Record Breaking Attendance Continues Winning Streak for Houston RCS midway revenue up in 2017
By Timothy Herrick Photo courtesy of RCS
Willie Nelson played a 60 minute set without a set list and received a standing ovation for his show at the Houston Live Stock Show & Rodeo. The country music legend and beloved Son of Texas played on the same day the single-day attendance record of 185,667 was set.
In spite of a weak Texas economy - and a unsolved and alleged shooting incident - the Houston Live Stock Show and Rodeo continued a trend of growing attendance for this unique event celebrating Texas and western heritage with a premier livestock auction, high-quality rodeo, an amazing line up of entertainment and a midway that debuted one of the largest mobile Ferris Wheels in the world.
"Powered by more than 33,000 volunteers, we successfully provided a record number of visitors with a world-class entertainment experience," said Joel Cowley, president/CEO Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. "During the 2017 Show, fans were immersed in one-of-a-kind educational and agricultural exhibits, larger-than-life entertainment, and nightly celebrations of Western heritage during RODEOHOUSTON."
Total attendance for the Houston Stock Show & Rodeo reached a record 2,611,176. The record breaking year started off on the right note - an opening-day record of 47,883. "We had in general, about a 6 percent increase in attendance," he said. "We had great weather, there were only three days of rainy weather during the 20 days. It was outstanding."
This year was the third year of continual increases for the event. "We've had stable growth in 2014, 15, and 16. Each stock show was within about 23,000 of each other."
The paid Rodeo/concert attendance reached 1,370,263, which included RODEOHOUSTON performances that landed on the list of the Show's top 20 paid rodeo/concert attendance records: Go Tejano Day - Banda El Recodo & Siggno - 75,557 and Luke Bryan - 75,033.
The entertainment lineup - a music and rodeo ticket - was "one of the most diverse" for the event said Cowley. "We had classic country and modern country, including Alan Jackson, Brad Paisley, Florida Georgia Line as well as acts outside that typical genre - such as Alicia Keys, and for the first time, an Electronic Dance Music (EDM) act, Smoking Section. "It was a risk for us to have that type of show," he said. "We weren't sure if it would translate to our crowd. But it was a big hit, although we did break some chairs. It was our most diverse year for music."
Music remains a major draw, so mixing up the genres for the concert/rodeo ticket was intentional. The idea was to appeal to the younger audience, especially students on Spring Break. While it may still be a seller's market when it comes to entertainment, booking 2017 actually was easier than previous years. "We were very fortunate this year, we got our first or second choices for every night," he said. "The prices did not go up dramatically, and we were very fortunate with routing and scheduling, and filling that line up was easier this year."
In addition, NRG Stadium had free Wi-Fi, giving it a state-of-the-art connectivity, coupled with a new Vixi 3D board, which allowed for crowd sharing of social media photos and other images. "It gave us another level of engagement," he said.
For the livestock show portion of the event, this increased connectivity and engagement enabled a People's Choice Grand Champion Steer Selection - the audience got to vote for their winners. In another example of the enhanced engagement through the high-tech upgrade of the NRG stadium, the audience got to see a live birth of a foal from a championship mare. "We turned on the spotlight and we saw the birth of a foal, her daughter, and our fans got to name that filly in a contest. We had a great response, and the winning name was Houston Honey."
The newly wired NRG stadiums also meant that for the first time, live streaming of RODEOHOUSTON action was available at rodeohouston.com and FoxSports.com/Southwest throughout the U.S. and Canada.
The attention to enhancing the fairgoer experience Cowley feels is key to maintaining the growth trajectory of the event. Last year the fair implemented a sweeping upgrade of fairgoer amenities - leisure areas, which included more seating, tables and planted grass. The Houston Stock Show & Rodeo also added upgraded portable bathrooms, replacing porto-potties with restroom trailers. A construction fence around the Houston Astrodome, which underwent a renovation, was also removed so the there was an expansion of the grounds, which allowed additional customer areas.
"In my opinion, the guest experience is what is most important and what brings people back," said Cowley. "You look at the improvements we did, which also include more ticket buildings that improved efficiency, we really improved the guest experience."
