Lorne Gunter: Saskatoon's CFR win over Edmonton is rodeo's loss

 

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

 

 

BY LORNE GUNTER , EDMONTON SUN

ongratulations to Saskatoon on landing the Canadian Finals Rodeo (CFR) for three years beginning November 2017.

Anyone who has ever driven along Highway 11 between Saskatoon and Regina on the day of a Roughriders home game has witnesses how passionate our neighbours are about sports. They will travel hours from all over their province just to put hollowed out watermelons on their noggins and scream their throats raw at Mosaic Stadium.

Then they hop back in their cars and pickups and drive hours back home.

So nothing I say beyond should be interpreted in anyway to be a dig at Saskatoon or Saskatchewan as the new CFR hosts. They’ll do a bang-up job.

On the other hand, you have to give your head a shake at the Canadian Professional Rodeo Association’s decision to move the event from Edmonton after 43 years to a city one-quarter our size.

Saskatoon is a sort of scale model of Edmonton.

It is a beautiful parkland city with a fabulous river valley and a major university campus perched on the high banks overlooking downtown. It has strong cultural and arts communities, and a long history tied to the fur trade, First Nations, agriculture and resource extraction.

But the fact remains, the Edmonton region has a population of 1.3 million while Saskatoon has just 300,000.

In rejecting the bid by the city of Edmonton and Oilers Entertainment Group this spring to keep the CFR here another 10 years, the CPRA huffed one of its goals was to “grow our sport,” a task they had found “somewhat limited in Edmonton.”

Maybe that was true, but I fail to see how that goal is brought closer in a city and province that are each one-quarter the size of Edmonton and Alberta.

The CPRA scoffed at the corporate sponsorship opportunities here, at the prices that could be charged for tickets and executive boxes, and at the television and advertising revenues available in Edmonton.

Maybe Saskatoon will let the CPRA keep a greater share of those revenue streams than Edmonton and OEG were prepared to give up, but it’s hard to imagine the cowboys’ association will come ahead money-wise by moving to Saskatchewan.

And no insult to SaskTel Centre, the arena in Saskatoon, but it’s no Rogers Place.

Maybe there’s a reason Edmonton decided to suspend its bid for the CFR in May. And maybe there’s a reason Calgary passed on making a bid – as well as Vancouver and Winnipeg.

It’s just possible the CPRA got a little too big for its chap-covered, denim britches. It’s possible the rodeo organization convinced itself it had a product that was more attractive than it turned out to be to other major centres.

It rolled the dice because it was sure it could do so much better than our city was offering. And instead it turned up snake-eyes. (Well, that’s too nasty to Saskatoon to call it snake-eyes, but you get my meaning.)

There are fewer than one-quarter the hotel rooms in Saskatoon than there are here. If you’re thinking you might want to follow the CFR to Saskatchewan, book early.

Despite Saskatoon having a good restaurant scene, it has fewer than one-quarter than restaurant seats, too.

The CFR is a big event. It was felt in nearly every corner of our city. It definitely will be missed, not just by rodeo fans but by businesses of all types.

It jam packed the bars and restaurants, hotels and malls here – and our capacity in all those areas is more than four times that of Saskatoon’s.

Sincerely, I wish Saskatoon well. But as for the CPRA …