Last year, the Fort Worth Stock Show & Rodeo - believed to be the longest running, continuous stock show and rodeo in the United States - had a strong year. With even better weather in 2016, attendance records were again broken, although declining midway spending and a sputtering Texas economy could not be ignored.
Matt Brockman, Publicity Manager, Fort Worth Stock Show & Rodeo, described the weather for this 23-day event as ideal, resulting in an attendance of 1,257,900, a jump of about 9,000 over the 2015 attendance of 1,248,500.
"We're always grateful when we set attendance records so, yes, we exceeded our expectation in that respect," said Brockman. "We always expect that our staff and volunteers will do everything possible to provide an enjoyable, entertaining and fun experience.".
The economy in Texas, and the Forth Worth area, after years of robustness, now appears to headed in a downward direction. The cause is mainly due to lower fuel costs, a boon for other segments of the economy but a business killer for a state still heavily reliant on oil and natural gas.
When crude oil prices skyrocketed during 00's, the Texas oil industry had a resurgence after decades of losing market share to foreign oil. More recently, oil prices have dropped by nearly half, which may have benefited consumers and other businesses, but it has caused a slump in the Texas energy-based economy .
The weakening Texas economy was probably most noticeable at the Stock Show's Sale of Champions, which has reached as high as $3.7 million. This year, even a close second to that record proved impossible, with totals dropping several hundred thousand dollars.
"The Sale of Champions generated $3.4 million in 2016," said Brockman. "The difference is due mainly to a weaker oil industry. Cattle markets as well as a stock market have struggled in 2016."
While the regional economy may have lost some luster, Brockman pointed out that because many new businesses sprang up when the Texas economy was at its 21st century peak, current economic sluggishness is occurring only in pockets, as opposed to a more regional pandemic.
"Consumer confidence is stable," he said. "People who have work in the oil and gas industry have had their hours cutback or laid off, but the overall economy is relatively strong. Texas rebounded from the 2008 recession quickly. While the oil industry suffered in 2015 and continues to struggle, the economy is diversified and remains stable. "
The Talley Amusements midway featured 48 rides and 30 games, and the company subcontracted with about a half-dozen other operators and vendors, also noticed a negative impact from economic sluggishness. "It is a weather-driven midway and the Forth Worth show can be scary, because you never know what the weather will be," said Mary Talley of Talley Amusements.
This year the weather was generally cooperative. "We had a few bad days out of the 23, but we've dealt with snow and ice with the Stock Show. But we had mainly clear days in the 70 degree range."
She added that while attendance seemed up, midway spending and ridership "was probably a little lower than last year."
Like Brockman, Talley pointed to a weaker Texas economy for this higher attendance but lower spending. "Fuel prices may add a few extra dollars to the family budget, but you hear about people being laid off or their hours being cut at work. I think that makes people afraid. The smaller, oil-driven towns that are near Fort Worth are being hit hard, but Fort Worth is not as directly affected."
She added, "fairs are a tradition. The stock show has been around forever. People look forward to it. The rodeo is what drives people to the stock, but they love all parts of it, including the midway."
The Fort Worth Stock Show & Rodeo is the first major professional rodeo event of the season, and rodeo continues to be a popular sport in the Lone Star State. "There's a lot more buzz about the rodeo, especially in Texas," said Brockman. "There are more spectators and contestants, and this is the first really big rodeo of the year."
Fort Worth organizers made significant audience enhancements to the Rodeo that according to Brockman, improved the audience experience. One was the addition of a large, four-sided big screen. Another was re-scripting the actual spectacle into a more streamlined show, removing filler and slow spots, enabling the rodeo to emphasize excitement. "We like to think that a performance shouldn't go over two hours," he said. "So we worked hard to make sure it was an action-packed performance, with very little down time. From the moment they take their seat, their attention is on every cowboy and cowgirl, it's nonstop action. We are always making tweaks and changes to improve the show."
