14 Nov, 2018By: Michael Popke
For a Prime Rodeo Destination, Farming and Cowboy Legacy is as Important as Good Venues
Rodeo venues can be found all over the United States — even in places where you might not expect them, including places like Sedalia, Missouri, located almost smack-dab in the middle of the country and home to the Missouri State Fair.
“Sedalia loves rodeo and bull riding, and the people here really support the guys who literally put their lives on the line to compete,” says Courtney Fry, events manager for the Missouri State Fair, which stages three nights of rodeo and two nights of bull riding every August during the fair. “Sedalia started as a cow town and was part of the route during the cattle drive of 1895. There are still a lot of cattle ranchers in the area, and rodeo riders can relate to them.”
A community’s local roots play a significant role in its rodeo success. Just ask sports tourism officials in the destinations profiled in this article.
Back at the Missouri State Fairgrounds, an outdoor arena with bleacher seating for 2,500 fans hosts the Missouri Rodeo Cowboys Association Show-Me State Stampede & Rodeo during the fair’s first weekend. A bull riding competition fills the fair’s final weekend.
During the winter, long after the smells and sounds of a Midwestern state fair fade, the onsite Mathewson Exhibition Center hosts the National Finals for the National Federation of Professional Bull Riders. And every February, the indoor venue welcomes more NFPB bull riding and the Annual Pro Rodeo.
The Mathewson Exhibition Center offers chairback seats that accommodate up to 3,200 spectators, and members of the community get involved with sponsorship and volunteer opportunities, Fry says.
While the venue also hosts a wide variety of non-rodeo events, there’s room for more. “We’re always open to bringing in new faces, especially ones who are willing to take a risk on coming to a state not necessarily known for rodeo,” Fry says. “We’re ready and able.”
In 1993, the governor of Texas declared Mesquite the official “Rodeo Capital of Texas,” thanks in large part to the Mesquite Championship Rodeo Arena. Located 15 minutes east of downtown Dallas, the air-conditioned arena is home of the Mesquite Championship Rodeo, which spans 13 consecutive Saturdays — typically from early June to late August — and offers such events as saddle bronc riding, steer wrestling, bareback riding, team roping, barrel racing, tie-down roping and bull riding.
The arena opened in 1986 and is equipped with dozens of luxury suites, the 8-Second Club and BBQ Pavilion, high-definition videoboards and an entertainment area. In addition to the Mesquite Championship Rodeo series, the venue welcomes so-called “Hispanic rodeos,” including Jaripeos (a form of bull riding) and “Coleaderos” (steer trailing), according to Jessica McClellan, manager of the Mesquite Convention & Visitors Bureau.
Other recent events at the arena included the International Gay Rodeo Finals, the Cowboys of Color National Finals Rodeo and the inaugural Bull Ride Express. The Hip Hop Cowboy Spring Rodeo happens in March, and the venue also is available for private rodeos and other events.
“Our rodeo is more of a true Western style than something tourists might see somewhere else,” McClellan says. “Mesquite is a small town, and things here feel less planned or manufactured.”
Monroe-West Monroe, Louisiana
The Monroe-West Monroe region is home to a pair of rodeo venues. While the Monroe Civic Center hosts the annual Bayou Black Open Rodeo every summer, the area’s primary rodeo facility is West Monroe’s Ike Hamilton Expo Center — or “The Ike,” as locals call it. The facility boasts seven acres under one roof and hosts events like team roping, cutting and barrel racing (as well as concerts and remote-controlled car races).
The climate-controlled main arena seats 2,900 spectators, and the site is equipped with 510 stalls, 180 RV slots, pens and warm-up areas, 200 cattle ties and 1,500 parking spaces. Four hotels are located across the street.
One of the most recent rodeo events at The Ike was the United States Team Penning Association’s World Championship Series of Team Penning & Ranch Sorting, which kicked off the 2018 season there in February and then returned for the World Championship Finals in late October and early November. The finals will be held at The Ike through 2020.
“The longevity of that one is what really makes it appealing to us,” says Scott Bruscato, senior vice president of sales for the Monroe-West Monroe Convention and Visitors Bureau. “What The Ike has done is open up a whole new world of possibilities for us. We’ve been pretty versatile, and we have a lot of repeat customers. I think that speaks volumes about what the Ike can do. People want to be here year after year.”
The Deschutes County region in central Oregon is home to several champion rodeo riders, and many of them compete at the Deschutes County Fair Rodeo — a perpetual Northwest Professional Rodeo Association’s “Regional Rodeo of the Year” that will celebrate its 100th birthday in 2019. As part of the largest county fair in the state of Oregon, the four-day rodeo attracts some of the best riders in the country, not to mention 12,000 fans every night.
“You get into the top tier of competition based on the amount of money you win over the year,” says Dan Despotopulos, director of the Deschutes County Fair & Expo Center, referring to the type of cowboys the rodeo attracts. “We have larger purses because of the size of our facility and spectator base, so we bring in better cowboys.”
The 132-acre publicly owned site opened in 1999 and features nearly 200,000 square feet of flexible indoor space, a 95,000-square-foot barn complex, 400 horse stalls, three arenas and more than 75 acres of lawns. As a result, the complex can host everything from rodeo and equestrian events (about 40 per year, according to Despotopulos) to wrestling and basketball tournaments. Additionally, facility officials keep 3,000 cubic yards of dirt onsite. An RV park with 106 sites and parking for 8,000 motor homes encourages extended-stay events.
In August 2018, the Cascades Futurity and Aged Event debuted at the venue, attracting 600 participants from the United States, Canada and Mexico over 10 days.
As with the other rodeo destinations highlighted here, the setting of the Deschutes County Fair & Expo Center adds to the authenticity of the events it hosts. “We’re very rural,” says Roxia Thornton Todoroff, sales and marketing director for the venue. “We have wide-open spaces with a lot of ranches. We also have a phenomenal rodeo grounds. People love coming here because of the location and the facility.” SDM