Grey Cup 2018 organizers confident Edmonton festival met economic expectations: ‘Those numbers are there’

Members of the Edmonton Eskimos cheer team are thrown in the air during the Grey Cup parade in Edmonton, Alta., on Saturday November 24, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

Their faces tell the story of their week.

On Monday morning, thousands of tired football fans shuffled through the security gates at Edmonton International Airport. Many held coffees and sported weary smiles.

Sunday’s Grey Cup game capped off a week that the Canadian Football League commissioner mused “could potentially be recorded as the biggest Grey Cup in history.”

Randy Ambrosie added that the game “definitely set a new high water mark.”

The executive director of the 2018 Grey Cup Festival liked hearing Ambrosie’s assessment. The morning after the big game, Duane Vienneau said, “We’re extremely happy with everything.”

“The comments that we’re getting everywhere — from people around the country — is just, wow.”

Organizers originally anticipated the Grey Cup would attract 30,000 people to Edmonton. About 500,000 people were expected to take in activities at the Grey Cup Festival downtown and the whole week was estimated to be worth $80 million to $100 million to Edmonton’s economy.

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READ MORE: Grey Cup 2018 means busiest weekend ever for Edmonton Airbnb rentals

Watch below: Some videos from Global News’ coverage of the Grey Cup Festival in 2018.

It will likely take a month to complete a formal economic impact assessment to see if those projections held true, but Vienneau thinks they will.

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“The key drivers that we’ve seen so far are showing that those numbers are there.”

Vienneau said almost every event sold out. Hospitality suites and concerts were jammed.

On Saturday night, Vienneau said organizers were concerned they may get too many people at parties in the Shaw Conference Centre.

“We were pushing building capacities, not room capacities. The building in general was in a position where you couldn’t move.”

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Outside the Shaw Conference Centre, there were more signs of a popular festival. There wasn’t a lull at the zip-line taking fans over the river valley. A tube slide on Jasper Avenue routinely saw half-hour lineups. The massive tent housing the Brick Family Fun Zone sometimes filled up and families needed to wait for people to leave before they could enter.

READ MORE: For the love of football: Fans gather in Edmonton ahead of Grey Cup Sunday

Attendance observations and the praise from the CFL’s commissioner makes Vienneau think next year in Calgary will be another big party.

“I think every year you’re going to see host cities go to the next level, so we’re glad we’re able to push it a little bit and we’re looking forward to seeing what comes down the road.”

New Grey Cup financial plans that took effect this year mean there’s a new incentive for big parties. In previous years, the host team pocketed all festival revenue. Now, they receive a percentage of the cash generated but money is shared by all CFL teams.

There’s less incentive to keep costs low to maximize profit. The whole league is more inclined to work together, which is good for the game.

“Basically, make it bigger and better and the bigger and better you make it, the economic benefits start to return to the host community and the league, and just everything,” Vienneau said.

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Certainly the weary fans heading home Monday had a lot of praise for their time in Edmonton.

“I think the cities are starting to one up them every year,” said Hamilton Tiger-Cats fan Brad Inglis. “Like they said last night, they set the bar pretty high.”

Aaron Broomfield was flying back to Vancouver on Monday.

“[This was my] first time in Edmonton,” he said before he left. “Great host city. Great convention centre. They put on a great show.”

Both fans said they’ll be in Calgary next year.

Crews are currently clearing everything off of the festival site along Jasper Avenue. The work is expected to last until late Tuesday.

Organizers hope the roads will reopen to traffic on Wednesday.

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