The Fort Worth Stock Show augmented the rodeo appeal with specialized rodeo events that would attract new audience segments while fulfilling community outreach initiatives of the organizer's mission. "We created special events that benefitted local nonprofit organizations," he said.
Cook Pediatric Hospital - one the premier children's medical facilities in the southwest - had two different rodeos where proceeds benefitted the facility's Natal Intensive Care Unit, raising upwards of $28,0000. Another event was a new version of the event's long-term Pink Rodeo - pink is the color for breast cancer awareness. This year the fundraising effort was "Stock Show -Goes Pink - Celebration of Breast Cancer Survivors", a partnership with the Greater Fort Worth Affiliate of Susan G. Komen for the Cure, where 50 percent of all of one day's general admission and rodeo ticket sales were donated to this foundation. Another effective partnership promotion was TCU Day - anyone wearing any Texas Christian University gear on TCU Day received free general admission to the Stock Show grounds, and those with a valid TCU student could purchase $10 rodeo tickets.
The Fort Worth Stock Show & Rodeo unveiled the first phase of a multi-year, $14.5 million project with a new live stock facility and milking parlor. "we are one of the few venues with a milking parlors, and we have demonstrations and videos that shows spectators how milk gets from cow to cup. There were space restrictions in our older facility, so we redesigned it to make it a modern facility, adding digital capacities and bleachers. We were able to pack in the school groups. "
The Coors Light Stage & Roadhouse, a free-admission grandstand, features such acts as Charlie Robinson, Memphis Soul, Cody Canada & The Departed, Kelly Willis & Bruce Robinson, "Our venue doesn't allow us to bring in really big acts, but the music does pay off, it creates a buzz and some of these acts have loyal followings. You may not know them if you are not tuned into the Texas or South Western Music scene, but they do bring their fans with each booking."
He added that the Alt-Country, regional tinged concert selections also help target the Gen-Y crowd. "To appeal to the millennials, we do most of our marketing through social media, and that is a segment we want to target more of."
New Social Media
The 2016 Stock Show & Rodeo was actually celebrating its 120th anniversary, and its marketing theme for the year was "120 Years Proof Positive," which Brockman said "was reasonably effective." The event also returned with its now classic tagline, "This Thing is Legendary," and this repetition went a long way in branding the event. "We feel it's now getting strong traction."
The stock show's advertising budget included: 12 percent spent on collateral materials; 18 percent newspaper; 8 percent magazine; 30 percent radio; 20 percent television; 12 percent on-line / social media., perhaps the fastest growing segment of the event.
The digitization of the Fort Worth Stock Show & Rodeo continued in 2016, especially via the social media route, with a strong presence on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, "and we had a little play on Periscope this year."
Organizers also used a relatively new Social Media Platform, Tint, which allows social media feeds and #Hashtags to connect with other monitors. According to Brockman, there were monitors throughout the fairgrounds, and fairgoers could use the hashtag for any onsite pictures. "We had the monitors all around the complex, and 15 minutes later, pictures with the hashtag would flash on very big screens."
The stock show also improved its mobile app, providing more logistical information, such as current parking availability, which included more remote lots that used a shuttle bus service to the fair. The shuttle service was promoted as Rodeo Redline. "We continue to put more tools into the hands of our customers when they download our App," he said. "We let them create their own stock show, with a complete schedule, videos, and all the attractions."
Parking of course is a major logistical issue for most outdoor events, and attendee smart phones were not just used for the latest parking data this year. A new sponsor tie-in - Uber - encouraged customers to leave their cars at home. The Forth Worth Stock Show & Rodeo contracted with Uber, designating pick up/drop off locations for more ease of Uber use.
"You've got to make it convenient for people to come to the stock show, and to get on and off the grounds easily," said Brockman. "You have to make it as easy for the Mom and Dad to bring their family to a fair as it is to go to Six Flags."