Date: March 2005

Holding onto tradition, yet not fearing modern updates, has proven successful for Texas livestock shows and rodeos. The market is thriving. The largest in the state, Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, is expecting to use the entire 365 acres of Reliant Park this year for its event.

Last year, 1,126,092 tickets were sold to the performances and rodeos over the 20 days. General attendance reached 1,890,174. After moving into Reliant Stadium (which it shares with the National Football League's Houston Texans) in 2003, Leroy Shafer, chief presentation and operation officer, said the rodeo's ticket manifest for the event grew from 58,138 in the neighboring Astrodome to 72,491. “We were virtually selling out in the Astrodome,” Shafer said. “We didn't sell out in Reliant. We still have room to grow.”

The rodeo is revitalizing the Hide Out Saloon in the Astrodome this year for its March 1-20 run. “We also bring in 300,000 square feet of aluminum structured tents to house our commercial exhibits,” he said. One thing that the new construction has provided for the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo, other than room to grow, is the ability to cross over into updated amenities in the area of technology adding to customer satisfaction.

Shafer said the Houston event is now a state-of-the-art event. There are three “massive” LED video screens right over the action in the arena so “anywhere you are you can see what is going on.” “Our stage is on 32 wheels, hydraulically driven,” he said. “There is a massive light ring that comes down over it. We can present anything equal to what you might see on MTV.” The stage will be filled with the finest musical entertainment this year, certainly a Houston tradition. Some of the acts include Brooks & Dunn, Alan Jackson, Neil McCoy, Alicia Keys and Gretchen Wilson.

But the Houston Livestock Show was not the only event in the state reporting healthy progress. The San Antonio Stock Show & Rodeo, the Fort Worth Stock Show & Rodeo, the San Angelo Stock Show & Rodeo, the Rio Grande Valley Livestock Show and the Star of Texas Fair & Rodeo are all reporting attendance increases to the rodeos, as well as packed livestock barns. And Houston isn't the only event that has undergone facility changes or is expecting to do so.

When the San Antonio Stock Show & Rodeo moved into its new home, the SBC Center, its capacity increased by 70 percent – a bold step. “But we feel very optimistic,” said Pam Rew, assistant executive director, adding that gave them a capacity of 16,500 for rodeo.

This year's event, Feb. 4-20, was the third year for the new building, which it shares with the National Basketball Association San Antonio Spurs. Last year set records in attendance with over 1 million people on the grounds during the 17 days. They have integrated some extreme rides into the middle of the midway and made more room for family-friendly picnic grounds. Jim Beale, general manager, Rio Grande Valley Livestock Show, Mercedes, said that over the last eight years, the event has exceeded all past records each year. Two years ago the show went from five days to nine days. The last year for a five-day event, attendance was 130,000. When it went to nine days the year before last, that number grew to 150,000. Last year, it was 170,000. “That is exciting within itself,” Beale said.

An 82,000-square-foot cover over the rodeo arena has been added, and Beale said he just got some news which will mean the construction of an 162,000-square-foot multi-purpose entertainment center, including 35,000 square feet of space for offices, a rodeo museum and conference rooms. In addition, they recently had a new $75,000 electronic reader and advertisement marquis installed. Beale said the sign was totally paid for by sponsors. Last year, the Star of Texas Fair & Rodeo, Austin, drew 325,000 onto the fairgrounds and 66,000 to the rodeo and concert performances.

Annie Ecklund, sponsorship coordinator, hopes they will outdo that during this year's run, March 12-26. Ecklund said they are pushing to draw a more diverse crowd to the event while at the same time hanging onto their tradition by improving their rodeo every year. “We are ranked 19 out of 700-plus PRCA rodeos in the nation,” she said. But they want to span out over Texas. Right now livestock show entries comes from 120 different counties. They would like to extend that to all 254 Texas counties. “We are trying to become more diverse by advertising in newspapers and on radio stations that we have never tried before,” Ecklund said. “And this year we have added three discount days, one each for military, seniors and college age students.” Perry Curnutt, marketing director, San Angelo Rodeo, held in the 5,500-seat San Angelo Coliseum, said they have tried to raise the purse for their rodeo, which averages 70,000-75,000 in attendance annually. That will bring in better-trained contestants and, simply, make for a better rodeo. “And we want to show our contestants and visitors a good time while they are here,” Curnutt said.

The rodeo, scheduled this year for Feb. 18-27, also has a new $4-million First Community Spur Arena, an equine facility, which opened three years ago. That allowed them to expand their events in other buildings. Plans are to eventually build new livestock barns and a show arena. While many of the state's rodeos are reeling in change, the Fort Worth Stock Show & Rodeo is sticking with the tried and true.

Dates this year were Jan. 14-Feb. 6 and the event drew over 940,000, an increase of 5,000-10,000 people. Brad Barnes, executive vice president, said they were always looking for ways to improve, however, but maybe not really change. “We just try to keep good wholesome family entertainment,” he said.

Interviewed for this story: Linda Rhodes, (325) 653-7785; Jim Beale, (956) 565-2456; Leroy Shafer, (832) 667-1200; Brad Barnes, (817) 877-2403; Pam Rew, (210) 225-5857; Annie Eklund, (512)919-3000