Few events bring people together like the Grey Cup. Just ask Hugh Harrison: “As they say, ‘Come for the party and stay for the game.’”
Harrison and wife Donna live north of Sudbury, Ont.
When Calgary hosted the Grey Cup in 2000, they met friends Betty Halliday and Mike Johnson. They have all been meeting up at the Grey Cup every year since.
This year, Calgary is offering something new. Most events — except for the game itself on Sunday — are being held in one place at Stampede Park.
Donna Harrison says it’s a wonderful idea.
“If everything is spread out you miss things, you don’t get to go to things, you get to pick and choose what your poison is,” Harrison said.
“When it’s all in one spot — fantastic!”
That was the plan from the beginning, said 2019 Grey Cup Festival executive director Geordie Macleod.
“Every single team party will be down at the BMO Centre at Stampede Park. Our outdoor footprint for the Nissan Titan Street Festival is more than 200,000 square feet of space that is entirely enclosed: safe for families, safe for everyone to come down and enjoy what we have there,” Macleod said.
And the 107th Grey Cup will also offer something new to football, but at the heart of Calgary’s western heritage — a Grey Cup rodeo at the Corral on Saturday.
“We have saddle bronc and bareback, barrel racing and bull riding and how we are weaving the CFL into this is that each event will have nine competitors,” Macleod said.
“Each of the competitors will be wearing what is called a ‘back number’ in rodeo that will be coloured and stylized around the specific member club.”
The event sold out weeks ago. Macleod said it was a unique way to draw even more people to the party.
“We think one of the things that most important about Grey Cup is that you are bringing that local flavour into it.
“People travel from all over the country — all over North America in some instances — to experience Grey Cup and they want to experience it in a slightly different way every year.”
The pay off? Tens of millions of dollars to the struggling Calgary economy.
Carson Ackroyd, senior vice president of sales for Tourism Calgary, said there are very few “tier one events” that draw in people and their money like the Grey Cup.
“We have scoped the economic impact to be in excess of $40 million” Ackroyd said. “We will have exact numbers once we get feedback from the market and get final numbers.”
It can be a complicated process to determine economic impact. The City of Calgary pegged the number at $80 million. But Ackroyd said that was from a different model that uses potential impact from private companies who are holding their own conferences in conjunction with the week of festivities.
“We would use things like the amount of budgets being invested by the individuals, historical numbers, hotel room blocks,” he said. “There are a whole bunch of input pieces that go into this tool that sort of give you an idea of what’s being spent on hotels, transportation and retail. Those kinds of statistics come out the back end of this model.”
But as nice as the boost is to the economy, Geordie Macleod said it was also important for the festival committee to make it as easy as possible for everyone in the city to get a taste of what makes the event so special.
“Building as many free events as we could has been a huge priority. We think we have done a pretty good job of that, and just making sure the site is easily accessible,” Macleod said.
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“The city of Calgary has agreed to extend the free fare zone from downtown to Stampede Park to make it even more accessible for folks.”