CALGARY – This time last year David Howard was getting ready to host a number of high-profile corporate parties as part of Calgary’s Stampede, but that’s not the case this time around.
“Basically, it’s gone from where last year we were producing two events a day to where we’re out of the game completely,” said Howard, president of the Event Group.
His company is one of many feeling the bite of low oil prices as energy companies cut back spending on this year’s Stampede, which kicks off Friday.
Howard said companies are opting to host their own events with lower budgets, which he’s helping them with, but the big events are scarce this year.
“The corporate Stampede parties, there will be a whole lot less of them this year,” said Howard. “Where you may have seen headline bands you’re now having local bands.”
Spending is also down at the Stampede grounds. Sales of corporate tents and related events are down about 10 per cent compared with last year, said Stampede spokeswoman Jennifer Booth, and sponsorship of the chuckwagon races, where corporate logos are blazoned on the canvas-topped wagons, are down 21 per cent at $2.8 million.
But Booth said there are signs public interest is higher this year, with both local and international ticket sales up around two to three per cent so far.
She said locals are choosing to take “staycations,” while international visitors have been taking advantage of the low Canadian dollar.
While some oil and gas companies are trimming their Stampede spending, other sectors are helping fill the gap.
Jordan Sorrenti of Sorrenti’s Catering said they’ll be serving 4,000 more people at this year’s event.
“It’s kind of a weird Stampede for us because we did have some cancellations of clients that we’ve done Stampede breakfast with for 20 years, but on the other hand we’ve picked up some new business,” said Sorrenti, who expects to serve about 29,000 breakfasts at this year’s Stampede.
Paul Vickers, president of Penny Lane Entertainment, which owns several venues including the Cowboys bar next to the Stampede grounds, said companies in the tech and manufacturing sectors have also taken up some of the slack.
“Corporate parties, big parties cancelled, no doubt,” said Vickers. “But we’ve got a lot of small companies in other sectors that weren’t touched quite as drastically by the oil prices.”
With budgets often decided far ahead of time though, some events are still gunning for a splash.
FirstEnergy Capital booked the Barenaked Ladies to headline its FirstRowdy charity event before budgets got tight, said Beverley McCartney, a conference manager for the investment bank.
The band also played at the FirstEnergy’s event last year, which fits well with the slogan for the event this year: “Party Like It’s 2014!”