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San Antonio Livestock Show & Rodeo Breaks Records with Earlier Ticket Sales and Community-Outreach
Wade Shows sees positive results in early part of 2023 season

San Antonio Livestock Show and Rodeo Breaks Records
Everything from gate attendance to carnival ride revenue was up at the San Antonio Livestock Show and Rodeo in 2023 - a positive sign for the industry, early in the 2023 season.

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The 2023 San Antonio Livestock Show & Rodeo achieved record attendance and record midway sales. While this success indicates that event resurgence continues post-lockdown, it's also a sign that new marketing, new layout and the new found popularity of Yellowstone, sparking a revival of interest of everything cowboy paid off big time for this Lone Star tradition.

Attendance reached 1.5 million, approximately 130,000 more than the 2022 edition and while a run of ideal weather certainly boosted turnout, but the event took a very different tact when it came to ticket sales – a star-studded lineup that include back-to-back Keith Urban shows as well as Nelly, Dwight Yokum, Jake Owen and Los Tigres Del Nort. Usually, tickets go on sale in November but last year, they moved that sales date up to June, basically doubling the length of time when rodeo tickets are for sale from four to eight months.

Sold Out Shows

It seems today's concert going rodeo fans like waiting longer for their live entertainment, 16 of the 22 shows were sellouts, according to Chris Derby, Chief Marketing Officer, San Antonio Stock Show & Rodeo. This shift also realigned the marketing focus. The wider sales window alleviated the pressure to heavily promote each individual superstar, thus the marketing now emphasized the entire San Antonio experience. “We decreased the budget a little bit from 2022 because we went on sale earlier,” said Derby. “This also freed up dollars and we advertised the fairgrounds and carnival more than ever before.”

Another emphasis has been near nullification of print advertising and an increased push on digital advertising, with social media spearheading the effort. “We still do a lot of radio and out-of-home advertising in the malls and airport. We've reduced our print, but the social media has gained more importance and we really pushed social media this year.”

Community outreach was not limited to the virtual world. IRL – the rodeo has been making itself a presence at community events, creating a city-centric synergy. For example – the rodeo had a featured exhibit at the 2022 Fiesta! San Antonio and vice-versa. “Grassroots marketing and bringing a lot of positivity to the community,” he said. “We worked with our local ABC affiliate who televised our first rodeo and the anchors filled up the last hour talking about our rodeo and mission and educational goals.”

The FMX Freestyle Show was a crowd favorite at the 2023 Rodeo

In fact, the rodeo as spectator sport is gaining new popularity due to the cowboy culture now seeing renewed interest by streaming services, production companies and genre-publishers. “We are in a healthy spot right now with the rodeo because the popularity of Yellowstone and others shows has piqued interest again in the Western world of cowboys and rodeos.”

Derby noticed that that the regional marketing for the rodeo has enhanced the city's reputation as a tourist destination. “More people were traveling from further distance, which I mean more than a two hour drive. We are getting more than the locals now, even more than we had in the past, in 2019, and more taking flights here. We're not just a rodeo; we are a bigger part of the community and a major event.”

Record Midway

“Whatever they did worked, we had all-time record revenue,” declared Frank Zaitshik of Wade Shows, who said that the broken record was set way back in 2016. “We were way above the five year average, so we also crossed that Rubicon.”

Aside from the marketing and outreach and earlier ticket sales, one sometimes overlooked change San Antonio implemented was relocating the midway from the west to the east end of the fairgrounds, a move now in its third year. “I admit, I was apprehensive about it, but it has proven to be a solid move. The idea was to improve the traffic flow to all areas throughout the grounds. As the saying goes, the proof is in the pudding. It didn't impede growth and it did improve traffic flow. It certainly was a double bite of the apple, it accomplished the goals were looking for and at the same time It contributed to our success.”

The early season, which includes the South Florida Fair and Florida State Fair,  has seen robust spending and attendance for Wade Shows. “We're seeing spending equal to or better than pre-pandemic. “I'm sure not as smart as the economists in the news talking about a recession, but I've seen no direct relationship between higher interest rates and bank failures with consumer spending.”

Nonetheless, even if the worst of the pandemic may be behind us, the carnival business still remains a week-to-week marathon throughout the years. “One of the difficult things this year is the ability to plan ahead. The deliveries on equipment purchases are ridiculously far out,” he said. “Equipment we were expecting in August has been pushed to 2024 and some have been pushed to 2026, so that is making the year more challenging.”

In another example of new marketing ideas, the San Antonio Stock Show & Rodeo also introduced Surtierra Tequila – served not just at the 2-story Surtierra Cantina but at the Aramark and Levy food stands. “It's a nonprofit so all the profits are donated to the rodeo,” said Derby, who admits to rustling the idea from the Calgary Stampede, who introduced Calgary Stampede Canadian Rye Whiskey last year.

The San Antonio Stock Show & Rodeo – #7 on the 2022 Top 50 fairs, as compiled by Carnival Warehouse – has shown that post-lockdown, the real innovation is a return to a the basics of community outreach and enhancing the overall event experience. “Last year, people were still worried about COVID, this year there were more people here, they were spending more, and we are getting them from further away.”

Another metric also showed a very positive comeback. As all fair industry members are aware, labor market woes have been a pesky issues during the global crisis. While the salaried-worker pool may have tightened, the volunteer pool nearly vanished for many events. For the first time since lockdown, the approximately 6,000 volunteers needed to make the San Antonio Stock Show & Rodeo returned in 2021, restoring this labor pool to its pre-pandemic levels. “Older people were staying away, but the volunteers came back this year for the first time since the outbreak. We couldn't do it without them.”
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