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From the Midway to Marketing, Innovative Technologies Propel San Antonio Comeback
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The San Antonio Stock Show & Rodeo returned in 2022 full-force, with a full rosters of concerts, the PRCA Rodeo, livestock events and the Wade Shows midway. After a vastly scaled-back event in 2022, this Texas tradition that first came out of the gate in 1949 was back in all its glory.
Happy that the COVID crisis seems to have peaked and they were finally able to safely attend public events, attendees felt the fun and excitement they remembered from the pre-pandemic era. On the Wade Shows midway the FunTagg cashless midway  system was embraced by the fairgoers.

Not only was this the first time for the San Antonio midway went cashless, it was the first time the midway went with no human ticket sellers. Instead, all the transactions were automated and conducted through kiosks and the workers were repurposed from being cashiers to customer service reps.

After more than 18 months of lockdowns, zoomed holidays, shopping Amazon and ordering food deliveries from Grubhub, automated midway transactions are no longer perceived as the high-tech system indecipherable to anyone whose birth predates Gen-Z.  Broncos may have still bucked inside the AT&T Center, but in the arena of midway transactions, everything FunTagg was smoothly seamless and without incident.

Flawless Transition

“Switching to FunTagg went flawlessly,” said Frank Zaitshik of Wade Shows. “We had no live sellers. We had no complaints. The customers were thrilled to go to the rodeo and on the rides, they were already used to the technology.”

The event itself was a near record  for Zaitshik, who said that according to the five year average for the event, the 2022 edition of the San Antonio Stock Show & Rodeo was “our second best year, and that was despite some cold weather. We had one day we couldn't open because the weather was in the 20s.”  

But the star of the event was the stellar performance by FunTagg. “Every time we use it, we get better at it. The reporting has really improved, and that helps us. I can be in my office in Tampa and I can tell in real time how the midway is doing. “

The most immediate benefit he noticed at the San Antonio debut? “What time to pull wristbands. I can get a better decision as to when we start phasing down. “

Stable Attendance

Exact attendance figures were unavailable at press-time, but according to Chris Derby, Chief Marketing Officer, San Antonio Stock Show & Rodeo attendance was in line with pre-pandemic fairs of 2019 and 2020. Typically the event is in the top five of the Top 50 Fairs, as compiled by Carnival Warehouse, attracting about 1.9 million visitors per year.

Weather was a major factor negatively impacting attendance, with temperatures looking like an EKG reading with highs of 80s and lows of below 40, as well as some cold, rainy days, shockingly unseasonable for South Texas. “The weather hurt the carnival a little,” said Derby. “But we finished strong with good weather.”

The economy also seemed still in in energetic rebound mode, with spending strong in terms of both the midway and local support. “People are shopping,” he said. “We had 65 food stands, and they all seemed pretty happy. We retained 97 percent of our sponsorships, which is very close to 2020.”

There a very visible rise in Activation Sponsors – where companies had demonstrations of products, ranging from test driving Ford vehicles to free cereal samples from General Mills. “We had more booths and exhibitions from sponsors across the board,” said Derby. “People like to touch and feel things, so it was very popular. It was a feeling of being back to normal.”

A highlight of this year's rodeo was Tim McGraw, who played an afternoon as well as evening set on the middle Saturday. Derby said McGraw was the only artist whose 2021 contract was able to be rolled-over into 2022. However, as a sign of a booking rebound that will hopefully continue through the year, San Antonio hosted one of its most star-packed entertainment lines in recent memory. Gracing the stock show stage were such acts as Toby Keith, Tanya Tucker, Lady A, Brad Paisley, Ludacris, Little Big Town and STYX. “We had some good bookings,” said Derby. “A lot of the artists were on their first tours after lockdown. They were just happy to be back playing to packed houses again.”

Influencer Partnering

The marketing budget was also on par with previous expenditures, with the unsurprising trend of less print and more digital continuing, but retaining previous scopes of presence in television and radio marketing. The marketing shift this year was incorporating local and regional social media influencers into their marketing strategy.

In 2020, the fair dabbled in this new media realm with one or two influencer interfaces. This year, it was more than six influencers whose expertise and followers ranged from Mom groups to Foodies, one of which “has more than 300,000 followers. They would write positive critiques of fair food.”

The collaboration Derby describes as a “home run. We gave them tours, treated them just like other media, but it was a lot more fun. They really spread the word about the food and rides and what to do. In the old realm, media buying in-house with radio and TV and the outdoor signs, they tell us how great we are doing. But with the social media, we connect with people and they share our stories. I like the fact that it is ever-changing, and you can narrow down the age demographic with Snap-Chat, Tik-Tok, Twitter and Instagram. With social media you really know who you are targeting.”

Although the official decision to go with the full midway with rodeo was not made until October 2021, Derby said that by July of last year, the organization was moving forward. As a guide, he watched “ a lot of college football and other sports to see how they were handling crowds. We had a really good rodeo, and the PRCA audiences were very similar to pre-pandemic.”

He added, “We didn't know what our expectations should be, because we were just coming off the omicron variant. When the weather was good, people flocked to us in droves.”
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