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Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo Sets records
Rolls on with new CEO


By John Owens

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"I continue to be excited and humbled to work with this great organization that supports youth, education and the agricultural community while providing affordable family entertainment to the general public," is the end quote of the biography of Leroy Shafer "Shafe" the interim CEO and current COO of the Houston Livestock & Rodeo.  On March 18, 2013, Shafer was introduced as interim president and chief operating officer when former CEO Skip Wagner accepted the position of CEO of the 12th Man Foundation at Texas A&M University, a fan charity organization used to raise money for the University.  Shafer is actually a member of the 12th Man Foundation and said that it selected Wagner to help it raise over 400 million dollars for a new capital building project.  Shafer said that at the going away party given for Wagner the former CEO told the audience that, in effect, he, Wagner, was now working for Shafer.

According to Wagner and the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo the 2013 Show was a record breaker.

The Livestock Show and Rodeo breaks records periodically, but to shatter past numbers as significantly as it did in 2013 was beyond show officials' wildest dreams. Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo attendance actually exceeded the population of the city of Houston, with more than 2.5 million visitors.

"We couldn't have asked for better weather, better fans or better entertainment, and with the help of more than 28,000 volunteers, the show was able to cater to an astonishing 2.5 million people - what a remarkable achievement," said Skip Wagner, outgoing president of the show.

The 2013 Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo entertained 2,506,238 visitors (all activities on the grounds).

The one-day total attendance record was set Saturday, March 16, with 174,507 visitors.

Five RODEOHOUSTON performances landed in the list of the Show's top 20 paid Rodeo attendance records, taking the top five spots:

  1. March 10, 2013 - Julion Alvarez and Los Invasores de Nuevo Leon - 75,305
  2. March 16, 2013 - Luke Bryan - 75,242
  3. March 15, 2013 - Blake Shelton - 75,238
  4. March 14, 2013 - Pitbull - 75,217
  5. March 7, 2013 - Bruno Mars - 75,177

A record 264,132 people attended the World's Championship Bar-B-Que Contest to help kick off the show, Feb. 21 - 23.

The Sunday, March 17, concert-only performance with George Strait, Martina McBride and the Randy Rogers Band set an all-time paid attendance record for Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo concerts, and for any event in Reliant Stadium, with 80,020 people. Prior to the concert, the Show held a re-dedication ceremony at its Star Trail of Fame for George Strait, elevating him as the first platinum honoree. Also announced was the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo George Strait Scholarship, which will be awarded annually, from 2013 forward, through the Show's Educational Fund."

On April 1, 2013 Shafer celebrates his 40th year at the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo, a milestonehe said he was very proud to mark.  "It marks a high point for my wonderful career here at the show."   He adds that he has to include, under the category of what he is proudest of in his professional career," how far we have grown this wonderful volunteer force. (28,000 volunteers strong) and how far we have taken our scholarship commitment. (24 million dollars to 330 million dollars in 2013). We currently have over 2,200 students attending over 100 Texas colleges and universities.  We give away 700 scholarships annually."

Shafer is very proud of his marketing department and said that it is cutting edge and, in some cases, ahead of the curve.  The marketing department boasts equipment that could fill three and a half production trucks, a complete TV and radio production facility as well as an in house advertising agency.  The marketing department "is on such a high professional level we have networks and sports venues coming in to look at their operation", said Shafer.  

It is obvious that Shafer is the vision and impetus behind a lot of the technological advances being used at the show and Reliant Stadium, home to the Houston Texans, but he credits the vision of his board and a "shared mind" with Skip Wagner for spearheading new ideas.  "Our Social Media marketing encompasses every technological platform currently out here" said Shafer,  We constantly gather text addresses and email addresses . "We even know the 69,000 people who bought tickets online last year and are able to reach out to them every year. It is a very sophisticated marketing, promotion and advertising department that currently has 19 employees but swells to 75 at show time.  The show owns 19 TV cameras they use inside Reliant Stadium.  The Show is the AV proprovider for every event that comes into Reliant Stadium except for FOX Sports but the show does provide them with tech support.  The Rodeo broadcasts Livestock shows, sports, concerts and condensed streaming for mobile devices.  The facility even has its own online radio station with actual Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo announcers playing music from the 344 artists that have performed over the years at the facility starting with Gene Autry.

Shafer said that he participated in the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo version of the popular online dance craze "Harlem Shake" Houston Rodeo style.  Shafer was right out in front doing the dance along with the other participants.

How does he manage such a large venue and event?  Shafer says "we have multiple departments and each one is managed by very professional, competent, skilled and talented individuals. There is no other way we could accomplish the wonderful things we do without these great individuals."

In discussing some of the different competitive areas of the Show, Shafer said "the Wine Competition, which started only 9 years ago had 3,000 entries this year and produced a record setting $215,000 price for the Grand Champion bottle of wine at the annual Wine Charity Auction. (This large bottle contains the equivalent of 18 bottles of wine) this wine competition is now the 4th highest rated competition in the country."

Shafer said he has been an avid photographer since he was nine years old and purchased his first "Brownie" camera. "I am also very proud of my wife, Nancy and the 40 years we have had together.

According to Shafer's biography his experiences and education have been a huge influence on his professional life. 

"Shafer has a bachelor's degree in agricultural journalism from Texas A&M University and a master's degree in technical journalism from Iowa State University. In 2006, Shafer was awarded the Texas A&M University Agricultural Leadership, Education and Communications Alumni Excellence Award. He is a member of the Former Journalism Student Association Hall of Fame. He served in the U.S. Army (active and reserve) from 1969 to 1989. He completed one tour of duty as a helicopter pilot with the 12th Combat Aviation Group, Republic of Vietnam (1970-71).   He commanded the 75th Maneuver Area Command Aviation Detachment in Houston from 1981 - 1986."

His advice to those looking to improve their respective festivals, fairs, expos and shows:

"Determine the average age of your attending guest demographic then cut it in half and design your event to cater to that much younger section for that is the future of your event."

2013 Houston Livestock show

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