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Old School Cool Attracts Younger Demographic to Fort Worth Rodeo & Stock Show
Talley goes completely cashless on the midway
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Few ideas have more appeal than the retro concept, especially with younger consumers. The idea is that things were more genuine and fulfilling back in the day has wide acceptance. Like fairs and many other long-running outdoor events, the Fort Worth Rodeo & Stock Show blends the rodeo tradition with the nostalgia of a midway and in 2019, the event encapsulated its unique blend with a highly impactful slogan – Old School Cool. 

The tagline “resonated with people,” said Matt Brockman, Publicity Manager, Fort Worth Rodeo & Stock Show. This resonance was amplified by incorporating images from the event's one hundred and twenty three years of history into the marketing. “It was pretty cool. It allowed us to utilize some assets that fit with that theme and we were able to convey a message that had appeal. Every now and then we play that retro card, and this year we really hit the mark.”

Past Pictures

These assets were images from the storied past, ranging from pictures of famous local luminaries such as Doc Severinsen, the “classic” Tonight Show bandleader and Walker, Texas Ranger himself, Chuck Norris, to way back in the day rodeo shots circa the 40s & 50s. “We utilized those photographs in our ads and TV commercials, using motion graphics. We created a pretty unique, old time feel. With all the print and digital technology , it's amazing what you can do with colors and fonts. We enhanced the images, made videos and we got more engagement than ever for this campaign."

Digital, online platforms and social media were heavily utilized for this old is new again campaign, with funds being shifted away from older media. “Our social presence continues to grow with 297,000 Facebook friends; 15,821 Twitter follows; and 32,098 Instagram followers,” said Brockman. “We use [social media] to grow our brand, entertain and engage our audience and provide information.”

The Old School Cool campaign also utilized more market research and targeting. Brockman's team targeted six different “avatars” that included various demographics. The basic takeaway was to differentiate methods of reaching baby boomers away from Gen-X and millennials. “It's easier to reach the baby boomers, because they are familiar with us,” he said. “We really focused on the best ways to reach these younger generations, what types of messaging and content appeal to those groups. I guess we're running after the millennials just like everybody else, and we are offering them online formats that increase our brand awareness with them and turn our engagements online with them into conversions.”

This effort targeting millennial avatars outlined in the Old School Cool campaign also included an increase in the geofencing apps, Google ad words, and Facebook sponsored ads. The young family demographic – Gen-Y parents – which Brockman said was the “fastest growing” fairgoer segment of the Fort Worth Rodeo & Stock Show.

Having a marketing focus on this population makes sense. Brockman points out the city of Fort Worth – as well as the larger Dallas/Fort Worth metro area from which the stock show draws from –  is “blessed with a growing transplant community.” These transplants – people moving to the area –  are mostly younger professionals and families – the exact demographic the Old School campaign targeted – who attracted to an upbeat economy and increases in employment. “The Texas economy has been strong,” said Brockman. “We believe our event does well in both good and bad economic times. We're fun and affordable – probably more affordable than much of our competition.”

The 23-day event experienced an attendance increase, albeit a modest blip of 1,340 – resulting in a total turnout of 1,216,140. Weather was “was moderate. We experienced a few days of cold – temps in the 30s that might have had a slight impact, but we view this year as a success,” said Brockman. “With 23 days it is always a little bit of a gamble. We had in excess of 150,000 on some of the weekends. Our numbers aren't in for the rodeo attendance, but it's up about 5 percent. We do have a huge expectation for attendance, we have steady attendance numbers that are headed in the right direction.” 

Talley Midway

“It was a successful show,” said Mary Talley, of Talley Amusements, the midway provider for the Fort Worth Rodeo & Stock Show. The unseasonable cold snap had an impact on ride revenue “we lost two of the four weekends basically,” she said.  “But we still did pretty good and nearly set a record.” 

The midway featured 53 rides, up slightly from 2018 but “it's a small footprint at Fort Worth,” said Talley. New rides included Monster Truck, Ships Ahoy, Miner Mike Coaster, Choo-Choo, and a Funny Farm Fun House. “We're always expanding our kiddy rides, we always keep it fresh.”

The top-grossing rides were the Giant Wheel and Fast Track Slide. 

This carnival company premiered is first midway without any cashiers. The company has been using Magic Money, a leading Radio-frequency identification (RFID) company specializing in the fair industry, for three years but the 2019 Fort Worth Rodeo & Stock Show was the first time other ticketing or payments options were entirely eliminated. Instead, the company created 120 points of sale throughout the midway, and fairgoers could purchase and/or refill with cash or credit/debit cards. The past three years, Talley offered the cashless system for the rides only.

While this automated system does provide significant savings, especially in labor costs, Talley repurposed employees from transaction to customer-relations. These midway ambassadors – easily identified by backpack flags – would help fairgoers navigate the midway. “They would ask people how we can help,” she said. “We made sure the people were comfortable using the system and they were. People like it better. We made it easy for them to use, and with our phone app we offered coupons and  a rewards system. We also were able to capture their email addresses, so it's also a marketing tool.” 

The transition to a fully cashless was seamless and glitch-free; the cashless midway got positive reviews, as did the overall 2019 Fort Worth Rodeo & Stock Show. “If the weather was a little better, if we could have gotten another weekend, we would have set records for the midway,” she said. “It is our first show of the year, and as a barometer for the rest of the year, it shows the economy has approved. Financially, it was very promising.”  

Bigger & Better

The 2019 trend at the Fort Worth Rodeo & Stock Show was an unmistakable upgrade in typical event cuisine. The month-long length of the event and the hundreds of people who stay throughout requires a 24 hour Texas diner – The Stockman's Café. This year the Fort Worth Rodeo & Stock show tripled the size of the kitchen, expanded the menu, added fully enclosed, climate and environmentally controlled, 150-seat dining section and moved the facility closer to the action . “We were in the heart of where all the livestock facilities are,” said Steve Coburn of Coburn  Catering. “The move generated more traffic. It was all the buzz of the fair. 

Coburn Catering had 70 items for sale at this year's event, which included a notable newcomer, Sweetie's Cheesecake, “they served cheesecake in a jar, which was very cool and a big hit.”

The big hit of course was the turning The Stockman's Café into a restaurant and a new menu with hand-crafted sandwiches, waffle fries, calf fries, half-pound burgers and new breakfast bowls. “They built me a brand new kitchen,” said Coburn who added that his family has been selling food at the Fort Worth Rodeo & Stock Show since 1944. The perennial best sellers at the event are “barbecue and burgers,”  but the new selection the new kitchen made possible “was a hit too. We reimagined everything, it was beautiful. Everybody wanted to come by and see what we did. We did not disappoint.”

The 2019 Fort Worth Rodeo & Stock Show may have promoted Old School Cool to appeal to the area transplants and the always elusive millennial generation, but from an automated midway to a reimagined cowboy café serving upscale comfort food, the attendee experience was decidedly 21st century. “We're fortunate that our mystique and uniqueness is directly tied to our history and the cowboy culture that is still a part of our city,” he said. “It makes us unique, it's also the identity of the city and we want a new generation to come experience the event.”

Old School Cool was a particularly apt sentiment for 2019. This year was the last time the 76-year old Will Rogers Coliseum will host the rodeo. “This year was special as it was our last year to hold professional rodeo performances in the historic Will Rogers Coliseum before moving them to the new Dickies Arena in 2020,” he said. “Will Rogers Coliseum has hosted our rodeo performances for 76 years and there are countless memories from generations of Stock Show rodeo guests. The vibe was nostalgic while, at the same time, exciting because of the pending move to Dickies.
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