Stampede finances lasso $26.5-million loss in pandemic year, putting viability in question

In a statement the Stampede said it would be confronting financial headwinds for years to come

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In a 2020 that saw the first cancellation of its signature summer event in 108 years, the Calgary Stampede was saddled with $26.5 million in red ink.

That result came even after nearly $16 million in government COVID-19 aid and grants and follows a $2.2 million in excess revenue over expenses in 2019.

That unprecedented cancellation led to a $3.1-million loss on the 10-day rodeo and midway bash last year compared to $24 million in blank ink in 2019 — a deficit offset by $57 million savings on expenses.

Revenues from facility rentals and event services tumbled from $35.5 million in 2019 to $7.87 million last year.

If it can’t dismount that fiscal bull, “it could jeopardize the Calgary Stampede’s ability to continue as a going concern,” said the non-profit’s annual report.

“Public health orders and the current economic environment have and may continue to have significant adverse impacts on the Calgary Stampede.”

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Those impacts could also include the Stampede’s failure to meet its debt obligations and increased restructuring costs, says the report, which expresses uncertainty about how it’ll proceed with the July 2021 celebration amid the “rapidly evolving and dynamic circumstances” of the ongoing pandemic.

The Calgary Stampede is reported to have lost a lot of money due to the COVID-19 pandemic in Calgary on Tuesday, March 2, 2021.
The Calgary Stampede is reported to have lost a lot of money due to the COVID-19 pandemic in Calgary on Tuesday, March 2, 2021. Photo by Darren Makowichuk/Postmedia

A year ago, the organization temporarily laid off 80 per cent of its staff, or 890 people in a year made even more trying by the sudden death in December of CEO Warren Connell.

Though a spokesperson wasn’t available Tuesday, in a statement the Stampede said it would be confronting financial headwinds for years to come.

“As like many in our community, the Stampede will have financial challenges to overcome in the coming year, in light of the pandemic,” it said.

But the $500-million BMO Centre expansion remains on schedule for a 2024 completion, they said.

Details aren’t yet available for a possible return to a normal 10-day cowboy celebration, but “we can expect that it will likely look very different,” said the exhibition.

“We are reviewing operating guidelines and working with various levels of government and health officials on specific measures to host the best and safest possible Stampede, July 9 to 18.”

The Calgary Stampede is reported to have lost a lot of money due to the COVID-19 pandemic in Calgary on Tuesday, March 2, 2021.
The Calgary Stampede is reported to have lost a lot of money due to the COVID-19 pandemic in Calgary on Tuesday, March 2, 2021. Photo by Darren Makowichuk/Postmedia

Hundreds of vendors “likely have been impacted” by the cancellation of the Stampede and other fairs, said the statement.

“We are working with them and are optimistic about 2021 and beyond,” said the Stampede.

As for further Alberta government assistance to the Stampede, last week’s provincial budget estimates grants to major fairs in 2021-2022 will fall to $6.8 million from $9 million the previous year.

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“We continue to work with our government partners and to identify strategic solutions to overcome these financial challenges,” said the Stampede. 

The Calgary Stampede is reported to have lost a lot of money due to the COVID-19 pandemic in Calgary on Tuesday, March 2, 2021.
The Calgary Stampede is reported to have lost a lot of money due to the COVID-19 pandemic in Calgary on Tuesday, March 2, 2021. Photo by Darren Makowichuk/Postmedia

While not surprising, the Stampede’s fiscal numbers “makes very clear the uphill climb ahead of it … rebuilding becomes that much more difficult,” said Cindy Ady, CEO of Tourism Calgary.

The provincial and federal governments should financially backstop the Stampede to ensure its viability, she said, given its importance to Calgary’s economy and social fabric.

It’s an annual event with such wide spinoffs that it constitutes one-third of the revenue generated by the city’s hospitality industry, said Ady.

“If we have to have a very muted Stampede again, it’s critical and huge to have some attention paid to it (by governments),” she said.

“The Stampede is a huge contributor to this industry, an industry that creates a tremendous return on investment.”

The Calgary Stampede is reported to have lost a lot of money due to the COVID-19 pandemic in Calgary on Tuesday, March 2, 2021.
The Calgary Stampede is reported to have lost a lot of money due to the COVID-19 pandemic in Calgary on Tuesday, March 2, 2021. Photo by Darren Makowichuk/Postmedia

Ady said she remains confident there’ll be some form of government assistance regardless of the budget numbers on supporting major festivals.

COVID-19’s impact on the tourism industry at the height of the summer season last year was so severe “if hotel occupancy made it into double digits, they were lucky,” she said.

The rate of COVID-19 vaccinations will be a crucial factor in the Stampede’s fate in the coming months, Ady added.

BKaufmann@postmedia.com

on Twitter: @BillKaufmannjrn

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