Dan Barnes: Canadian Finals Rodeo staying at Edmonton's Northlands Coliseum for now

Caleb Bennett rides Virgil in the bareback riding event at the Canadian Finals Rodeo at Rexall Place in Edmonton on November 12, 2015.RYAN JACKSON / EDMONTON JOURNAL



More from Dan Barnes, Edmonton Journal

Published on: October 17, 2016 | Last Updated: October 17, 2016 6:05 PM MDT

The prodigal rodeo is returning, though technically it never left.

Three sources said Monday that the Canadian Professional Rodeo Association has decided against moving the Canadian Finals Rodeo to Saskatoon and will soon sign a deal to continue holding its championship event at Northlands Coliseum for at least 2017 and 2018.

An announcement has been planned for Wednesday, pending final signatures. 

CPRA director Jonathan Kmita did not respond to a request for comment. Jeff Robson, a former association GM and now head of their negotiating committee, said Monday afternoon he could not comment on the state of CFR negotiations. Northlands spokesperson Lori Cote would not comment when reached Monday.

To put it mildly, the CFR and the CPRA have been on a roller-coaster ride for several months.

Now, after a summer of executive upheaval, the association is under competent new management, their crown jewel back where it belongs, for as long as the Coliseum is capable of holding it, at any rate. The new leadership’s insistence on maintaining a presence in Edmonton speaks to the event’s long, successful history here. It’s also a nod to securing a better future, because it keeps the CPRA in close proximity with officials of the Oilers Entertainment Group, who may decide that the CFR could augment the Rogers Place entertainment lineup.

And yes, the OEG signed a five-year deal to hold big-money Professional Bull Riders events at Rogers Place, starting in 2017. Some other PBR events in the United States are held in conjunction with rodeos, so the two can coexist nicely. Though OEG was not consulted by CPRA or Northlands on this deal, the OEG was interested in moving the CFR into Rogers Place and presented a lucrative offer to the former CPRA regime, which rejected that bid on March 1. The CPRA then threw open the bidding to all interested parties, and it seemed likely this year’s CFR would signal the end of a terrific four-decade run in Edmonton.

However, the CPRA’s request for proposal didn’t generate a single formal bid as Calgary, Edmonton and Winnipeg all took a pass, citing too much downside financial risk and not enough of a share in potential profits. That setback became a divisive issue for the CPRA board, so too the fact that some CPRA directors were unhappy they hadn’t been privy to the details of the OEG bid until after it had been rejected. A major management shakeup was looming.

But first, on July 21, the CPRA and Saskatoon Tourism announced they had a memorandum of understanding to host the CFR in that Saskatchewan city for three years, starting in 2017. Though some sources called the announcement hasty, because there wasn’t a signed contract in place, it still looked like confirmation for Edmontonians that the CFR was riding off into the sunset.

However, Saskatoon Tourism couldn’t get negotiations with the CPRA beyond that initial stage. As with most deals, finances were key, and two sources said the CPRA wasn’t happy with a deal that had them renting the venue, SaskTel Centre, rather than forging a partnership agreement with Saskatoon to share costs and upside.

Saskatoon Tourism CEO Todd Brandt said he wasn’t exactly sure why the deal broke down.

“I’m a little bit dumbfounded,” he said from Saskatoon on Monday. “We had a memorandum of understanding, but obviously without our knowledge, further discussions continued to happen behind the scenes. We were informed of this a few weeks ago I guess that they had decided to return to Edmonton, from our understanding.”

The last word he got from the CPRA came from Robson about three weeks ago. He was clearly disappointed with the CPRA’s methods.

“There’s a lot of time, effort and energy put into the whole bid process. You know, it’s somewhat unprecedented. I’m having trouble figuring out how to react to it because I’ve never run into this before.”

He was dealing with an association in a constant state of flux and conflict. CPRA president Murry Milan resigned July 17. Nine days later, general manager Dan Eddy was terminated by a 6-5 vote of the board at an emergency meeting. The five dissenting board members immediately resigned in protest. The previous negotiating committee and an eight-member advisory council populated mostly by outside members was also disbanded.

Into the breach stepped people such as Kmita and Robson, who wanted to see the association get back on its feet and conduct itself professionally. And they wanted what was best for the CFR.

Though Saskatoon Tourism was trying to move forward with signed contracts, CPRA officials obviously turned their attention away from Saskatoon’s offer and back to getting a deal done with Northlands.

“I think just the track record of success of that event in Edmonton has left a lot of the board members concerned about whether they should be moving or not,” said Brandt. “But we thought we put together a reasonable business plan.

“The MOU was our agreement. It hadn’t really progressed past that. We were trying to get contracts negotiated and signed with no success, and I guess now it’s obvious why.”




