Rodeos hang tough

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Thursday, July 23, 2009
ATS_Rodeo
Joey Bell Jr. of Texas split the win in the steer wrestling competition at the St. Paul rodeo.
PHOTO BY BILL LAWLESS

Oregon’s rodeos are maintaining their balance despite hefty jostling by the state’s rough riding economy.

Representatives of state rodeos that had taken place by early July put attendance and ticket sales at the same level or higher than last year, a feat they attribute to lower gas prices and budget-conscious consumers sticking close to home. Some events have lost sponsors, but organizers say other businesses are readily filling the gaps.

At least seven of the state’s 19 Professional Rodeo Cowboy Association-affiliated rodeos take place before or during “Cowboy Christmas,” the first week of July and traditionally the busiest time of year on the pro circuit. This year, in addition to higher ticket sales, local rodeo organizers say they paid out the same or more in prize money to the cowboys who swing through town for bronc riding, calf roping and other events. In 2008, Oregon rodeos paid close to $2 million in prize money, according to the PRCA.

About 43,000 people bought $600,000 in tickets during the early July St. Paul Rodeo. Crowds may not have spent as much on cotton candy and carnival rides as in years past, and a few sponsors dropped out, but overall the event was a winner, says Bill Smith, arena director for the nonprofit group that runs the 74-year-old rodeo. “Our large sponsors held tight with us. They know the economy’s going to turn around and they’re in it for the long term,” Smith says.

Ticket sales for Jackson County’s Wild Rogue Pro Rodeo were about the same as they were last year, “which in this economy, we’ll take,” says Chris Borovansky, CEO of Jackson County Fairgrounds & Exposition in Central Point, which runs the event. The late-May rodeo drew 9,000 people and brought $1.5 million into the area.

The Pendleton Roundup, the state’s biggest rodeo that opens mid-September, typically brings $23 million into eastern Oregon, and so far ticket sales for this year’s event are strong. A few sponsors have bailed, but others have lined up to replace them, says Carl Culham, a rodeo spokesman.

With gas prices much lower than they were last summer, pro cowboys can afford to travel to more competitions, one reason rodeos nationwide are seeing an uptick in entrants, says Bobby Mote, a two-time world champion bareback rider who lives in Culver.

Hard times are part and parcel of the cowboy way, Mote says. “You go through stages where you have a lot of cash and things are going good, then three or four months go by and things get tight so you make adjustments,” he says. “It was like that three years ago when the economy was good, and it’s like that now.”

MICHELLE V. RAFTER
 

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