‘Multi-year recovery’ for Calgary Stampede to be helped by city loan guarantee

A view of the Calgary Stampede grounds and the Saddledome seen from the Telus Sky building in Calgary, Alta., Wednesday, July 6, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

A city committee has endorsed guaranteeing a $10-million loan on behalf of the Calgary Stampede as the host and planner of the annual exhibition and rodeo recovers from the early impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

That loan guarantee will allow the Stampede to access lower interest rates on its debts.

“It’s very important through the pandemic, as we were able to restructure our debt, and it’s important going forward as well, because the lower interest rates will allow us to put more funds into community programming, our people and Stampede Park,” Stampede CEO Joel Cowley told Global News on Wednesday.

The July 2020 event had to be cancelled due to the onset of the pandemic, resulting in an operating loss of $26.5 million that year. The operating loss for 2021 was reduced to $8.3 million, helped in part by being able to put on a scaled-back rodeo and exhibition.

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Last year, the Stampede had revenue surpluses of $13.8 million, helped in large part by a one-time $13-million federal grant but hindered by COVID-cancelled bookings at the BMO Centre in early 2022.

“If you put back in the revenue that we lost the first quarter of 2022 at the BMO Centre and other events, we kind of had an average year, but it will take a number of average years to really get back to where we were in 2019,” Cowley said.

Click to play video: 'All Elite Wresting coming to 2023 Calgary Stampede'
All Elite Wresting coming to 2023 Calgary Stampede

While the CEO said the organization faces a “multi-year recovery,” early estimates have 2023 gross revenues surpassing 2019’s.

“The difference between 2023 and 2022 is that we currently are booking events on site year round at the BMO Centre and throughout the park,” Cowley said. “And if the 2023 Calgary Stampede is as successful as the 2022 Stampede, yes, it will be a normal year for the organization.”

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The Stampede took on additional debt “to keep the lights on” in 2020 and 2021, and Cowley said the organization is anticipating having to make near-term balloon payments. He said his team has modelled that out and plans to handle those prudently.

Like other companies provincewide, the Stampede is faced with the challenge of rehiring staff lost during the first two years of the pandemic.

The 2022 edition of “The Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth” was done with only around two-thirds of staff when compared to 2019 levels.

“We’re hoping to get back to about 80 per cent, so not a full recovery there,” the Stampede’s CEO said.

“And we’re also in the process of ramping up the BMO (Centre) expansion, so we’re going to need to put a lot of money into the BMO to get ready both from an operational standpoint in furniture, fixtures and equipment before we can even generate any revenue from that expanded space.

Click to play video: 'New detours in place near Calgary’s Stampede Park'
New detours in place near Calgary’s Stampede Park

“And so these funds really help in that regard and prepare us for the future.”

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With a more than a century-old relationship with the city, Cowley said the recent endorsement from the city’s executive committee is a continuation of the trust already in place.

“We want to be great stewards of their trust. We want to continue to put on a great event and great year-round events that really attract and serve the community and generate economic impact for this area as well.”

City council has yet to approve the loan guarantee following the committee’s endorsement. The next city council meeting is April 4.

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