Yee-bit-dah: How the Calgary Stampede Chuckwagon canvas auction reflects business confidence in Calgary’s economy

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Yee-bit-dah: How the Calgary Stampede Chuckwagon canvas auction reflects business confidence in Calgary’s economy


September 28, 2022

For those of you that are unfamiliar with the majesty of the Greatest Outdoor Show on EarthTM, the Calgary Stampede is an annual rodeo and celebration of western culture that has been running since 1886 (136 years). The Stampede is held annually for ten days in July, and the event draws in a crowd of around 1.3MM people. Unquestionably one of the greatest draws of Stampede is the Chuckwagon races. This event harks back to the pioneers of the west and sees drivers pilot covered wagons pulled by a team of four horses as they thunder around a dirt track. Given the popularity of this event, Calgary’s energy sector is always keen to market themselves by sponsoring Chuckwagon drivers and their teams.

“Every year around March, the Chuckwagon teams auction off advertising space on their wagons. Bids can reach as high as $300,000, and the bidding process has often been used as a barometer for business confidence in the city. More to the point, for the winning bidders, it is the ultimate sign of prestige in their peer group and showcases the utmost self-confidence in the organization’s future success.”

After a two-year hiatus due to the effects of COVID-19, the canvas auction resumed in 2022, but with a much different narrative than in years past. Historically wagon sponsorship dollars have chased oil prices. High commodity price cycles bring with them a renewed confidence in the outlook of one of Canada’s most important sectors. However, in 2022 we saw a steep departure from this historically stable relationship. While the conflict in the Ukraine brought heighten uncertainty to global energy security and sky-high commodity prices, the economic hangover of COVID-19 is still lingering. Despite near record oil prices in 2022, the canvas auction only drew in $2.1MM in winning bids – the lowest it has been in a decade. This phenomenon is at least partially attributable to the diminished number of wagons entered into this year’s event. 27 to be exact, while previous events featured upwards of 30 wagons at the auction. But despite the smaller field, it is clear that freshly cashed up energy corporates are reluctant to deploy those dollars into marketing expenses such as the canvas auction.

It is tempting to write this rare departure off as a one-off black swan event that is the result of a culmination of external market forces. However, we could be seeing a shift in corporate strategy that reflects a new desire to promote Canada’s energy to previously untapped markets. One alternative avenue that has provided a valuable marketing opportunity to reach these markets is with the emission reductions focused NGIF Cleantech Ventures. NGIF Cleantech Ventures is a first of kind venture fund that has captured the confidence and investment dollars of some of Calgary’s most promising energy companies. Not only do the Fund’s limit partners receive the promise of financial returns, and access to cutting-edge energy technologies, but they also receive a huge marketing opportunity to associate their brand with the best-in-class natural gas focused venture fund in Canada. Only time will tell if the canvas auction spend returns to historic norms, but it is encouraging to see a push from these forward-thinking energy corporates to branch out and expand their sphere of influence beyond traditional markets.

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At NGIF, we invest in companies who are leading in the development of clean technologies for energy and who have the potential to demonstrate significant and quantifiable environmental and economic returns.

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