The long-awaited Northlands Summary of Recommendations released on April 15 certainly presented a fuzzy future for the current host of the Canadian Finals Rodeo (CFR). In 2015 following a 42-year history in Edmonton, Alta., the Canadian Professional Rodeo’s (CPRA) President Murray Milan said the future of the CFR being hosted at Rexall Place and in Edmonton is now up to Northlands and the city.
“Right now, we are in between a rock and a hard place,” said Milan. “We’ve had a good relationship with Northlands and we are still in a contract with them. We will honour this contract and look for the best deal.”
Over the past six months, the Northlands Arena Strategy Committee (NASC) researched and received 26,019 online responses to their survey about the future of the facility. As part of their summary, the NASC concluded, “competing with the downtown arena [Rogers Place] could be a losing scenario for all parties.” The NASC proposed two scenarios to change Rexall’s business plan, which included reformatting the venue or demolishing the arena.
Following the big release Milan points out that both Northlands and the City of Edmonton need to come to an agreement as to what the value of rodeo is to their city.
“Maybe the mayor of Edmonton will reach out and say, ‘Let’s keep it here,’” explained Milan.
“I can’t blame it on Edmonton, but we’ve never had the type of media exposure and that is the market we are trying to tap into. Our objective is to broaden the audience for rodeo and to do what is best for the sport.”
For the next two years, Northlands has the contract to host the CFR. However, outside of facilitating the rodeo, Northlands also holds full responsibility for presenting the rodeo to the public.
“They market the rodeo through their marketing experts,” noted Milan. “We want to control our product and be sure that it is marketed properly.”
With these changes as part of the CPRA’s new mandate, Milan feels that the CPRA will have more control in messaging their sport to build their audience. This of course could mean that the CPRA will do what is best for rodeo – even if that meant eventually saying goodbye to Edmonton.
Moving forward Milan admits the CPRA’s vision for the future of the CFR at Rexall is still undefined.
“We really don’t know what their recommendations are going to be and there is no type of timeline. We have to start communication with other spots and do what is best for our rodeo. I’d love to see that world exists for a sport – every big venue is possible.”
Milan also points out that NASC’s vision to repurpose and format the venue to better host concerts and family events could hinder Rexall’s ability to host rodeo.
Northlands annually hosts five signature community events (including the CFR at Rexall Place), which attract over one million spectators to Edmonton. In 2014, Northlands Annual Report stated that the venue generated $19 million in grant money from agriculture events, horse racing and the CFR. In 2014, the CFR generated $6.4 million in revenue at Rexall Place – which counts for over a quarter of the annual revenue generated at Northlands.
The report stated that the CFR “is a significant economic driver and cornerstone of Northlands… Northlands arena [Rexall Place] must stay as CFR will struggle downtown in part due to location but most importantly because of alignment with Farmfair International on the Northlands campus.”
The future of the Rexall Place and the CFR has been in question since the conception of the downtown arena in 2010 by Katz Group Canada. The NASC’s report doesn’t really paint a much clearer picture for the future of the rodeo. However Milan said the CPRA is now willing to deal outside of Edmonton, because it’s time to see what else could be possible for the CFR.
“We can’t make a comment on what we are going to do, but we are certainly going to do the very best for the sport.”