Utah cowboy Cody Wright won his second consecutive saddle bronc riding at the World’s Original Rodeo at the Fort Worth Stock Show & Rodeo with this ride on J Bar J Rodeo’s Shady Cat. Wright’s son, Rusty, finished second and the duo won a combined $20,212. (Photo by James Phifer)

The new Super Shootout team event and targeted marketing of the VIP Experience were deemed successful at this year’s Ft. Worth Stock Show & Rodeo. Both programs were a test and both passed, said Brad Barnes, stock show president and general manager.

The Jan.17-Feb. 8 event drew a total attendance of 1,137,100, down slightly from last year’s 1,148,000. That was a direct result of “a few days that were icy and cold,” Barnes said, adding that the rodeo did not suffer devastating weather like the storms that hit the East Coast, but the carnival, provided by Talley Amusements, had to close early and, at least one day, didn't open because of snow.

“We’re 118 years old, we’re not changing dates,” Barnes added of the obvious solution to weather woes. The rodeo is indoors and was not delayed in the least, he added.

The 38 rodeo performances in the 5,800-seat Will Rogers Memorial Coliseum averaged 90 percent capacity during the 23-day stock show and rodeo, Barnes told Venues Today. General admission to the event cost $10 for adults and $5 for children ages 6-16. Those five and under were admitted free of charge. Rodeo tickets cost $19-$28 depending on the event and day with weekends the most expensive.

A goal this year was to increase weekday attendance, so the rodeo offered a new VIP Experience to lure a targeted demographic to Monday-Thursday events. The premium offer was sent to a select demographic based on criteria such as zip code, attendance history, age and household income. “We do a lot of survey work with our audience. We know our neighbor,” Barnes said.

The VIP Experience was packaged to include tickets to the rodeo, a chance to meet contestants backstage, behind-the-chutes access and more, all for one bundled price rather than a la carte. There were two VIP Experience offers this year and the goal was to sell 100 tickets to each one. “It was very successful,” Barnes said. “We sold 150 to each one.”

Best of all, it accomplished the main goal — “it made them feel special,” Barnes said. It will be rolled out more aggressively next year, he added.

Also new this year was the Super Shootout which was introduced as a team event with a $100,000 purse. This competition format featured champions from eight of the greatest rodeos across the country:  Fort Worth Rodeo; Rodeo Austin; Rodeo Houston; San Angelo Stock Show & Rodeo; National Western Stock Show and Rodeo; Reno Rodeo, Cheyenne Frontier Days and Calgary Stampede. Each contestant represented a team from one of those rodeos in five events, of which three were roughstock events — bareback, saddle bronc and bull riding — and two were timed events — barrel racing and steer wrestling.

Each of the eight contestants per event competed once with the four fastest times or highest scores advancing to the Championship Shootout. In a break from tradition where animals that are competed on in the roughstock events are randomly drawn, the contestants were able to choose their animals. At the end of the day there was a winner — Cheyenne Frontier Days this year.

There are a lot of variations on the shootout concept. For Ft.Worth, the differentiator was the team concept.

Exhibits occupied the entire 200,000 sq. ft. of space. There is a waiting list for the sold-out show, Barnes said.

There were 29,000 entries in the livestock show, a record. Approximately 11,000-12,000 of those competitors are from Texas 4H and FFA members, the balance from 40 states.

The grand champion steer, a 1,335-pound European crossbreed, was exhibited by Flint Newman of Stanton. Coors Distributing Company of Fort Worth topped all challenges with an impressive $200,000 bid. (Photo by Ft. Worth Stock Show)

Community support for Texas youth was evident during the Fort Worth Stock Show & Rodeo’s final day as $3.3 million was generated for the 2014 Junior Sale of Champions. Local business owners, executives and individuals were responsible for purchasing 295 head of steers, barrows, lambs and goats. 

The rodeo season is off to a strong start, Barnes believes. Though attendance was down, Ft. Worth held its own despite weather. The first of the major rodeos of 2014, the National Western Stock Show, Rodeo and Horse Show in Denver drew 640,022, up from 628,366 in 2013, according to Karen Woods, marketing director there. And the San Antonio Stock Show & Rodeo just wrapped Feb. 23 with a record attendance of 1,740,154.

Barnes has his eye on them all as he prepares for the 2015 Ft. Worth Stock Show & Rodeo set for Jan. 16-Feb. 7.

Interviewed for this story: Brad Barnes, (817) 877-2400;  Karen Woods, (303) 299-5522