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'It's incredibly devastating': PNE grappling with $52M in COVID-19 revenue losses
VANCOUVER -- The PNE is facing a dire financial situation with an estimated $52 million in lost revenue this year after it was forced to cancel the majority of its 2020 programming, including the Fair, due to COVID-19.
“Anybody that has to say out loud that there’s a revenue loss of $52 million, it’s incredibly devastating,” PNE president and CEO Shelley Frost told CTV News on Wednesday.
The revenue losses add up quickly, given the fair at the PNE generates about $28 million and Playland brings in about $16 million during its season. Other year-round events that bring in millions have been cancelled as well.
Frost says the PNE has been able to pare back some costs through cuts, but the organization itself is still expecting to lose about $10.5 million this year.
“We worked really hard over the last little while to minimize our costs and to reduce the expenses in the organization so we can manage through this.”
The PNE has laid off some full-time staff members as well as 1,600 year-round part-time employees. It will not hire 2,500 part-time seasonal summer employees.
Remaining management has also taken a 20 per cent pay cut.
“We have had to make incredibly, incredibly difficult decisions to reduce our expenses to get us through this time,“ Frost said.
Making financial matters more difficult, coding around the PNE’s status as a non-profit has excluded it from some federal and provincial assistance programs meant to help businesses.
Jenny Kwan, MP for Vancouver East, has written an open letter asking the federal government to re-evaluate the eligibility criteria to include non-profits like the PNE.
As for recovery, the PNE is expecting some revenue from its prize home draw, which is going ahead despite the pandemic, and is hopeful some film production and smaller trade shows will return to the grounds later this year.
It’s also looking at other programming in the coming months that could include a drive-thru option for fair-food.
As a non-profit, Frost says the PNE usually generates between $1 million and $2 million a year after investing in community programs and things like maintenance. She says if they could get back to making those figures, recovery from this year’s losses would take five to seven years.
“I’m hopeful that we’ll be able to recover more quickly than that. But still, $10.5 million is a big loss for any organization,” she said.
Frost says the PNE has survived two world wars and economic downturns in the past, and she has no doubt the PNE will recover from the impact of COVID-19 as well.
“Never count the PNE out,” she said. “I could never get up in the morning and look our teams in the eye and do this job every day if I felt we didn’t have the ability to come back from this.”
Frost says the PNE has also been in close touch with other exhibitions like the CNE in Toronto and Calgary Stampede, which have also been cancelled for this year, as they begin to look at what recovering from the impacts of COVID-19 may look like in the months and years ahead.