Horses – a BIG business

I have just returned from the Miss Rodeo America Re-union, the National Finals Rodeo and the Barrel Futurities of America World Championship Barrel Race in Oklahoma City.   The Miss Rodeo America pageant is 50 years old this year and the pageant invited all the past Miss Rodeo Americas to come to Las Vegas for a re-union to be held during the pageant. 

The Miss Rodeo America pageant has grown into a major scholarship providing industry that has affected the lives and futures of many state and national winners.  All of the industries that have grown up from pageants are staggering.  They range from seamstresses to coaches to companies that produce jewelry and logo materials of every kind and many things in between.    

The National Finals Rodeo had their 46th production this year.  It has been a phenomenal thing to witness the growth of industries that are centered around the horse and the western way of life.  When the National Finals Rodeo left Oklahoma City and headed for Las Vegas (1985), that slot was filled in Oklahoma City by the BFA World Championship futurity.  All of these events bring a staggering amount of money into the areas where they are held and supply jobs to thousands of people. 

Make no mistake about it – the cities that hold these events are aware of the potential of bringing millions into their area. When the National Finals Rodeo began in Dallas in 1959, it was not highly attended and had not caught on yet.  It moved from there to Los Angeles in 1962 and stayed there until moving to OKC in 1965.  Attendance records are not available until 65, but I was at the finals in both Dallas and Los Angeles and can tell you that the attendance was poor, especially the year that President Kennedy was shot. 

When Stanley Draper (Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce) bid for and got the NFR moved to OKC in 1965, the prize money had dropped to $44,500 and the attendance was 47,027 the first year.  The finals became a success in Oklahoma.  Twenty years ago, Las Vegas went after the NFR.  There was a tie vote on whether to move it or not.  It came down to Shaun Davis – then president of the PRCA – who voted to go to Vegas.  It took 4 years in Vegas to become a sold out event and by 2004 it boasted a purse of $5,100,000  and an attendance of around 18,000 people per night for 10 nights. 

The reason that these cities are able and willing to put this kind of money into the production of these events is because of the economic impact upon their cities.  For example, the National Finals Rodeo brings in a reported 50 million dollars into a city that used to roll up its sidewalks in December.  Before the NFR arrived, December was a time when large numbers of casino and hotel workers were laid off because of a downturn in business after Thanksgiving and before the week of Christmas.   Now, the town is full, the rodeo tickets sold out and many come just to be in town during the experience.  The town supports the rodeo in ways you cannot imagine.  Our keys to open our Hotel doors at the Orleans were even a Justin Boot card.  They do not miss a bet in making you feel right at home.   

Did you know that stock contractors will share about $2 million which includes paying them a fee of $5000 for each head of bucking stock selected to compete. Also, 120 NFR qualifiers are provided free hotel rooms, one 10 day ticket and an option to buy eight more tickets to each perf.  Qualifiers are guaranteed $5000 which they are paid when they arrive in Las Vegas, but the $5000 is deducted from their winnings if their NFR earnings exceed that amount.    It was not until 1998 that all of the qualifiers were paid equally in their events. 

To many of us, these growths seem huge.  I was the first barrel racer to break the $10,000 mark in prize money in 1970. I won $10,620.27.  I have a program from the NFR that year that shows the go rounds to pay $216.66 and the average paid $433.32.  I think that it is easy to think that the money has grown so much that we should all be excited, but when I go over all the figures of the economic impact on the cities, I wonder why the prize monies are not comparing with the impact.   The economic impact on the city of Las Vegas has grown by 257% since the first year the event was held there, and the prize money fund has only grown by 185%.   

 We need to be mindful of how the horse industry affects the economic impact of our cities.  In Oklahoma City this past month, they put before the people a vote to raise the hotel tax to spend $4.5 million to upgrade the State Fair facility to keep the horse industry booking shows there that bring $180 million flowing through its economy.  We are talking major events and major monies – all centered around the horse and people like us that ride and train them and show them.    

I hope that this article will cause you to think about leaders that can not only keep the economic impacts going, but leaders that will also see the value in the contestants that participate.  I have always thought that the contestants deserved more – something like the baseball and golf and NASCAR contestants.  We’ve come a long ways, baby, but I don’t think we have seen anything yet! With the right leaders to represent our industry, the possibilities are limitless.  We live a lifestyle that is very marketable.  Pat Christenson who is Las Vegas Events President said it this way:  “We don’t even market the tickets anymore; we market the experience.”

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Copyright © 2004 - 2011 Joyce Loomis-Kernek
Last modified: January 05, 2014