Many fairs cut budgets off a soft year, reflecting the realities of decreased attendance and fairgoer spending. Calgary Stampede took the opposite approach - more marketing, increased promotions and expanded programming - and the pay off was a bounce back in attendance, higher revenue and a stronger than ever Canadian outdoor event.
"Our final attendance number for the year was 1,214,972," said Danielle Savoni, Public Relations Manager, Community Engagement and Communications. "This beats last year by more than 125,000 guests. For us at the Stampede, it's not about the numbers, it's about the guest experience and our guest experience polls were very high this year, which we are really happy about. We had a lot of new progr
amming. Our music was bigger than ever, we had awesome headliners and we are a major music festival in the region."
She added, "We broke a record on our first Friday with 115,235 guests visiting us on July 7. This means we had more visitors on Park than our centennial year in 2012 of 108,455. It was a really exciting day and we are happy the community joined us on Park to help us kick off the Stampede this year."
One undeniable piece of evidence indicating the bounce back year put the Stampede back on track could be seen on the midway by NAME (North American Midway Entertainment), which not only beat last year but according to Scooter Korek, Vice President of Client Services, NAME., came within 1 percent of an all time record.
"We had some rain on a Monday morning, and if we didn't have that we would have broken that record," said Korek. He added that for the five year average, the midway was up 3 percent in 2017.
This fair industry veteran said that what distinguishes this event in the industry is an extraordinary level of community support. "The Calgary Stampede is unique for all the fairs in North America in terms of the amount of community support they get," he said. "It is phenomenal, they have a culture in that community that really supports this fair. The success of this fair lies with the residents of the area, it's incredible how they turn out for the fair."
The NAME midway featured 58 rides, the same sized footprint as last year. The new addition was a new Dragon Coaster, the ever popular family ride. The company received the delivery of this equipment in June and Korek said that Calgary Stampede was only the second midway to showcase the new piece. Top rides at the fair were the Giant Wheel, Polar Express, Outlaw Roller Coaster, Crazy Mouse Roller coaster and Niagara Falls Flume.
The near-record breaking midway was in part due to a somewhat improving economy, said Korek. "Oil is doing better this year and there is renewed hope in the Canadian economy," he said.
One indication that the Canadian economy is on the upswing was that "our livestock auction was up 5 percent," said Savoni. "That is a great sign that the economy is improving compared to last year.
But the main factor driving the comeback for the Calgary Stampede in 2017 was the fair organizers' commitment to their product. "The Calgary Stampede is fearless," said Korek. "Instead of cutting their budget after a bad year, they improved their programming, expanded their concert line up and instituted very aggressive discounts and promotions." He added, "they kind of rolled the dice, and the gamble won."
The most effective promotion was new, a Super Pass that enabled unlimited free admission and unlimited rides for the entire run of the fair. This new promotion successfully encouraged return visits to the fair. "We saw a lot of people return to the midway, the kids were wearing different colored bracelets like a kind of badge of honor."
Other successful discounted days included Cenovus Family Day, BMO Kids Day, Canada 150 Day, Parade Day, but the Super Pass stood out. " We had numerous successful promotions as well as our special days were very well received," said Savoni. "This year was the first time we offered the SuperPass and the community support was tremendous. This was a program the Stampede was happy to offer to the community - giving our guests the chance to visit as many times as they wanted and not have to cram every experience all into one day."
Clever marketing of the pass also emphasized the abundance of activities at the event. According to Savoni, the marketing theme for the pass was "Because you can't do it all in one day. We knew we had tons of music, tons different things to do, that you can't cram it all into visit to the fair. So we offered the unlimited entry, with all the beats, all the eats, all the lights, All the nights.
Other advertising for the fair echoed this concept of lots to do, but emphasized the customization of the fair to suit specific demographics. "We had a more general promotion, that used the tagline, 'find your stampede thing." We used different images of the stampede. Some people come to try the food, some people come to hear the music, some people come to the rodeo. Basically we wanted people to find their own reason to come to the stampede."
Social media usage also saw a significant spike. "Social media at the Calgary Stampede has become an important part of our guest services information channels," she said. "Inquiries on our social media pages were higher in 2017 than ever before."
