Stampede Park vs Spruce Meadows vs CalgaryNEXT

Great cities need wealthy individuals with vision and insights to create great architecture, public spaces and collect art that government can’t justify using taxpayer dollars - think of the Rockefellers (New York) or Carnegie (Pittsburg). 

In 2014, I blogged about how Tony Hsieh invested $350M of his own money (Hsieh sold Zappos an online shoe and clothing site to Amazon for $1.2M) to create Container Park in Las Vegas an incubator for new businesses and how Robert J. Ulrich, former CEO of Target, spent $250M of his own money to create the wonderful Musical Instruments Museum in Phoenix.

With the recent announcement of CalgaryNEXT and the $200M the five partners are prepared to invest in a new arena and stadium, I think it fitting to look at how Calgary businessmen have helped shape Calgary’s culture over the past century – specificially two signature places - Stampede Park and Spruce Meadows.

Stampede Park

Most Calgarians may know about how in 1912, Guy Weadick came to Calgary with the idea of a world class rodeo, selling the idea to four Calgary businessmen - Patrick Burns, George Lane, A.E. Cross and Archibald J. McLean (who became known as the Big Four). They put up $100,000 (the equivalent of $2.5 million today) to underwrite a rodeo called the Calgary Stampede.  Backstory: All of the Big Four were successful ranchers, with Burns also owning a large meat packing business and Cross a brewery.

The rodeo took place at Victoria Park, 94 acres (another 54 acres were added in 1954) purchased by Calgary’s Agricultural Society from the Dominion of Canada. Back story: In 1908, a whopping (that is the word used by James H. Gray in his book Citymakers: Calgarians After the Frontier, I could find no actual dollar amount in my research) from the government allowed them to build several large exhibition pavilions, a roofed grandstand, a livestock sales pavilion with seating for 1,000 and horse barns.

  Stampede Park 1908 (from Canadian Geographic website)

Stampede Park 1908 (from Canadian Geographic website)

In 1919, when the original Agricultural Building and Victoria Pavilion were completed, Weadick was invited back to Calgary to produce another rodeo (again backstopped by the Big Four) celebrating the end of World War I. Weadick was hired in 1923 to organize an annual rodeo until he was fired in 1931, but by then the Calgary Exhibition and Stampede was part of Calgary’s culture.

Since then, the Stampede Board and government have shared in funding the creation of a world class exhibition and tradeshow festival park that includes the Stampede Corral (1950), Big Four Building (1959), New Grandstand (1974), Saddledome (1983), Round-Up Centre (1981), expanded and renamed BMO Center in 2007 and most recently, the $60M Agrium Western Event Centre with $50M coming from government.  All of these facilities were funded mostly government dollars.

  Stampede Park 1959 (from Canadian Geographic website)

Stampede Park 1959 (from Canadian Geographic website)

There are many parallels with CalgaryNEXT- the Big Four Building was the world’s largest curling rink; the Corral and Saddledome have hosted hockey, curling and lacrosse games.  The Grandstand and track was the home of Calgary horse racing for many years.

The Calgary Stampede and grounds, truly a shared vision of an individual entrepreneur and four Calgary businessmen, has been fostered over the past 100-years by its Board of Directors, staff, thousands of volunteers and significant funding from all levels of government. In 1944, then Mayor Andrew Davison said the Stampede “had done more to advertise Calgary than any single agency.” I expect Mayor Nenshi would say the same today.

  Stampede Park in 1985 (from Canadian Geographic website)

Stampede Park in 1985 (from Canadian Geographic website)

Stampede at a Glance

  • 148 acres (city owned)
  • 2,000,000+ annual attendance
  • Stampede Show Band/Young Canadians Home
  • BMO Exhibition Centre
  • Agrium Western Event Centre
  • Stampede Corral arena
  • Scotia Bank Saddledome
  • Big Four Building
  • Grandstand/Rodeo Arena
  • Casino
  • Horse barns
  • Numerous auxiliary buildings

Spruce Meadows

Spruce Meadows’ mission statement, established in 1975, states: “Spruce Meadows is committed to being the leading venue in the world for the international horse sports with a focus on the organization and hosting of show jumping tournaments of unmatched quality.”  Over the past 40 years, the Southern Family (the owners) have not only fulfilled their mission but admirably and created their legacy - all without any government (taxpayer) funding by investing $80M of their own money. 

