If the story of the 2014 San Antonio Stock Show & Rodeo has a take home message, that message would be, do not judge a fair from how it begins.
In February, the polar vortex was still disrupting normal weather patterns in the middle of the country and its influence crept as far south as south-central Texas, were the city of San Antonio is located. Cold weather and even an ice storm negatively impacted early days of the San Antonio Stock Show & Rodeo, one of the largest livestock exhibitions and rodeo events in the country, held February 6 - 23rd.
By the end of the fair, attendance exceeded previous records - by an estimated 94,000 - and revenue recorded a robust up-tick. "Last year was right at 1.65 million, this year was 1.74 million," said Pam Colaw, Assistant Executive Director. "Overall revenue in the concession area was up 8 percent."
Colaw added, "Despite a very cold opening weekend, our show was actually blessed with above normal temperatures for the remainder of the show. Sunny days and warm temperatures on weekends created record numbers for both grounds and carnival attendance."
Aside from the weather, Colaw points out that the sluggish economy and recession was less of an impact in the San Antonio area - and the recovery perhaps more apparent than in other parts of the U.S. - due mainly to concentration of strongly performing economic sectors. A few years ago, "two things changed in the economic base of South Central Texas," said Colaw. "One has been the growth of the medical industry, we have a lot of medical facilities and medical research facilities. Second is the boom in fracking in South Texas. Also we have a lot of Military bases. Unemployment was never as high here as in the rest of the country."
The San Antonio economy may be performing better than much of the U.S., but family budgets can still be restricted. Colaw emphasizes that a major reason for her event's continued popularity has been the inherent value a fair offers. "Where else can a family of four go, have entertainment and eat and spend less than a hundred dollars," she said.
In addition to what appears to be a stronger level of consumer confidence, there are well established followings for the two large and often overlapping contingents - agricultural and livestock industry professionals and Professional Rodeo participants and professionals. "Livestock is still a very important industry in Texas, and we have feature a lot of educational events that involve students, young people and family," said Colaw. "Rodeo is growing in popularity. The city and San Antonio-area loves our rodeo. It is really the start of the Rodeo season and probably the first major event of the year, after Christmas holidays are over."
The Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA) concludes it season in December with the National Finals Rodeo held in Las Vegas. The San Antonio rodeo is "the third of the season," said Colaw. "There's a lot of excitement because the season is still new. We are definitely one of the largest regular season rodeos. For rodeo riders and fans it is the place to be."
With the rodeo so pivotal to the mission of the fair and the major attendees draw, it is not surprising that the fair's marketing tagline is "more than an 8 second ride," which highlights the thrill and excitement so intrinsic to the rodeo's appeal but unmistakably clues in the marketing audience to the other entertainment options available at the fair. The "more than an 8 second ride" has been the main marketing motto of the San Antonio Stock Show & Rodeo for several years, although the other themes of each year's campaign - such as colors and other graphics - are refreshed every year. "Keeping a consistent and well-known and used "tagline" has proven more effective for us than attempting to "re-create" a new tagline each year and get people to catch on and use it with such a quick turn around time and event length of time," said Jenny Nagelmueller, PR/Communications Director, San Antonio Stock Show & Rodeo.
At the 123rd Annual International Association of Fairs and Expositions (IAFE) Convention held in Las Vegas last December, the San Antonio Stock Show & Rodeo was recognized with awards in several marketing categories, including "Single Billboard," "Television Commercial," "Promotional Advertising Best Non-Traditional/Out-of-Home Advertising Effort" and "Promotional Advertising Multiple Billboard Series."
"Billboards are a huge part of our media mix - both electronic and static," said Nagelmueller. "We utilize them from November, when our lineup goes public, and utilize them throughout town in all different locations. We also utilize billboards to reach outbound traffic traveling to adjacent cities. Billboards in Texas are effective not only because of the terrain and landscape of our area - very few large buildings or skyscrapers to impede view - but also because they have been a staple here for so long. People are used to viewing billboards as a direct source of information along their traffic route to and from work and their daily travels."
The fair has expanded its social media presence, heavily utilizing Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and Pinterest. Their Facebook page has more than 102,000 fans and they have more than 17,000 Twitter followers. Even though their presence in social media - and on the internet - has expanded in recent years, the mix of where they allocate their advertising spending has really not altered. What has changed is how well old media in the San Antonio market has adapted digital augmentation. "We required our media partners to provide social media and internet presences, which they have been doing for years now," said Colaw. "We have shifted some money to web-based marketing, but the make up of how we spend our budget has not really changed. What has changed is that the Television, radio and print sources now all have an internet presence and social media marketing."
The San Antonio Stock Show & Rodeo live-entertainment featured headliners dominated by country super-stars, such as Brett Eldredge, Jake Owen, Tim McGraw, Alan Jackson, Thomas Rhett, Darius Rucker, Rascal Flatts, and Billy Currington, who played the PRCA Rodeo Finals, the closing night of the fair. Breaking up this contemporary country music monopoly were Jeremy Camp, who is topping the charts in Contemporary Christian Music and highlighted the rodeo's well-received "Faith & Family" night, Classic-Rock stalwarts and legendary band, Heart, and Pitbull, the rapper and Latin Grammy Award winner.
"It was the first time for Pitbull to perform at our Rodeo and first time in quite a while for anyone from that genre of music to perform," said Colaw. "He was a huge hit and the audience responded wonderfully to him, people were on their feet for the entire show."
The rodeo features a variety of music, and although the preference is for country, booking major acts may be made easier by the timing of the event. "We are not competing with other state fairs, and we are just after Christmas," said Colaw. "People are just gearing up again for the year so they want to make San Antonio a stop."
In addition, while weather may impact other areas of the fair, the PRCA competitions are held in the AT&T Center, an enclosed, 19,000-seat arena, which the rodeo moved to in 2003. "The new technology in the arena also helps with sponsorship and marketing, because it is easier to for our sponsors to communicate their message," said Colaw.
While bad weather may impact overall attendance, having the main event in an arena, providing shelter from rain or colder than normal temperatures, helps to sustain the viability of fair. The weather outside was uncooperative at first, said Frank Zaitshik, President of Wade Shows, who has had a 12-year run with the fair. "Most people come for the rodeo, and if the weather isn't good, they are not going to go to the Midway," said Zaitshik. "It is a narrow window here, because the focal point is on the rodeo, not the fair. But by the end, people turned out. This fair has one of the best local followings. Per capita spending up was up for the midway this year. We're very pleased with the results."
Although declining to release revenue figures, Zaitshik said this year ran a close second to 2013, which was the highest grossing fair for Wade's 12-year run at this Texas event. "We had 50 rides at the midway, a good assortment of rides. This is a quality event, they do a magnificent job."
So, how does this Midway veteran sum up the most recent of his dozen years at the San Antonio Stock Show & Rodeo? "Tough start, strong finish," said Zaitshik.