Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo Shines Through Rain

2015 event sets rodeo/concert paid attendance record

  • by Rebecca Nakashima
  • Published: March 24, 2015

RodeoHouston committed $2,104,100 to its contestants in 2015. (Photo by Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo)

Even with cold-for-Houston weather and four days of rain, the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo came within 2,528 people of last year’s 20-day record attendance with 2,483,193 grounds attendees coming to the show March 3-22. 

“We wouldn’t have even been within striking distance had we not been able to draw people on those bad days with the diversity of our offering,” said CEO Joel Cowley. “Nice weather makes people want to go places and contributes to a strong carnival crowd but, fortunately for us, the world’s largest rodeo and livestock show is still indoors, and that allowed us to draw some nice crowds on some not so nice days.”

As always, event’s agricultural mission was on display, including petting zoos, pony rides, a milking parlor and livestock displays. More than 61,000 students participated in a scheduled school tour or field trip to AGventure, which featured two new exhibits: The Rabbit Hole and a new honeybee exhibit that was like a walk-through honeycomb with two live bee colonies.

“A lot of people come on our grounds, and they’re not coming for the livestock show or AGventure,” said Cowley. “But if they spend time on our grounds, they will be presented with the message of agriculture and how important it is. I always say if we can draw people here for a concert or a carnival or a rodeo and teach them something about agriculture, it’s a win in regard to our mission.”

Preliminary unaudited grosses show food and beverage sales exceeded $23 million, as evidenced by the 68,000 turkey legs consumed, 814,000 tamales purchased and 116,000 barbeque sandwiches served.

Paid attendance for the rodeo/concerts set a record with 1,377,477 with an average of 68,873 fans attending each night at the 71,300-seat NRG Park Stadium. The Go Tejano Day featuring La Arrolladora Banda El Limon and La Maquinaria Nortena was the number one concert, setting a show attendance record with 75,357. Other top shows included Brad Paisley with 75,167, Ariana Grande with 75,068, Blake Shelton with 75,016, Pitbull with 75,013 and Luke Bryan with 75,005.

With ticket prices at $10 for adults and $5 for children ages 3-12, unaudited gross sales from admission exceeded $47 million.

The junior auction sales came in at a record $12,087,550. And the show committed more than $24 million to scholarships, educational program grants and junior show exhibitors.

“It’s great to be giving back to the community,” said COO Dan Cheney. “We’re going to be giving $24.1 million back for scholarships to the youth of Texas and education opportunities. To be a part of that is a privilege and an honor.”

Though final numbers weren’t yet available, Ray Cammack Shows looked to be on target to match last year’s sales, which was $10,155,231, despite the rainy weather. The three most popular rides were Windstorm Rollercoaster, Sky Ride and Rave Wave, with Mini Basketball coming in as the most popular game with 70 semi-truckloads of stuffed animals being won by visitors.

“We have over 31,000 volunteers on over 108 committees that help put the event on,” said Cowley. “We pride ourselves on great hospitality and providing everyone that comes to our event with a great experience. That can be a livestock or horse show exhibitor, a rodeo and concert attendee, a grounds attendee, everyone that comes out here, we want them to have a great experience. And just myself walking around out here somewhat incognito, I saw that on a number of occasions with volunteers in some positions that aren’t very glamorous doing their best to make sure people had the information they needed and that they were well taken care of.”

This year, Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo partnered with AXS for the first time for concert ticketing. Cowley said their system was robust enough to handle 20 shows going on sale at the same time, and their virtual waiting room feature allowed fans to sign in before the 10 a.m. onsale to look over the tickets and shows before being randomly drawn into the store once the onsale began.

Since it was their first time using AXS, Cowley said some fans were confused by the virtual waiting room and considered it to be an hour of extra waiting. Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo’s marketing staff engaged with users individually on social media to address complaints or answer questions about the new system.

“The good thing was, by 11 a.m., everyone who was in the waiting room at 10 a.m. when they went on sale had been called into the store, and we still had tickets available for every show,” said Cowley.

AXS was also unprepared for the large number of mobile users participating and many of them were bumped out of the system as the onsale progressed, something that they have addressed and will be prepared for next year. Another appealing feature was AXS’s ability to identify and remove ticket brokers and scalpers. According to Cowley, by the time the tickets went on sale they had identified 2,000 bots that were trying to get into the system and filtered them out.

“Based on what we were seeing in the past with purchases and who those tickets were going to,” said Cowley, “we know that we had bots in there purchasing up the high demand shows. In this manner we were at least able to limit any scalper or broker to buying 10 tickets to one show at a time on that first day, just like everybody else.”

As Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo continues to break records each year, the growing number of attendees requires strategic planning and thinking ahead.

“We have a great opportunity that has presented itself to us and really came into focus this year,” said Cheney, “and that is trying to satisfy the demand for that product. We’ve done such a good job of creating that product, and presenting and executing the product that handling the numbers of people expected to come in the next few years is really what we’re going to be focusing on, probably for the next two years.”

Thankfully, the show is the largest indoor livestock show and rodeo, which helps with the unpredictable weather. Still, Cheney is open to other ideas. “Anybody who can control the weather, I’m interested in talking to them,” he added.

The 2016 Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo dates are March 1-20.

Interviewed for this story: Joel Cowley and Dan Cheney, (832) 667-1057

  • by Rebecca Nakashima
  • Published: March 24, 2015