Spruce Meadows was officially recognized by the FEI (the Fédération Equestre Internationale, the world governing body for the horse sports), as #1 in the world as both a venue and as an organization until 2010.  The FEI is comprised of 133 member national federations and each year sanctions over 1500 international show jumping tournaments. Since 2010, the North American Riders Group took over the ranking of equestrian shows and facilities and Spruce Meadows has been #1 for the past five years. 

Spruce Meadows stadium

Spruce Meadows organizes, six world-leading FEI tournaments annually.  Additionally, Spruce Meadows organizes and hosts 16 tournaments under the authority of Canada’s National Sports Organization (NSO), Equine Canada. Athletes from 60 nations have competed at Spruce Meadows since 1976, winning more than $112 million in corporately-sponsored prize money before over 10 million fans. The daily attendance record was set on the final day of the 2011 ‘Masters’ with 89,632 fans visiting the grounds.

Since Spruce Meadows opened in 1975, Canadian athletes have won 24 team or individual show jumping medals at FEI championships including the Olympic Games (3), the Pan American Games (15), World Cup Finals (4) and the World Equestrian Games (2). Much of Canada’s international success in the sport of show jumping is directly attributable to Spruce Meadows as a result of the international experience that Canadians gain at home against the best in the world.

More Than Just Show Jumping

Spruce Meadows hosts over 300 events annually in addition to the Federation sanctioned tournaments.  Included amongst these:  G8 Summit meetings, World Petroleum Congress, Joint Chiefs of Staff, NATO, Changing Fortunes Round Table, G20 Sherpas, Ministerial Summits, Government Caucus and Strategy, Corporate Sector Strategy Conferences & Forums (Automobile, Forestry, Energy, Petro Chemical, Agriculture, Fertilizer, Utility, Technology. Telecom, Transportation, Manufacturing, Retail).

Spruce Meadows’ international success, reputation, and recognition as one of Canada’s official institutional and sport SuperBrands (as is the Calgary Stampede) has, in large part, been achieved through its highly sophisticated and integrated professional media capabilities.

Each year Spruce Meadows issues over 400 individual media accreditations as well as agency and wire service accreditation to Reuters, CP, BBC World Service, Business News Network, IMG/TWI, Fox Sports, CBC, Post Media, Bell Globe Media, CNBC, NBC Sports, QMI, Bloomberg, Sun Media, Radio Canada, and CBC News World

Spruce Meadows Television produces and distributes 130 hours of Tournament, documentary and news production to 108 countries, with a viewing footprint of 2 billion - via the world wide web through the networks and distribution channels of CBC, Radio Canada, CTV, FSN, NBC, British Sky Broadcasting, BNN, Bloomberg, ESPN, EuroSport, CNBC, Fox Sports International, IMG, Rogers Broadcasting, and

Third party economic impact studies (Conference Board of Canada model) confirm Spruce Meadows as a major tourism destination, media entity, economic catalyst and employment centre, contributing in excess of $110 million annually to GNP in direct benefits with total benefits in excess of $300 million.

Spruce Meadows at a Glance

  • 500 acres (120 acres Tournament Grounds)
  • 20 buildings
  • 10 permanent stables
  • 2 indoor arenas
  • 7 outdoor grass rings
  • Community dog walk area
  • 500,000 visitors annually
  • Open 365 days of the year to everyone
  • General Admission $5 with children under 12 and seniorsfree

Last Word

While Stampede Park and Spruce Meadows have evolved over decades, if the proposed CalgaryNEXT plan happens the arena, stadium and fieldhouse will all have to come on stream at once.  As such, it will require a significant upfront investment by the private individuals who have created the vision and government, rather than smaller investments over decades that helped foster Stampede Park and Spruce Meadows.

It will be interesting to see how much “skin-in-the-game” the Big Five Billionaires of the 21st century (Edwards, Libin, Markin, McCaig and Riddell) are ultimately prepared to spend to realize THEIR vision compared to the Big Four Millionaires of 20th century (Burns, Cross, Lane and McLean) or even the Big One (Southern).

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