Mayor says rodeo association wants all the bucks, so Edmonton opts out

Caleb Bennett rides Starburst in the bareback riding event at the Canadian Finals Rodeo at Rexall Place in Edmonton on Nov. 11, 2015.RYAN JACKSON / EDMONTON JOURNAL

More from Dan Barnes, Edmonton Journal

Published on: May 5, 2016 | Last Updated: May 5, 2016 8:15 PM MDT



It amounted to an old-fashioned stickup, and Edmonton declined to hand over all the loot.

According to Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson, the Canadian Professional Rodeo Association wants none of the financial risk and all of the upside attached to its plum property, the Canadian Finals Rodeo.

Well, mister, that’s not going to fly. At least not in these parts.

Rexall Place will host the 2016 event but Edmonton won’t bid for 2017 and beyond. Iveson made that official on Thursday morning, about six hours before the deadline to submit CFR bids to the CPRA office in Airdrie. Calgary was already out. Vancouver and Winnipeg were never in. Tourism Saskatoon CEO Todd Brandt said his city won’t bid under the terms of the current request for proposal, saying the financial stakes for his city are “too high right now.”

But he has agreed to continue negotiations with the CPRA. It might be that association’s only hope.

However, Edmonton isn’t out of the rodeo business. The Oilers Entertainment Group quickly confirmed it has a five-year deal to hold Professional Bull Riders events, starting in 2017. They will run in support of Farmfair International, an agriculture sale and trade show which has always been held in conjunction with, but separate from, the CFR on the Northlands grounds.

“Sometimes when you have these situations, other things pop up and we’re so fortunate to start a discussion with IMG and Professional Bull (Riders),” said OEG chair Bob Nicholson.

“Talking with the IMG head executives has really turned into something that is very, very positive for the city of Edmonton and OEG to build something that is refreshing.”

The PBR has agreed to add a three-day event in Edmonton to their Built Ford Tough schedule, and the OEG will make it the featured attraction at the tail end of a 10-day western lifestyle festival. It will boast big country music concerts, at least one Oilers home game and probably involve the Flames, food and fashion components as well.

IMG does a bang-up job in Las Vegas with Helldorado Days, building a PBR event with the top 35 bull riders in the world into festivities including a parade, carnival, art show and auction, golf tourney and sanctioned rodeo. They also come to town with a massive TV reach, and that was integral to OEG’s hopes for CFR. The CPRA balked, rejected OEG’s offer in March, and OEG wound up with a more popular product.

“I think some of the other keys with this is they already have CBS, CBS Sports and TSN all in line for this event,” said Nicholson. “It gives us a huge reach. Their TV numbers already reach into half a billion homes around the world and bull riding is one of the fastest growing sports in the U.S. and now with them taking it across the country in Canada, we look forward to building this to another level.”

He hasn’t turned his back completely away from rodeo. There is room for a non-sanctioned event here eventually and he said they were open to working with the CPRA if they came back with new ideas.

But for now, Edmonton has moved on. And if the CPRA can’t work things out with Saskatoon, that plum of theirs might look much more like a prune. There could be a wildcard bid, but it seems unlikely given the potential downside for taxpayers and venue operators contained in the association’s request for proposals (RFP).

“It outlined minimum revenue to CPRA, which meant essentially a revenue guarantee but also all of the upside to CPRA,” said Iveson. “So if the event didn’t work out the way it was planned, that risk would come back to the City of Edmonton. It could potentially have been much larger than the support we have provided historically and much larger than the support we were prepared to offer as part of our generous bid that was rejected.”

He wouldn’t say how much.

“It’s speculative. But to expect the city to accept promoter risk but to also not get the upside if the event is successful is just not fair and not an acceptable risk to the taxpayers of the City of Edmonton.”

He also said the economic impact of CFR/Farmfair International is half the $80 million figure being tossed around.

CPRA spokesperson Katy Lucas would not respond to Iveson’s characterization.

“Once the negotiation process with all cities is complete, we will be able to issue an overall statement,” she said in an e-mail.

Those negotiations might not take long if Saskatoon doesn’t see movement on the financial model and no other city bids.

And if every CPRA director had been given access to the RFP, they may well have demanded change. But a director who wishes to remain anonymous said he and some other members of the board have not seen the RFP and were also not privy to the financial details contained in the rejected offer from OEG.

“I really support the mayor and council’s decision not to proceed with a new bid for CFR for 2017,” said Nicholson. “It was a bid that we really felt needed to be a partnership.”

CPRA management felt otherwise. And they might be left holding the bag.