Fans, businesses embrace 1st Canadian Finals Rodeo in Red Deer

Click to play video: 'New home for CFR' New home for CFR
WATCH ABOVE: After more than 40 years in Edmonton, the Canadian Finals Rodeo is now calling Red Deer home. The move is winning accolades from local businesses as well as CFR fans. As Julia Wong reports, organizers say it has been a learning experience – Nov 3, 2018

The Canadian Finals Rodeo (CFR) is settling into its new home in Red Deer, after 44 years in Edmonton. The event moved to Red Deer after the closing of the Northlands Coliseum; it is now hosted at the Centrium at Westerner Park.

READ MORE: Red Deer named 2018 host city of Canadian Finals Rodeo

“I would say things are going extremely well,” said Bradley Williams, CEO of Westerner Park.

“There was concern initially by some the building was roughly half the size of Edmonton Northlands. However, what we’ve been able to do is fill that building and bring a more electric feeling to the building than I think what Northlands experienced.”

RELATED: Red Deer ready to wrangle new visitors with city set to host Canadian Finals Rodeo for 1st time

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Williams, who calls it a learning experience, said organizers are making tweaks along the way.

“We didn’t have 44 years of experience like Northlands did so we’re, in essence, rewriting the book a little bit,” he said.

“It’s understanding how the Canadian Professional Rodeo Association (CPRA) wants things to fit into the CFR and how it fits into how we got our building set up and how we got our infrastructure set up.”

READ MORE: OEG won’t be bidding on Canadian Finals Rodeo 

The rodeo opened Tuesday, which saw attendance at 5,500, and numbers have been growing; Friday’s attendance hit 6,800.

Jeff Robson, general manager of the CPRA, said the CFR in Red Deer has the same number of programs and events as in Edmonton.

“Our focus in 2018 is just to make sure we got this,” he said.

Long-time rodeo fans like Sherry Morrison, who has attended practically every CFR since its inception 45 years ago, said she is pleased with the new venue.

“For their first year, they’re doing a very, very awesome job. The rodeo is running like clockwork,” she said.

Morrison said there is room for improvement though, like working out sound issues and implementing shuttles between hotels and venues.

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For other fans like Ronald Schmidt, who has also attended the CFR for more than four decades, the change of scenery is getting positive reviews.

“I’m sure they’re finding growing pains as they go along. They’re doing a great job with the show — one of the best ones they’ve ever had, I think,” he said.

“We all miss the Coliseum of course — it’s a great facility. There’s nothing wrong with that at all.”

RELATED: Future of Canadian Finals Rodeo still unclear before final event at Northlands

Red Deer businesses are also cashing in on the popular event; the economic spin-off from the CFR has been estimated at more than $20 million.

Ryan Philip, owner of Red Deer Lighting, which is down the street from the Centrium, said foot traffic has been up and sales have increased between 15 and 20 per cent since the event started.

“It’s a nice change. We’re in a bit of a slowdown still with the economy, but large events coming to Red Deer are definitely a boost to our store,” he said.

“Having a rodeo brings a lot of people from out of town shopping who don’t get a chance to leave their community much.”

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Philip said he is looking forward to the boost every year for the next nine years; the CFR has committed to hosting the rodeo in Red Deer for 10 years.

The CFR ends on Sunday.

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