Oilers Entertainment Group rounding up Edmonton western-themed events to replace CFR

OEG has entered a partnership with the Professional Bull Riders to bring pro bull riding to Edmonton. (David Bloom)





The Great Western Lifestyle Festival doesn’t have that actual title yet. Hopefully they’ll end up with something with a little more zing.

From what Oilers Entertainment Group Vice-Chairman and CEO Bob Nicholson projected yesterday, it would likely open with a concert featuring one of the biggest names in country and western music on the Friday.

Saturday would likely feature, as an Edmonton Western Days staple on the same date every year much like the Labour Day Classic between the Eskimos and Stampeders for the last 50 years, a game between the Oilers and the Flames.

As Farm Fair International holds its traditional spot on the calendar, there would be Western-themed events throughout the city, and more country and western shows in Rogers Place featuring the same calibre of entertainers who play Las Vegas every year during the National Finals Rodeo. There would probably be a second hockey game. And then, on the final weekend, with a stage for more entertainment at one end of the arena, there’d be three days of Professional Bull Riding.

“Pretty compelling reasons to come to Edmonton for people who had been coming before for Farm Fair and potentially it would bring in a new market as well. It’s shaping up nicely,” said Mayor Don Iveson only a couple of minutes after announcing Edmonton would not bid for the Canadian Finals Rodeo.

An hour after Iveson made his announcement, Nicholson announced that OEG had partnered with WME/IMG and Professional Bull Riders to bring pro bull riding to Rogers Place with a five-year deal starting in 2017.

“We are excited to have found an amazing partner in PBR and WME/IMG,” said Nicholson.

“They have a proven track record of success in the western lifestyle genre and in growing a globally successful brand. PBR is now one of the 10 most popular sports in the U.S., competes in five countries and is now available in nearly half a billion homes around the world,” he added.

“Edmonton is an outstanding market for PBR to continue to grow the sport,” said Sean Gleason, CEO of Professional Bull Riding Inc. in a statement and added he envisioned Edmonton becoming PBR’s primary Canadian stop as Las Vegas is for the PBR in the U.S., where TV ratings are up 33% this year and attendance records are being set.

“There’s the world championship just before our event so we’re looking at trying to bring the world champions in and riding against the top Canadians. We want to have the best bull riders from all over the world here and have the best bulls,” said Nicholson.

Nicholson, who was in New York doing the IMG partnership deal involving far more than bull riding Wednesday, held a short conference call with media while traveling Thursday.

“In creating our partnership with IMG we have lots of other plans to build this multiple-day event and also for other events to come to Edmonton.”

Nicholson said while Rogers Place with the events and Northlands with Farm Fair would obviously be the focal points, the plan would be to make it a citywide event.

“We’re looking at having greater economic impact with this, especially expanding it over multiple days,” said Nicholson.

“One of the keys to this is they already have CBS Sports and TSN in line for this event. It gives us a huge reach,” he said of Professional Bull Riding.

“We’ll have hockey in it and certainly we’d like to position the right teams. And entertainment, not only on the days when there isn’t professional bull riding but putting entertainment in those three days of bull riding after the competition is over. We can even seat people on the dirt for the concert, with the cowboys involved and have different types of parties. IMG have done this before and we’re going to work through all those details.”



Gunter: Let the CFR ride off into the sunset, Edmonton




Cody Cassidy (Donalda, AB) takes part in the Steer Wrestling event during the final day of the Canadian Finals Rodeo at Rexall Place, in Edmonton, Alta. on Sunday Nov. 15, 2015. David Bloom/Edmonton Sun/Postmedia Network

David Bloom/Edmonton Sun

I’m an all-hat-no-cattle kind of rodeo fan, a city kid who one week each fall pulls on a pair of boots and a tooled belt with a big buckle.

My great-uncle Curly was part of the last large livestock drive in Alberta in 1937, but the closest I ever got to the cattle biz was in high school and university when I used to help friends who grew up on ranches brand calves each spring.

Still, I love the Canadian Finals Rodeo (CFR) and would hate to see Edmonton lose it. It’s a great spectator event that gives the whole city a fantastic buzz during the second week of November, not to mention a big boost to our economy.

Yet as much as I enjoy attending the CFR (steer wrestling is my favourite event), if keeping the event in town means Edmontonians being held hostage by rodeo organizers, then it may be time to let another city have a crack at it.

I hope it hasn’t come to that. But on Tuesday, as the March 1 deadline for a new multi-year hosting contract passed, at least the Edmonton side sounded pretty definitive.

The local negotiating committee led by Oilers Entertainment Group, the city and Northlands was all past-tense: The rodeo “was” a great event. It “had been” fun hosting it for the past 43 years. We “would have” liked to keep it, but it “no longer makes any sense to be negotiating the rodeo.”

Door slammed.

But has it been deadbolted?

From the other side, it doesn’t sound over, yet. The Canadian Professional Rodeo Association (CPRA) said Wednesday it had “declined the latest CFR proposal put forward by the Oilers Entertainment Group (OEG) and the city of Edmonton.” Unanimously.

But the CPRA made it sound like more of a free agent negotiating tactic than a done deal. They represent a superstar (in this case an event rather than an athlete) with a year left on its contract that has decided to go out onto the open market to see what its talents are worth.

And with no trade deadline or free agency start date, the CFR isn’t like an NHL or CFL player. It doesn’t have to wait until next year to start putting out feelers.

Maybe some other city will come back with a better deal. And then again maybe one won’t. No harm on the CPRA’s part in seeing just what kind of market there is.

So the rodeo may not be lost to Edmonton completely.

The CPRA has said it would welcome a proposal from Edmonton, if our city would still like to host the CFR. Let’s hope the city and OEG put in an application.

Their last offer to the CPRA before Tuesday’s deadline sounds very generous — a 44% increase in payments to the rodeo association, plus some other attractive sweeteners. Still it’s not worth breaking the bank to keep the rodeo here.

(The irony, of course, is that the CPRA may be using the same tactic to extract more from OEG that OEG uses to extract things like a new arena from the city: Gives us more or we’re outta here.)

Vancouver is said to be Edmonton’s chief rival — as if rodeo were a good fit with the West Coast vibe.

The CPRA for its part needs to keep in mind what a fan base it has in Alberta and the prairies, and that the excitement generated here may not be transportable over the Rockies.

Edmonton is both large enough to handle an event of this size, yet not so large the event gets swallowed up.

Remember, cowboys, it’s hard parking a pickup in all those smartcar stalls out on the coast.