CPRA says moving CFR to Saskatoon gives cowboys a say in running the show

Jake Void rides Soap Bubbles in the bareback riding event at the Canadian Finals Rodeo at Rexall Place in Edmonton on November 12, 2015.RYAN JACKSON / EDMONTON JOURNAL

Published on: July 21, 2016 | Last Updated: July 21, 2016 6:22 PM MDT

Edmonton is losing another piece of sporting history.

Following much speculation over the past few months, the Canadian Finals Rodeo will be leaving for Saskatoon starting in 2017, making the 2016 CFR this November the last in Edmonton after more than 40 years.

The deal between the Canadian Professional Rodeo Association and the city of Saskatoon, announced Tuesday, runs through 2017-2019.

“We definitely have mixed emotions. It’s a bittersweet ending,” said CPRA spokesman Pascal Del Guercio, who sits on the CFR negotiating committee.

“Come November in Edmonton, you’re always expecting to see cowboy hats and cowboys all around the city, and not going back to Edmonton after this year … there is going to be some sadness walking away this last time.”

With this being the final year of the agreement with the city to hold the CFR in Edmonton and with the uncertainty of Rexall Place and the opening of Rogers Place, Del Guercio said the association felt it was the perfect opportunity to strike a deal to hold the CFR in Rogers Place.

But that meant coming up with an agreement with the Oilers Entertainment Group. After negotiations over several months yielded nothing, it came clear that the CFR’s days in Edmonton were numbered.

“We tried our best to stay. We have loyalty that we wish we could’ve kept. We felt in our hearts we had to work with Edmonton, and we negotiated Edmonton exclusively,” said Del Guercio.

“We worked extremely hard to strike a deal with OEG, but we saw the direction they wanted to take and it didn’t look like we were a part of it.”

Del Guercio said the biggest stumbling block in negotiations was giving up full production control of their event to OEG.

Giving up total control of their brand was something they wanted no part of.

“We have a vision of what our event looks like every year, and we had no problem working with them in a joint effort, but to let go of our brand from a production side of things … the opportunity wasn’t even there to even sure the production of our final event of the year,” said Del Guercio.

The loss of the CFR is a big one for Edmonton. The 10-day event brings in more than 91,000 spectators to watch the best cowboys in the world compete. The economic impact is even bigger as the CPRA estimates the CFR brings in over $80 million every year.

The move to Saskatchewan is a win-win for both the city of Saskatoon and the cowboys competing. They’re getting bigger paydays and there will be more opportunities for them to expand the sport of rodeo.

For competitors who travel all around the circuit, the venue doesn’t matter as much as growing the sport and giving them more opportunities. Some are looking at the move to Saskatoon as a breath of fresh air.

“You can look at the National High School Finals rodeo that moves every two years and see that moves like this are possible,” said Levi Simpson, a two-time Canadian team-roping champion.

“The National Finals Rodeo was in Oklahoma before it moved to Vegas and became extremely successful after the move. As a rodeo competitor, the place it’s in doesn’t take anything away from the Gold Buckle. The Gold Buckle winner from years ago in Oklahoma isn’t any different than the Gold Buckle winner in Las Vegas last year.”

But leaving Edmonton certainly will leave a mark on some of the cowboys who have competed at the CFR in the past — particularly from a nostalgic perspective.

“The last few months we’ve had all kinds of comments from the cowboys. They’re used to travelling, that part is no big deal to them, but there’s a history that we had in Edmonton,” said Del Guercio.

“They have memories since they were a kid competing in the CFR in Edmonton. They grew up knowing that their goal at the end of the year was to be in Edmonton.”