Edmonton's Northlands Coliseum to continue hosting Canadian Finals Rodeo



A young rodeo fan cheers during the Canadian Finals Rodeo at Rexall Place in Edmonton, Alberta on November 11, 2010. (JORDAN VERLAGE/EDMONTON SUN)

The Canadian Finals Rodeo is slated to stay at Edmonton's Northlands Coliseum until 2018 despite negotiations that could have caused the event to leave the city. 

The Canadian Professional Rodeo Association (CPRA) hinted at the announcement on Twitter, scheduling a media conference for Wednesday morning.

On Monday, a Postmedia columnist cited sources who indicated that the CPRA had decided not to move the finals to Saskatoon. 

Saskatoon Tourism had undergone initial negotiations to bring the rodeo to the city, but there wasn't a signed contract.

City Coun. Tony Caterina said it's good news for Edmonton.

"I’m certainly happy this is the case," he said. "Contract details will be revealed on Wednesday."

He added that he can't comment on why the deal with Saskatoon Tourism fell through.

In August, Oilers Entertainment Group announced the Canadian finals of Professional Bull Riders would take place at Rogers Place for the next five years, starting in November 2017. The event had previously been held in Saskatoon.

"I don’t know how the two would either compete or be complimentary of each other … until we get the details on Wednesday," Caterina said.




It's official: Canadian Finals Rodeo returns to Edmonton 

'This is great for the city of Edmonton,' says Coun. Tony Caterina

CBC News Posted: Oct 18, 2016 8:47 AM MT Last Updated: Oct 18, 2016 9:27 AM MT

The Canadian Finals Rodeo will be back in Edmonton this season. (Canadian Press) 

Despite plans to steer the Canadian Finals Rodeo away from Alberta, the city of Edmonton won't be relinquishing the reins after all.

The Canadian Professional Rodeo Association has rescinded a memorandum of understanding it had with the City of Saskatoon which would have seen the huge event move from Edmonton's Northlands Coliseum to Saskatoon's SaskTel Centre.

Coun. Tony Caterina confirms Edmonton — which has laid claim to the event for the last 43 years — is back in the saddle.

The rodeo will be riding into the city for the 2017, 2018 and 2019 seasons.

"Absolutely, the event is going to be staying here," Caterina said Tuesday in an interview with CBC Edmonton.

"I feel terrific. I'm glad to see that they've come to their senses. And I say that laughingly.

"Edmonton has provided a home to them for so many years and, certainly Northlands Coliseum is the place they should be."

The CPRA and the city of Saskatoon had signed a memorandum in July after Edmonton, Northlands and the Oilers Entertainment Group made a final offer in March to renew the contract.

That offer was rejected by the rodeo association, which said it wanted to entertain bids from other municipalities that had shown interest in hosting the event, including Saskatoon.

But then, on Monday, Tourism Saskatoon confirmed that after a series of "high level meetings," negotiations fell apart, the deal had been dissolved, and the rodeo would be reclaimed by Edmonton.

"This is great for the city of Edmonton," Caterina said.

"The CFR attracts tens of millions of dollars in economic activity and the way the economy is now, we need all the help we can get, so I'm extremely happy that they've come to this decision."

For Coun. Michael Oshry, the news was a welcome a surprise.

He says the contract will provide the struggling Northlands Coliseum some stability, and financial relief.

"It's going to be a couple years before we know for sure what's happening with that building … but in the meantime it lets Northlands have another event that can be hosted at the Coliseum," Oshry said.

"That's a good thing for Northlands and a good thing for the city."

Edmonton Northlands, the non-profit organization which runs the arena formerly known as Rexall Place, is trying to reinvent itself in the wake of losing the Oilers, Oil Kings and many concert events to Rogers Place downtown.

Northlands has proposed a number of changes to the arena, the Expo Centre, the horse racing track and the casino, including a plan to convert the arena space into a series of ice surfaces.

But as negotiations over the plan continue, Northlands is projecting a negative annual cash flow of $7.7 million because of Oilers games and major concerts moving to Rogers Place.

"Now Northlands is going to keep the arena open for another couple years for the rodeo, which gives Northlands and the city some time to, once and for all, make a decision on the building," Oshry said.


But the sentiment was not so optimistic among would-be organizers in Saskatoon.

"This was a really important event for us," Tourism Saskatoon executive director Todd Brandt said in an interview with CBC Radio's' Edmonton AM.

"We thought it was a really great opportunity to bring all the fans from Alberta into Saskatoon ... we thought we could build on the brand that Edmonton did such a great job of building up over the years."

Brandt added that shortly after the memorandum was signed, board members who were part of the agreement resigned. The CPRA asked for some time to restructure its executive, but he never expected the agreement to fall apart.

"The senior staff from CPRA were all on board with us and we were ready to roll," said Brandt.

"And I'm just disenfranchised by the fact that we were never given an opportunity to meet with the new board and to bring them up to speed.

"To find out that they simply went back to negotiating with the Northlands facility was disappointing to say the least."

More details on the renewed rodeo contract with Edmonton are expected to be announced at a Wednesday morning media launch.

With files from CBC's Lydia Neufeld