Calgary Stampede struggling financially due to COVID-19

·3 min read

After a disastrous 2020, the Calgary Stampede is touting the slogan "we'll ride again." But there are still plenty of unknowns.

Just like the rest of the world, the organization was figuratively bucked off and stomped by a wild virus in 2020.

Between COVID-19 and the health restrictions imposed by governments, there was no way the Calgary Stampede event could go ahead in July 2020.

So last April, it announced that for the first time the annual rodeo and related events could not safely go ahead.

It was a blow for the community, which embraces the annual festival, but it was also a major financial disaster for the Stampede.

After all, the period before, during and after the July Stampede event generates about 50 per cent of annual revenues for the organization.

No assistance

The president of the Calgary Stampede and chairman of its board of directors, Dana Peers, said talks with the federal and provincial governments on a financial aid package have not reached any conclusions.

"They're certainly aware that we're struggling as an organization and that we're challenged just like everyone else is," said Peers.

He mentions that conversations are ongoing with the federal and provincial governments.

"They recognize certainly that we're a unique organization. To date, there hasn't really been any assistance programs that fit the Calgary Stampede and I really don't know where those conversations will go in the future."

Scrapping Stampede hurt more than just the non-profit organization.

He said not having a Stampede last July mean a loss of $282 million to the local economy.

"For those 10 days, that's a lot of ride shares, a lot of taxis, hoteliers, restaurants and bars that in 2020 did not see that business."

Peers said the Stampede's only defensive move was to cut expenses. It did that by laying off nearly 90 per cent of its employees. That's about 900 people, said Peers.

Comeback thwarted

After consulting with the provincial government and Alberta Health Services, the Stampede did start to hold some small scale events this fall.

But Peers said that a new round of health restrictions imposed in late November meant the few numbers of people recalled to staff those events had to once again be laid off.

Navigating a way out of the financial mess that COVID-19 created for the Stampede remains tied up in numerous assumptions about whether there can be a Stampede event next July.

Peers said there are many options on the table and there should be a decision in the spring about what can or cannot happen next July.

He said they do, of course, have a large outdoor space at Stampede Park, so it's a question of what can be safely staged at that time, given the health restrictions which might be in place next summer.

"If there's been one constant in 2020, it's been change," said Peers.

"We'll continue to try and stay on top of it and make sure that we're as nimble as possible and can continue to pivot and adapt."