New COVID-19 wave creates headaches for rodeos

The easing of COVID-19 restrictions in July in Alberta allowed rodeos to once again be held in front of a live audience. | Mike Sturk photo

Organizers were able to successfully hold outdoor events this summer, but new restrictions may threaten indoor circuit

Rodeo organizers came out of the chutes this year and despite the unpredictable twists and turns of the pandemic, they were able to score big, according to the general manager of the Canadian Professional Rodeo Association.

“The response to our events was fabulous from the fan base,” said Jeff Robson. “Everybody talked about record crowds this year and obviously, people want to get out and do stuff.”

But gearing up at the beginning of the season was anything but normal with the third wave of COVID slashing through much of the western provinces.

The Calgary Stampede was able to get things going as restrictions eased in Alberta in July allowing for crowds to come back to the big show while smaller circuits in the province, which had been running without fans, were once again allowed to open their turnstiles to patrons.

“We’re not seeing any fan base shy away from attending the rodeo. For the first time in history, there were a few rodeos outdoors that turned away people. That’s unheard of,” said Robson. “It’s clear we’re not going anywhere.”

But with a fourth wave of COVID seeing restrictions coming back as the outdoor season winds down and the indoor season starts up, Robson said there is caution going into the fall.

“We’re having to pivot on a couple of events — change some start times to get them earlier to try to get more revenue opportunities in the communities,” said Robson.

A number of rodeos across Alberta running over the Labour Day weekend were able to secure exemptions to some of the new restrictions, which were announced by the province just as entries were set to begin.

That included rodeos being able to sell alcohol after 10 p.m. despite the new requirements forbidding sale of booze past that time.

“I don’t see that going forward,” said Robson, adding there will likely be some changes required for this year’s Canadian Finals Rodeo in Red Deer.

“Everybody’s got to deal with it as we need to. It’s so hard to make a decision right now on what to do, what things need to change,” said Robson. “We’re still planning to go ahead. CFR is still quite a ways away in November and we’re still planning to have a full-blown event.”

Despite border restrictions this year, which limited international travel of some athletes, Robson said many still made the journey.

“It’s been good not only from the amount of athletes showing up at our rodeos locally but also just the amount of fans that are coming,” said Robson of this season.

As it now stands, Robson is expecting a big turnout at the CFR based on early ticket sales.

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