Stampede ends tough year with a profit

Despite a tough year for rodeo sponsors, farmers and tourists, the Ponoka Stampede Association performed well on the infield and on the balance sheet.

“2009 was a tough year,” association president Danny Jones allowed. “With the economy the way it was and with the drought, we did lose some sponsors. We did have $75,000 less in sponsorships.”

And attendance was down from 2008 as Albertans were a little choosier on where they spent their discretionary travel budgets. Jones said with the Canada Day holiday in the middle of the week, fewer people had a long weekend and couldn’t plan an extended stay at the Ponoka Stampede.

“Even with all that happening, we made $50,000 more than we did the year before,” Jones said. “We made that additional $50,000 profit by cutting expenses where we could.”

While the Ponoka Stampede is a week-long summer extravaganza with rodeo action, chuckwagon races, grandstand shows, cattle raffle, 50/50 draws, beer gardens, a casino and a midway, the operations expenses of the association continue year-round.

“Even with all that in place, the Ponoka Stampede showed a profit of $159,000.”

Jones said the accountants feel the association has enough cash flow to maintain the status quo but if it plans to continue to grow like it has over the last five years, buying land and expanding facilities, new revenue sources will be needed. In the last few years the association has bought 45 acres, spent $800,000 to build the Stagecoach Saloon and another $250,000 to upgrade washrooms at the campground.

“We’ve done a lot of capital improvements on these grounds so that’s where the money’s gone from the Ponoka Stampede,” he explained. “We’ve got probably the best rodeo facility in all of Canada by far and probably as good as there is in North America.”

The association has also paid down the mortgage on the land next to St. Augustine School and donated 16.9 acres to accommodate the new ag-events centre.

“We’re in no way in financial difficulty,” Jones said emphatically. “It’s just a matter of planning for the future. If we decide we need to grow more and continue with capital improvements we’re going to need more income.

“As for right now, we’re in very good shape.”

While times are tight for non-profit groups, the Ponoka Stampede Association continues to give back to the community. About $200,000 was paid to community groups who performed necessary support services during the stampede such as parking cars, manning concessions, and cleaning up the grounds after each performance.

Jones said the Ponoka Stampede Association spent $94,200 on property taxes, utilities, insurance and telephones in 2009 — expenses over which they have little control. “That’s why things have changed over the years. Those expenses have gone up tremendously.”

One major expense that pays dividends in excitement is the rough stock, cowboys and the new Showdown format.

“A rodeo loses money because you have to bring the best stock and the best cowboys to Ponoka,” Jones said. “That all costs money. We do find a way to balance our books and show a profit.”

Taking the recession into account. The stampede still drew well at the gate, Jones said. “Our attendance was better than we anticipated.”

Even still, there is room to grow. Capacity for the week is just less than 100,000 spectators.

Keeping one eye on the bottom line, the board of directors is looking to host a special birthday party in two years.

“We hope everybody gets involved in celebrating the 75th anniversary of the Ponoka Stampede in 2011.” Jones said. “It will be a great celebration for the town and county and the Ponoka Stampede Association.”

Jones is proud of the way the association draws from the community for its board of directors and the way the association is able to attract about 600 volunteers to stage the rodeo.

“For the sponsors and rodeo fans to think we’re not spending our money wisely and not running a sound financial ship is not the truth.”