The Calgary Stampede recorded its lowest attendance in 22 years, organizers of the event said Monday, dealing yet another blow for businesses that were hoping for an economic shot in the arm from the annual shindig.
"A lot of small businesses count on having a good Stampede as a high point in their overall year," said Scott Crockatt, a spokesman for the Calgary Chamber of Commerce.
"We've heard from businesses already that this was a weak spending Stampede in terms of meals and entertainment, so we're particularly concerned about an impact on many of the hospitality businesses in Calgary."
Persistent rains are being blamed for cumulative attendance of just 1,088,000 at the 10-day show that ended Sunday, the lowest it has been since 1994, when 1,082,000 came through the turnstiles. This year's total is down about seven per cent from last year and off 13 per cent from the five-year average of 1.23 million.
"The weather was pretty atrocious for Stampede," said public relations manager Jennifer Booth.
"I mean, we've seen some rain during Stampede before, but the full duration of 10 days, I don't think anybody has seen it in their history with the Stampede. It affects people's attitudes."
Still, she said organizers are satisfied with achieving more than one million visitors, pointing out they had aimed only to match last year's attendance given the state of the provincial economy, which has slowed dramatically because of low oil and gas prices. She said some of the Stampede's major sponsors dropped out this year but the exhibition was able to replace them.
The attendance figures were released the same day that TD Economics came out with a report saying Alberta's current economic downturn will likely be more severe than any of its past four recessions.
Stampede attendance was in line with previous years for the first few days of the show but fell off as rain repeatedly pelted the grounds last week, prompting officials to cut its $18 general admission price to $5 between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. on Thursday and Friday. On Sunday, 65,000 guests took advantage of a special offer of free admission in the morning and half-price tickets were available for the evening rodeo and Grandstand Show.
Marketing manager Jenna MacMillan of Lammle's Western Wear and Tack said overall sales revenue was on par with previous years at its nine temporary stores on the Stampede grounds, but the product mix this year was different.
She said the dreary weather resulted drove higher sales of sweater and hoodies as well as thousands of plastic rain ponchos.
"We saw more movement in pieces for people to layer up," she said. "A lot of the Calgary Stampede merchandise is sweaters and stuff like that and we definitely saw some of that move a little bit more."
Lammle's hired about 200 temporary staff for the event, MacMillan said.