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Houston Rodeo: Spending Uptick Despite Spending Dip
RCS Midway revenue up 7%

4/8/2016

By Timothy Herrick

Photo courtesy of

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The 2016 Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo had an attendance dip of more than 20,000. But Joel Cowley, President and CEO, said that revenues were up in most areas of the event. "You are always at the mercy of the weather," he said. 

For this year's event, it was a balance between better weather but a less than optimum calendar. While last year had 12 days of rain - the 20-day event in 2016 had only four days, but last year The Show - as it is called - coincided with two weeks of Spring Break, but this year only one week of Spring Break feel within the event. Nonetheless, midway spending increased by 7.5 percent, and several of the headline entertainers had sell outs and near sell outs. 

Total grounds attendance reached 2,462,030 - a dip compared to 2014: 2,485,721 - a recorPhoto By d year for the Houston event - and to 2015, which was 2,483,193. The drop in attendance was 23,691 away from the record year. 

Paid Rodeo attendance reached 1,345,983 and an new all-time paid rodeo/concert attendance performance was set for Banda Los Recoditos and Los Huracanes Del Norte at 75,508, the featured entertainers for Go Tejano Day, and Luke Bryan reached 75,082 which was the 11th highest show in the history of The Show.

RCS Midway Up

The Ray Cammack Shows (RCS) midway featured 78 rides and 62 games, including new rides the Airmax and Twister. The top five rides were Sky Ride, Coaster, Rave Wave, La Grande Ferris Wheel and G Force and the top three games were Mini Basketball, One Ball and Bank a Ball.

According to Chris Lopez, Vice President, RCS Inc., midway revenue was up 7.5 percent compared to last year, indicating that when it comes ridership, less can be more if the weather cooperates. "We had great weather compared to last year, with only 4-5 days of rain," he said. "That allowed us to capitalize on that one week of spring break this year".

The carnival company added "banks of self service kiosks on grounds this year," said Lopez, enabling "guests to buy Fun Passes and not wait in line at ticket boxes, we had new ticket boxes this year built by Waymatic," adding that the new system " was a huge improvement with the new layout of those boxes to speed up sales and accommodate lines."

Lopez also noted that the event has extraordinary community support. "It's nice to have the whole city and state get behind Rodeo Houston, they had over 20,000 volunteers there, it's an event that Houstonians and Texans are very proud of and should be. We couldn't ask for better partners."

Toilets & Transportation

According to Cowley, the uptick in spending was due to NRG Park improvements, and while attendance may have slipped, he said "operations were the best this year."

The goal was to enhance the attendee experience, encouraging them to linger, ride more rides and eat more food. The Show underwent a significant infrastructure improvement, upwards of $3.4 million, mainly for bathroom facilities, replacing the porto-potties with restroom trailers, which were manned by bathroom attendants. This upgrade required a new piping system. Not only were the restroom cleaner, other related drawbacks - ie. the "honey wagon" that had to be driven through the grounds to pump out the portable bathrooms - were eliminated. "The lines were much shorter for the rest rooms. It enhanced the overall experience of coming to the fair, which was probably why are spending was up this year."

Another fairground improvement was an upgrade of the passenger platforms of Houston's METRORail, the city's growing light rail transit system, which now covers more than 22 miles and hosts 11 million commuters annually. The rail stop is for NRG PARK, which includes NRG Arena and NRG Stadium, which is also close to parking, but still "sits on the far side of the carnival," said Cowley. "We added tenting to this area, and two large pedestrian crosswalks, so we facilitated the arrival and departure, and we added a better stanchion system, made the information where to go more clear and accessible."

The Show also expanded its shuttle bus system - Trams, also known as the Rodeo Express - "whose route were the various points of the rodeo. "We made it easier to get from A to B, and the trams could fit six passengers to each car."

