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Kevin Costner Delivers Western Star Power to Calgary Stampede
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The Calgary Stampede was one of the few Canadian fairs to be held in 2021, albeit a scaled down version without concerts, Chuck Wagon Races and other signature events, and an attendance decline of more than 50 percent.  This year, with the worst of the global pandemic behind us, crowds returned to restoring one of one of the largest rodeos and western heritage events in North America to its well-earned historical glory.
The stampede was first held in 1886 – back when the old west was just ‘the west' – and while the 2021 event was smaller than typical, it strengthened the community support for the stampede, as indicated by the droves of local fairgoers eager for even a fraction of normalcy after more than year of lockdown.  In terms of attendance and spending, the 2022 fair was a triumphant comeback, but its success was built upon holding whatever size stampede was possible in 2021.

 “In our 100-plus year history, the Stampede has always been a trailblazer but never more than in 2021 as it was the first step in the safe return to live events for our city and country,” said Kristen Anderson, Communications & Media Relations Manager, Calgary Stampede. “The measure of success in 2021 wasn't in the attendance numbers, but how many people enjoyed their experiences after a tough 16 months. This year's Stampede was about moving forward and returning to a “more traditional” Stampede, filled with all of the celebrations of western heritage and cultures that people know and love.”

Cowboy Cinema

Nothing is more traditional to the Calgary Stampede than trailblazing marketing and this year they struck Oscar Gold!  Academy Award Winner Kevin Costner, was the grand marshal of the opening parade for the Calgary Stampede, setting an opening Friday attendance record of 130,177.
Currently star of the hit show Yellowstone, Costner has done his best work in the Western genre, including Dances With Wolves, which won Costner Oscars for Best Picture and Best Director and the 2003 Open Range, still considered by many critics and film scholars to be the greatest Western of the 21st century. This brilliant masterpiece of filmmaking, including acclaimed performances by Annette Benning and Robert Duvall, was filmed just outside the city of Calgary in the Stoney Indian Reserve, which easily replicated the 1882 Montana of the story's setting.

More recently, Costner filmed Let Him Go a “modern” or neo-western – it's set in the west of the early 1960s – in Calgary. Production took place in 2019, and the film was released in November of 2020, during the height of the hemisphere's lockdown.

“I just wanted to tell you how nice it was to be selected as Parade Marshal,” said Costner. “I have a lot of fond memories of being in Calgary. It's one of the most beautiful spots and the world focuses on Calgary and the Parade, which started a long time ago in celebration of western heritage. I'm really honored to be a part of what you have done for so long and carry on a tradition.”

His band, Kevin Costner & Modern West,  performed at The Big Four Roadhouse— one of the fair's four stages, which also include the Coca Cola Stage, Nashville North and the Saddle Dome. Anderson noted other major attractions for this year's comeback include first-and-foremost, resumption of the full Stampede Rodeo activities as well as the “Evening Show featuring the Cowboys Rangeland Derby, two heats of Relay Racing, and The Bell Grandstand Show, featuring Dean Brody, Shawnee Kish and The Young Canadians, along with our nightly fireworks show. We also were excited to celebrate the first official Pride Day and the first-ever Stampede Drag Brunch.”

Super Wheel Debut

Expanded community outreach along with welcomed updates on beloved traditions bolstered this year's attendance, which mirrored pre-pandemic figures.  “We saw over 1.2-million people through our gates, which was an amazing turnout considering our record attendance is 1.4-million (set in 2012 for our Centennial Stampede celebration),” said Andersen. “Our numbers in 2022 were comparable to 2019 (1.275-million), and obviously up from 2021 (around 500,000).”

Weather was cooperative from opening day onward, although pre-opening day – Sneak-a-Peek, a value-day held the day before the parade and official opening – was marred by a summer hailstorm – the remaining 10-days saw beautiful summer-in-Alberta weather, “including a number of hot plus-30 degree Celsius weather days,” she said.

The premier Western Filmmaker of his generation was not the only new celebrity at the 2022 Stampede. The 52-ride NAME (North American Midway Entertainment) midway featured the debut of the Super Wheel,  one of the largest traveling Ferris Wheels in North America. “We were thrilled to have the Super Wheel at this year's Stampede, which was Canada's largest traveling Ferris Wheel which featured climate controlled cars, a spectacular view of the midway and city of Calgary, and an 11-minute chance to relax and escape the heat! It was considered the Rolls Royce of Ferris Wheels, similar to the High Roller in Las Vegas or the London Eye in London. It did not disappoint and was a very popular attraction this year.”

“The 2022 Stampede was great, we had a great turnout and we couldn't be happier to have been a part of it,” said Lynda Franc, Corporate Marketing Director, NAME. “Calgary was one of our few Canadian stops in 2021 and it was different from this year because we had a whole lot of safety mechanisms that were put in place at the time including social distancing markers and fewer rides that were further apart to help with social distancing.”

In addition to the Super Wheel, other Stampede debuts were the Double Decker Merry Go Round, and Raptor Run. The midway was comprised of 29 major rides and 23 kiddie rides, and so far, spending trends of 2021 are following 2022 patterns.

“The attendance was just like the pre-pandemic days, we saw plenty of crowds and people enjoying their stay - maybe even a little more because it had been a couple of years since the full Stampede was in swing,” said Franc. “The most unexpected trend that we're seeing is how the response is echoing the response in the United States from last year. We're seeing great numbers, good spending, and plenty of time spent at the midway. People are looking for any opportunity to gather and celebrate, and we're happy to be a part of that!”

“Together Again”

The Calgary Stampede marketing for 2022 added new platforms to its campaign. With the return of full rodeo activities and other Western events, the marketing team developed a campaign under a tagline that invoked reunion, community and celebration – Together Again – and was spearheaded by social media. “We added the TikTok platform which was received well, along with reels and short-form videos. We also emphasized our guests sharing experiences on Park, with many places to take selfies, group photos and created a welcoming and inclusive atmosphere. We relied heavily on organic and planned social media content on all of our social media channels.”

Guest interaction and blatantly encouraging selfies was the genesis of another new social media addition. “We installed experiential YAHOO signs throughout the city of Calgary and Stampede Park which gave people an opportunity to take photos, interact and get creative with their Stampede spirit,” said Andersen. “There were four on Park and five placed throughout the community.”

The Calgary Stampede is internationally renowned for making Western heritage come alive every summer. It's a commitment that is intrinsic to the heart of Rodeo and Equestrian Events throughout North America, and the 2022 edition is clear evidence that this classic form of community entertainment has survived the pandemic and is charging ahead with the full force of its titular promise. “The 2022 Stampede was, in many ways, the best ever,” said Andersen. “We were so excited to welcome the community back to gather again and there were countless successes to celebrate. The energy and enthusiasm could be felt across the city and we know our tourism industry partners enjoyed a tremendous boost from Calgary's annual celebration. It's fair to say that Calgary is “back in the saddle!”

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