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Western Sports

HAS RODEO CHANGED?

Is Rodeo in a growth phase?

Over the past few years we keep hearing many rodeo organizations around the country say, “Rodeo is growing” or “The future of Rodeo looks bright”. But is it really?  Back in the 1980’s when jobs were few, inflation was high, less people went to college and rodeo was a thriving industry with a great opportunity to try to carve out a living.  The cost of living was not very high compared to now days, with average home prices over $250,000, and higher interest rates.  The cost of food; fuel at or over $5.00 a gallon makes the risk of entering a rodeo, which is nothing more than gambling, a less appealing way to pay the bills. 

Times have changed leaps and bounds over the last 40 years not just with technology but in the way we go about how we live our lives.  Back in the day cowboys traveled together sometimes 9 or 10 guys in a van. These days it’s 2 or 3 traveling partners.   If you’re a timed event contestant your horse costs for feed, tack, vet, and farrier bills are well in to the mid to high thousands and hundreds of thousands on just horses.  Not to mention truck and trailer costs with the cost of a dually truck strong enough to pull a load of horses and a living quarters trailer pricing out to close to $200,000.  Then there’s fuel, tires, insurance, and the money funnel just keep guzzling down your bank account like water going down the tub drain and no stopper to prevent it from going dry.  Some would call it throwing good money after bad.

Then there’s this “sport” aspect that through the years has been attached to the word Rodeo. I can’t quite figure out who the sport is for the contestant or the animal or the fan. Maybe all three. But at the end of the day, it’s just the entertainment business.  Most people come to a rodeo to be entertained, usually there’s a concert after the rodeo that they really wanted to see and got introduced to this new event.  There are still your diehard fans of rodeo that seem to be ageing out and prefer to watch from the comfort of their living room on their television or YouTube. 

Speaking of entertainment, what about the days of dancing after the rodeo?  I remember years ago you couldn’t wait to get to the bar or hotel conference room to dance.  We once had George Strait play back in 1982 at the IFR finals. He had just got his first album and bar was packed with cowboy’s, cowgirl’s friends and fans.  It was so disheartening to attend another finals some years later only to attend the dance afterwards and maybe 30 people at the bar very few dancers and mostly the age group was 50 and up.  “Where are all the young cowboys and cowgirls” I asked the bartender, she said probably at their hotel room on TikTok.  One day they’re going to come out of TikTok and their virtual reality world to find Rodeo gone, finished, closed up because they’re not making friends or fans in the real world.    

Ahh the fans, the people that understand and love rodeo. The people that buy the tickets when there isn’t a concert after the rodeo to go to.  The people that go to a rodeo in recessed times as well as the good times.  You may say “but the stands are full” yes they are full of the same people that pay the same ticket price today as they did 20 years ago. Yet It’s the least expensive family entertainment of all professional sports. But at least we stand for the flag and our national anthem and say prayer in the name of Jesus.  Our children are polite and say yes ma’am, yes sir, please and thank you.  They respect their elders, their country and God.  But something is changing.

I see the industry attracting what I would consider large hedge funds.  Companies created out of thin air with millions if not billions of dollars behind them with leaders that have never step foot into a rodeo arena but throwing millions of dollars at the industry.  Buying up rodeo events, stock contractors, barrel racing clubs.  Why? An industry that does nothing but bleed you dry financially.  Is it just another way of hedging (betting) on whether an industry will survive or fail? Are they buying up the industry just to slowly dismantle it like the newspaper industry and others that have died due to technology?  They say they love our way of life until their balance sheets are in the red and then the way of life and an entire industry we all loved and grew up in ends up at the sale barn waiting to go to slaughter. If they truly loved our way of life and are trying to preserve the western lifestyle why aren’t they spending millions to fight the very people who are trying to destroy it and taking away grazing leases?  We all know money talks and those who have it can have a loud voice. But no, I don’t hear them on any news channel fighting for the very industry and lifestyle they pretend to love.   Are we the last of the Mohicans? The last to stand in their way of complete dominance of our way of life and this country we love called America. 

So, my question was, Is Rodeo growing.  I don’t believe it is growing.  I don’t believe the sponsors are making more money today in rodeo than they did 20 years ago.  I don’t believe the contestants are making more money, in fact I know they’re not. I don’t believe there are enough people coming up behind this generation to keep it all alive for the next 20 years.  I think the slices of the pie have been cut up so much that there’s no pie left to cut. Rodeo has been watered down with so many trying to carve out their own thing to survive it’s come to a point that no one is surviving.  Some just barely getting by.  Before every industry becomes obsolete mergers and acquisitions become the norm.  It’s beginning to happen in our industry too but the buyers who are scouting us I don’t trust nor like.  They’ll merge then sell then be picked apart and sold off piece by piece until our way of life has disappeared.  All that will be left is TikToK videos and the song by George Strait “The Cowboy Rides Away”.

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