He added, "we had more unfettered access, and made that area more comfortable to be a pedestrian and encouraged the use of the light rail, which has been growing. The tenting made a real difference. People stayed longer because it was easier to get in and out of the fair. We did have some jams in that area so we cleared up, and made it an amenity." More than 655,000 fairgoers utilized the Rodeo Express, and more than 370,000 rode METRORail.

Live The Brand

Infrastructure was not only the renovation. The Show overhauled its marketing program, featuring a new marketing tagline -Live the Brand-which will be the basis of the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo marketing for the next fear years. "We take different approaches, and we think there is an opportunity to make it a long-running theme that we can change up and use differently every year," said Cowley.

Like the best of themes, according to many marketing experts, Live the Brand invokes a double meaning, the brand of the event - which is to celebrate Western Heritage - and the fact that in the classic ranch days, livestock was branded with hot irons. 

"Our marketing department came up with Live the Brand and we are proud of if," said Cowley. "We are capitalizing on creative approaches on how to use the tagline. We used it mainly on traditional media and radio spots this year, but there is an opportunity to further utilize the tagline on social media. We had a great response, and it really showed a lot of traction. You do not want it to get stale, which is why we changed it this year."

The Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo expanded its social media in several ways, including sending texts to purchase Rodeo tickets. According to Cowley, more than 192 million views worldwide occurred for show messaging, with more than 120 million shares of original show content, as well as 240,808 public posts regarding the Show and Facebook jumped to 512,931 while Twitter increased to 189,884. In addition, the Show "utilized Facebook LIVE videos, surprising fans with meet-and-greet passes, and produced two 360-degree videos," he said. 

It was also the second year for the #RODEOHOUSTON Unplugged series of self-produced You Tube videos about the event, attractions and history, capturing 1.34 million views. The Show also produced four live streams of Rodeo action and various Show activities each day at rodeohouston.com.

New Promotions

One new promotion was the first Responders Appreciation Day. The Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo has held an Armed Forces Appreciation Day since 2007, this year they added a similar celebration for all the First Responders, including Fire Department personnel, Sheriffs, Police Officers and EMT's from Houston and Harris County. "We did a really nice job and we feel it is very important," said Cowley.

The Show's AGVENTURE exhibit had 61,000 people participating through school field trips (and approximately 18,000 "little cowboys and cowgirls" rode the pony rides)

Cowley said that food spending was up from last year, which he attributed to people staying longer for the event. Some of the stats made available included 146,000 pounds of potatoes, 115,000 barbecue sandwiches, 69,000 turkey legs;, 53,000 funnel cakes, 45,000 corn dogs, 44,000 sausages on-a-stick, 22,000 fried Oreos, 18,000 cinnamon rolls, 18,000 ears of roasted corn, and 14,000 servings of dipped-and-deep-fried cookie dough on-a-stick.

Shaky Economy

Although hard to precisely measure, the drop in fuel prices while boosting some aspects of the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo - decreasing the overhead costs for vendors and increasing disposable income for consumers - had an overall negative impact. The difficulty in gauging that impact is that while oil remain key to the economy, that same economy has diversified. Cowley said that Houston was "somewhat insulated by the recession, it was shorter and shallower for us and regained the lost jobs."

He said that "oil and gas" accounts for 10 percent of employment, but 40 percent of the economic activity. "It's not like the 80s, so that was a cushion but people are looking for value and they have a stay-cation mentality." 

He added that the auctions were off 4 percent - but they were "probably off 20 percent in 2009" - so while more sluggish in recent months, the local economy has not fallen back into utter doldrums. Sponsorships were also unaffected - "most of these are multi-year deals, so we totally didn't lose any sponsors. Our sponsors have stayed committed to the rodeo." 

 The sponsors are not alone in their commitment to this Lone Star tradition. "Thanks to more than 32,000 dedicated volunteers and 100-plus staff members, the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo is proud to present a first-class experience for its more than 2 million visitors and show spectators receive an up-close view of agriculture and Western heritage at this one-of-a-kind event," said Jack Lyons, Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo chairman of the board. 



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