Grey Cup game means big money for business

It may be just a football game, but the Grey Cup in Edmonton on Sunday is also a big boon to business.

500,000 people expected to take in Grey Cup festivities

The Grey Cup could inject $100 million in the Edmonton economy. (Robert Short/CBC)

Hosting the Grey Cup in Edmonton on Sunday is a major score for local businesses.

Hotels in the downtown are sold out and more than 30,000 visitors from outside the city are expected to arrive here for the big game between the Ottawa Redblacks and the Calgary Stampeders. 

"The organizing committee is saying between 80 and 100 million dollars of economic impact in Edmonton," said Ian O'Donnell, executive director of the Downtown Business Association. "It's one of the largest festivals in Canada."

Half a million visitors are expected to take in the many Grey Cup-related events, like the zip line, bungee jump, and hospitality suites.

The Grey Cup Festival gives Edmontonians the chance to zip line, bungee jump and ski in the heart of the city. (Trevor Wilson/CBC)

About 75,000 are estimated to attend the Grey Cup Parade on Saturday, said O'Donnell.

The relatively mild weather certainly isn't hurting.

"Weatherwise we're looking good and that often has a significant impact on attendance," said O'Donnell.

Hotels, restaurants, retailers to benefit

An economic impact report done by Edmonton Economic Development (EEDC) before the Grey Cup estimated at least $64 million in additional spending due to the game.

Most of that money will be spent on hotels, transportation, food and beverage, and retail purchases, said Maggie Davison, vice-president of EEDC.

"We usually are quite conservative on these numbers," said Davison.

A final report on the economic impact of the game will be completed after the festivities are over, said Davison.

Even if you don't own a hotel or restaurant, Davison said regular Edmontonians benefit from having the Grey Cup here.

"It helps... add to the city vibrancy," she said. "There's a lot of free events as part of the festival component, so that allows... local Edmontonians and surrounding community to take part in something like that."

Not everyone's on board

It hasn't been all sunshine and roses, though.

Some local businesses are worried about the effect of road closures on Jasper Avenue, where most of the festival activities are happening.

Marni Suitor, one of the owners of The Nook restaurant, said some of her regulars are having trouble with the road closures.

She's not convinced the festival will bring new customers her way.

Owners of the Nook Cafe are worried about losing business during Grey Cup. (Nola Keeler)

She said two other downtown festivals — Crashed Ice and FISE World BMX — didn't lead to an increase in her business.

"Also, we're contending with some pretty big corporations," she said. "There's going to be a Tim Hortons truck within eyesight of my cafe.

"How is a small local business supposed to survive 14 days of road closures and significant competition?"

Thousands of pedestrians are potential new customers

Ian O'Donnell of the Downtown Business Association said having more people downtown creates an opportunity for small places like The Nook.

"Your vehicular counts may drop a little but your pedestrian counts are going to be 1,000, 2,000, 5,000 per cent more," he said.

He said people at the festival will want to look for local options, not just big national brands.

Patrick Saurette, board chair for Restaurant Canada and the owner of The Marc Restaurant on 106th street, said most restaurant owners are excited about the Grey Cup and aren't worried about road closures, said 

"Edmontonians have become accustomed to understanding public transportation and different parking demands," he said. "I think this should be a draw [downtown].

"I think we're all going to survive very well."


Nola Keeler is an award-winning journalist who has worked with CBC in Whitehorse, Yukon and Edmonton since 2000. She has worked as a host, reporter, news reader and producer for CBC. Send story ideas to nola.keeler@cbc.ca.