The most successful single day promotion directly appealed to Canadian patriotic pride. On July 11th - known as Canada Day - our neighbor to the north celebrated its 150th anniversary, which was the sesquicentennial anniversary of the Canadian Confederation.
"It was a very special day, with programming that was all Canadian," said Savoni. We had interactive events, it was a real celebration of Canadian culture, which is part of the whole western theme of the stampede We had a fully Canadian show in our grandstands and Canadian inspired food for sale. It was one of biggest park-wide events ever."
The fair also produced the TransAlta Grandstand show, which Savoni described as a one-of-a-kind, grand production that you can only see at the Stampede. In 2017 we had more performers on stage than ever before, including Canadian Icon Jann Arden as the host."
Entitled Together, this TransAlta Grandstand Show was produced by Dave Pierce, Emmy Award winning producer for Outstanding Music Direction for the 2010 Vancouver Olympics opening and closing ceremonies. "The Olympic ceremonies set a benchmark for showcasing Canada," said Pierce. "Together will be the biggest, most visually spectacular show yet, an extravaganza not to be missed - made right here at home just for the Calgary Stampede."
Including such Canadian performers as the Alberta Ballet, The Young Canadians, Calgary's adult choir Revv52, Inuit throat singers, Cailyn DeGrandpre and Samantha Kigutaq, pre-stampede publicity stated: "Together celebrates our nation's exciting past, present and future by honoring Canada's unique mosaic of culture and nature."
The entire Stampede featured more than 60 artists, on its stages, including Usher, Brooks & Dunn, Alessia Cara, Sabrina Carpenter, USS, Ben Harper and the Innocent Criminals. "We had our biggest line-up ever this year, with over 60 artists across two stages over the 10 days of Stampede.
Being a ride-oriented, western heritage event, country music had a major presence. The Calgary Stampede augmented its Nashville North program with an ongoing country music programing - Nashville Nights - which featured hot country stars as Chad Brownlee; Aaron Goodvin; The Dungarees; Endless Summer; Neal McCoy; The Cadillac Three; Cam; The Dead South; Jess Moskaluke; Doc Walker; Cold Creek County ;JoJo Mason; Chris Buck Band; Meghan Patrick and Tanya Ryan "Nashville North is the party destination and a great place on Stampede Park to kick-back with a cold drink and dance the night away," explained Samara Lastiwka, production manager at the Calgary Stampede. "We're introducing a different and exciting reason to celebrate every night and combining that with the hottest country artists Stampede partier's have come to expect at Nashville North," added Lastiwka.
The Calgary Stampede had 171 food vendors. According to Savoni, some of new unusual food items were: Crispy chicken feet on a stick; Deep fried Jell-O and Metre long sausage.
The Stampede also conducts a "Take a Bite Outta Stampede," with the winner being the Funnel Cake Poutine by Pennsylvania Dutch Funnel Cakes, "A Pennsylvania Dutch Funnel Cake with a Canadian twist - cheese and gravy," she said.
The Stampede added a new food category where Best Vegetarian dish on the Stampede Midway was determined. "We recruited a panel of vegetarians to help us find the winner," she said, adding that the winner was "The Vegetarian Wrap from Wrap Daddy's. Made of fresh veggies, a vegetable-based protein made of corn, rice and oats, and a tomato-based salsa made fresh every morning, if you hold the sour cream and cheese, it then becomes a vegan-friendly option as well."
The fair also judged best corn dogs, pizza, BBQ and a nod to the growth of a new food vendor category, Best Food Truck. " In a very close race, Chow Wagon's Polish Poutine edged out the competition to win Best Food Truck 2017," she said
Food at the stampede is not constrained by preconceptions of outdoor event cuisine, "We have a lot of foodies coming to the stampede. We have traditional fair foods, but we has expand what we offer." she added.
In addition, a returning event was the Kitchen Theater , featuring cooking events, demonstrations and competitions. One event showcased renowned Canadian chef, Christine Cushing, Other Kitchen Theater events included: Dueling Chefs Competition; Cowboy Cook-off; and Police and Firefighter Cook-off. "We are beyond thrilled to have Christine Cushing host an exclusive event at Kitchen Theatre," said Pam Conlin, marketing coordinator, Western Showcase at the Calgary Stampede. "We also have a number of other new and returning events happening at Kitchen Theater that are sure to be crowd pleasers for culinary food lovers."