Not only did the improvements encourage lingering, and more spending at the fair, but the fact it was done helped push up attendance. "I think there was good word of mouth last year about how comfortable people were at the fair. That brought more people here this year."
One incident did mar the event, a shooting incident - more precisely, gunfire was heard - no one was injured, nor apprehended - although a few days later a 17-year-old suspect was arrested for evading arrest in relation to the shooting, according to local news reports. A "Shelter-in-Place" warning was issued as the law enforcement personnel conducted a search, but within an hour an all clear was given and the midway resumed activity, although after several hundred people evacuated on their own volition.
The shots caused what Cowley described as "some chaos," with people reportedly evacuating the grounds in haste. Guns are not permitted on the grounds, and a local news report stated: "HPD [Houston Police Department] officials are confident in the carnival staff's process of inspecting visitors for prohibited weapons and other items."
The day following the incident, the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo tweeted: "HPD has investigated the incident reported at NRG Park Wednesday night and has stated that they have found no weapons, have no suspects in custody and there are no reports of injuries. As a precaution, Show officials instructed people to shelter in place for a short time until officers determined that conditions were safe. We will continue working with HPD, HCSO and Texas DPS to monitor the situation."
According to Cowley, "we evaluated our security, and if a gun did enter the fairgrounds, the most likely place was along one perimeter fence. We added some more lighting in that area, and additional security. There were kids on spring break, and there were a lot of youth that night, some were causing problems, and there was some havoc. But that night was the end of the incident."
The Texas economy has softened, due to rising unemployment and declining fuel prices. "We lost a couple of sponsors because business was not so great," he said. "Our commercial exhibitors were up 6.5 percent, which was positive."
Crowley pointed out the championship auctions "were off a little bit," although the junior auction sales still totaled $15,239,356. "We saw a difference as to where spending occurred. We are such a great value, that people were doing their stay-cation, so even if they are not going on a vacation this year, they still are coming out to the stock show."
The Ray Cammack Shows (RCS) midway featured 78 rides, and saw an increase of 9.3 percent over last year, said Cowley. In addition, the discounted Carnival Packs - which sell for $50 - increased 4.5 percent in sales. Cowley was particularly impressed with the premier of the La Grande XL, "which is the largest portable observatory wheel in North America, and it has air-conditioned gondolas, which were a big hit."
The new Ferris wheel energized the midways and was visible from a far distant. "It's a great partnership RCS/HLSR," said Chris Lopez, Vice President, RCS Inc. "It's also very nice to see the entire community and state get behind and support the event. Our revenue was up. We have seen a trend over the last few years, being up in Houston sets the pace for a successful year throughout. It was like all the stars aligned."
He added, "we had great weather, great community support, one week of spring break." The fair actually started a week later than usual due to the Super Bowl, which was held at NRG stadium, although that did not seem to mar the event for this carnival company. "All those variables made for a successful equation," he said. "We had a very strong pre-sale along with big days on first responders and military days."
The biggest grossing rides were the Skyride, Windstorm, RaveWave, G Force of course the La Grande Wheel XL. Other new rides were: Endeavor, Big Wheel, and Puppy roll.
The top five games were Bank a Ball #1, One Ball, Mini Basketball, Bank a Ball #2 and Tubs.
New foods at the fair included the Bacon Nutella pickle, "which was outstanding. That was the most popular new item. Other new cuisine was Selfie snow-cone, Flaming Hot Cheetos roaster corn and Flaming Hot Cheetos corn in a cup; Nutella funnel cake and Flaming Hot Cheetos pizza. Other favorites at the fair were local vendors, Rancho Burger Barn and Pappasito's Cantina. Fair staples still enticed the Houston crowd - Visitors consumed 47,480 tamales; 38,000 cinnamon rolls; 18,915 barbecue sandwiches; 10,819 sausages on-a-stick; 8,000 funnel cakes; and 3,400 corn dogs - as well as 122 slices of bug pizza. "The bug pizza was new this year, I don't know how popular it was," said Cowley. "People come to the stock show to eat fun foods they only eat once a year."
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