Weatherford Democrat


July 22, 2009

Thriving rodeos seem to have recession roped, tied

MESQUITE, Texas (AP) — A few steps into the air-conditioned Mesquite Rodeo is all it takes to feel the relief.

Cool air. Cheap prices. And the stars of the show sitting nearby, ready with a smile and a pen so they can autograph the program given away at the door.

No wonder the vast majority of rodeos are thriving. Even though some sponsors have pulled out and a handful of rodeos have been shuttered this summer, attendance is up about 12 percent for each of the two major circuits, the Pro Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA) and Professional Bull Riders (PBR).

Rodeos historically have been up when the economy is down, according to PRCA commissioner Karl Stressman, but this surge is still a pleasant surprise with the recession well into its second year.

"We've had a continued growth pattern for the last 20 years, but this year it's phenomenal growth," Stressman said. Added Randy Bernard, CEO of the bull riders' group: "I'm tickled to death with what I'm seeing."

Both men credit several factors, though they agree it begins with vacationers staying closer to home. Those people still need to be entertained and more of them are discovering, or rediscovering, "the greatest show on dirt."

The lure begins with affordable tickets, around $10 at most rodeos, even those with concerts as the nightcap.

Shows are a little more than two hours of fast-paced action, man (and woman) vs. beast. The rules are easy to figure out and even the most restless kid can stay focused for an 8-second ride or watch the clowns.

Plus, it's a chance to see real, live cowboys — guys with names like Cody and Bo, from places like Crooked Creek and Mingus — show just how tough they really are, then brush off the dirt and pose for pictures for anyone who asks.

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