
Williams said they made their case to Economic Development, Trade and Tourism Minister Tanya Fir, but she could make no funding commitment ahead of the provincial budget to be tabled on Oct. 24.
The door was not closed by the minister, however.
“Once the budgets were released and she knew what she had to work with, we would then have a further discussion and see if there was an opportunity for additional funding to come to Red Deer.”
Red Deer County Mayor Jim Wood and his council have thrown their support behind Westerner Park’s funding request for additional agricultural program and rodeo funding.
Wood said in council this week that he sees the CFR as an event that provides a regional benefit.
“To provide for the sustainability of the CFR and continued benefit it will bring to central Alberta, Red Deer County supports the Westerner with its request for financial assistance,” says Woods letter.
Council approved a $50,000 sponsorship in May for this year’s rodeo.
Red Deer city council has also shown its support for CFR, approving $50,000 in June.