Less than optimum weather and a Canadian economy still stuck in the doldrums negatively impacted the Calgary Stampede in Alberta, Canada. Attendance was more than 1.8 million, but still down by more than 80,400 compared to last year. But community support for this Rodeo and Western Culture event still made for a successful fair, auguring well for its future sustainability.
"We had a terrible weather week, it was very rainy," said Jennifer Booth, Manager, Public Relations Calgary Stampede.. "The first couple of days, we had nice weather, and for the Thursday, Friday and Saturday, we had daily attendance figures that were higher than the previous year But for most of the fair, we had rainy periods, some t
hunder and lightening, we didn't close down but it was gloomy."
She added, "the weather became comical half-way through the fair. There's nothing you can do about the rain, but we have a number of indoor and outdoor attractions. There's really a good balance of indoor and outdoor activities, and when the rain stopped people came out."
The regional economy is about the same as last year, and while not getting worse, Booth pointed out that there is a "compounded effect, because people have been unemployed for longer periods of time. More people are taking the stay-cation, and that helps because we are a very good value, but there's a lot of apprehension, so people aren't spending as freely."
But on the other hand, the Calgary Stampede has tremendous community support. "We can really feel the love. Calgarians love their stampede, and we're pretty resilient. There is a lot of community spirit when it comes to Stampede time, and it's a great way to showcase Western culture."
The most popular new attraction - and one sure to be come annual event - was an Indian Village exhibit, which showcased the culture of Canada's First Nations. "We were able to showcase their culture, we had 26 tepees set up, different demonstrations, artisan products, performances."
Another popular attraction was the return of the Peking Acrobats, which performed three times per day. "They were back by popular demand, and they were very well received."
While the Stampede's main focus is the Rodeo, headline entertainment include the Zac Brown Band, Lady Antebellum and Jeff Dunham. "We do have some clout, so booking entertainment hasn't been an issue here like it has been in some places," said Booth.
The Calgary Stampede developed a clever and compelling marketing campaign that combined the personal ownership appeal of an event that continues to be a popular promotion strategy with the uniqueness of this particular fair. The tagline was 'It's a Stampede Thing, ' which Booth said "was very effective, and made the general public bring their own personality to the Stampede."
Booth described the tagline being used as a punchline, such as Parallel Parking Between Two Chuck Wagons or Eating All Your Meals on a Stick, with a rejoinder, "It's a Stampede Thing."
Booth said the campaign, "was a lot of fun, and we encouraged Hasthtags with It's a Stampede Thing, which caught on. It was really about fairgoers creating their own Stampede Experience. People come to the Stampede every year, purely for rodeo, rides and food. But it's also their own fair and family activities, so our marketing campaigning was to be inclusive."
While Booth declined to disclose the marketing budget for the event, she said that it was about the same last year and included standard expenditures in all variety of media, old and new. "But we increase our social media every year, we adapt to trends and it gets bigger. The tagline was definitely incorporated in our social media, and it was a great slogan for Facebook.
She added that it was the third year for the Stampede to have a Stampede photography contest. "It's a typical Instagram contest, and works great. We also dabbled in Facebook Live this year."
The fair also attempted a pop-up promotion. With Mother Nature being uncooperative and negatively impacting attendance, Booth implemented a $5 admission price for entry between 5:00 - 7:00, prime time for the fair. "It was a thank you to our guests, because when it's raining, you want to thank them for coming to the fair. It was kind of spontaneous, we decided mid-fair that we had to do something."
Booth pointed out that while the concept of a pop-up promotion wasn't new to the Stampede, implementing a mid-fair price reduction was. "We did see an increase in attendance when we reduced the price, so it was a success. It was mainly conducted through Social Media. I expect we will be doing more of them in the future, because they do work and social media is a great vehicle for a pop-up promotion. We were heavy on social media for the pop up promotion, but we also did a little on live radio, and interviews."
The main draw of the Calgary Stampede is the Rodeo, accompanied of course of by Western motifs. While rodeo may seem out of the mainstream elsewhere in North America, dedicated fans and the long established Rodeo traditions of the Calgary Stampede remain a dependable foundation for this Canadian fair.
"The rodeo is an iconic event, and it is an invitational rodeo," said Booth, with a $2 million dollar purse and $100,000 up for grabs on each competition day."
She added, "I'm not sure how much it is growing, but the rodeo has a very large and loyal fan base. People come from all over the world to see this rodeo. The rain didn't really affect the competition, it was just a little messier. People came out to the see the rodeo in the rain, they stick it out."
The Calgary Stampede midway, provided by NAME (North American Midway Entertainment), featured 59 rides, including new a Himalaya and Charlie Chopper, and a ground up, $250,000 restoration of the Polar Express, which has become a prized jewel of the Canadian NAME route, according to Scooter Korek, Vice President of Client Services, NAME.
"It is getting rave reviews from our customers," he said. "It is a specular Music ride, but we've done a beautiful job with it, it is an entirely new ride.
The biggest grossing rides at the Calgary Stampede were the Crazy Mouse Roller Coaster and Giant Wheel.
"We had an abnormal amount of rain," said Korek. "Eight out of the 10 days had periods of rain, that hurt our overall performance, and hurt their attendance. But apart from the rain, it was a good Stampede."
The regional economy also affected the fair. "There's a large amount of unemployment in the area, which relies heavily on the oil industry. People are staying home because of the high U.S. dollar. People are apprehensive about the future. But that helps the fair, because of the value, so people still come out of the fair. And the Stampede does a lot of promotions and that appeals to people and draws them out."
Korek pointed out that the rodeo is as "popular as ever," but added that the extraordinary aspect of the Calgary Stampede is that "the whole town gets into the spirit. The western culture, the rodeo, the Chuck Wagon lifestyles, that is big out here, and everybody loves the Stampede. But even people who have no relationship with the fair, businesses who aren't sponsors, get involved with wearing western gear and putting up decorations. It's really a testament to how a big a part of the community the Stampede is, the entire city gets involved, even in the rain or a down economy. I think the whole fair business, both here and in the states, can learn something from how the do things in Calgary."
The Calgary Stampede has been an ongoing event for 104 years, and the Summer and Western traditions have been passed down through generations and embraced by newcomers.
Bad weather and a down economy seem easily defeated by the decades of support for this Canadian event. "The community support is really heart felt," said Booth. We've seen some great economic times and some pretty bad economic times, but we're fairly resilient. We are able to plan each year and put out the best Stampede moving forward."
Rainy days and economic doldrums might mean a down year - circumstances faced by all outdoor events - but the Calgary Stampede is able to roll with the bad times and capitalize on the good times. "We have been fiscally prudent, and we are able to align our work loads with the fair and the grounds, which are 12 months a year," she said. "We are in a fairly strong position, and prepared for a down year. But we always plan on putting on the best Stampede the next year."