Rodeo sports have come a long way since their birth and have remained popular in the U.S., not just in rural and Western areas, but as family entertainment events in large cities east of the Mississippi River. Professional events draw large crowds, and youth participation has seen steady growth, with the National High School Rodeo Association (NHSRA) reporting about 12,000 members this year. The NHSRA produces two of the largest rodeos in the world: The National High School Finals Rodeo (NHSFR) and the National Junior High Finals Rodeo (NJHFR). Both finals rodeos are comprised of the top four athletes in each rodeo event qualifying from 43 U.S. states, five Canadian provinces, Australia and Mexico.
Rodeo requires a large multi-purpose venue with open space, lots of seating and outbuildings to accommodate large animals in a manner consistent with animal welfare rules. For the NHSRA’s events, organizers look for several factors.
“Two important venue requirements are enough camping spots and horse stalls, with upwards of 1,200 camp spots being utilized during the NHSFR and 1,900 stalls,” Chanel Schvaneveldt, Outreach and Development Director for the NHSRA, told Sports Destination Management. “A venue with four arenas is also vital, as the NHSFR has a timed-event arena, rough stock arena, cutting horse arena and reined cow horse arena.”
Following are some venues with strong traditions and ample facilities for supporting rodeo events for all age groups.
Campbell County, Wyoming
Campbell County in the northeast of Wyoming is the state’s third most populous county. Its county seat of Gillette, as well as nearby Wright, are home to a variety of rodeo events, including barrel races, cutting, a Building Champions Rodeo School, PRCA-sanctioned rodeo, a steer wrestling clinic, roping schools and stock dog trials
The Wyoming Center at the CAM-PLEX, a 9,000-seat arena located at the CAM-PLEX Multi-Event Facilities just east of Gillette, was completed in 2008. The center, which offers 68,500 square feet of open floor space on the main level and 54,000 square feet on a mezzanine level, hosts many events, including the National High School Finals Rodeo. It’s unique in that it was built for rodeo.
“The building was built specifically for equestrian and bovine events,” said Mary Silvernell, executive director of the Campbell County CVB.
“This is a top facility and is well liked by all participants. It’s a facility that can adapt to any event, and we have had 4-H shooting events, concerts and many other town-sponsored events held there.”
Some of the larger events include the New Year’s Eve Buck and Ball, which attracts about 4,000 people; and the Horse Nations Indian Relay Races, which attracts about 3,500. In the future, the CAM-PLEX will host the 2020 Wyoming State High School Rodeo Finals, the 2022 and 2023 National High School Finals, and the 2028 and 2029 National Junior High Finals.
Nearby Wright is home to the Southern Campbell County Agricultural Complex (SCCAC), a state-of-the-art multi-use indoor and outdoor event arena located on 88 acres. It includes an outdoor rodeo arena with an elevated announcer’s booth, arena lighting, 16 12,000-square-foot long-term boarding pens for animals, and associated utilities. There is also a 64,350-square-foot indoor arena with seating, concessions, restrooms and office space.
Gillette offers after-hours activities including dining, bowling, the Wright Centennial Museum as well as shopping. The local CVB has assisted rodeo events in the past, arranging hotel and campground room blocks as well as booking assistance.
Deschutes Fair & Expo, Redmond, Oregon
Deschutes Fair & Expo has a rich history in rodeo and has been awarded the NPRA Rodeo of the year award for over 18 years. It has hosted both youth and professional events, including Pee Wee Rodeo for youth, high school rodeo teams, the Columbia River Pro Rodeo Association, the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association, and the National Pro Rodeo, and it’s currently the home of the High Desert Stampede Rodeo. The Elite Rodeo Association premiered their rodeo at Deschutes Fair & Expo in 2016 to a record-breaking crowd.
“Our annual Deschutes Fair & Rodeo just celebrated our centennial with 100 years of rodeo,” said Roxia Thornton Todoroff, director of sales and marketing for Deschutes County Fair & Expo Center. “Rodeo not only attracts the talented athletes and performers, but has a huge spectator following and fills both our outdoor Juniper Arena grandstands as well as our indoor First Interstate Bank Center arena. Each performance attracts up to 4,000 spectators.”
Deschutes Fair & Expo’s team understands the science of rodeo, from footing needed for the perfect arena to full rodeo-ready arena pens, panels, roping chutes and bucking chutes. The contestants that participate as well as the rodeo stock athletes are the best in the Northwest and many of the world champions from the Wrangler National Rodeo Finals call Oregon and the Northwest home.
The onsite team at Deschutes Fair & Expo provides a variety of services to event planners, including setup of both the rodeo venue and all the additional production needs such as a customized rodeo arena, locations of all livestock pens, chutes, VIP arena seating, VIP rooms, media rooms, pre- and post-activities locations for meet and greet, athlete autograph signings and post-rodeo party celebrations and dances.
Missouri State Fair, Sedalia, Missouri
The Missouri State Fairgrounds is a century-old institution, but it remains a vital part of Missouri. Once, the City of Sedalia was an important railhead for the massive cattle drives, and it remains a destination spot for many travelers, including rodeo participants and enthusiasts. The Fairgrounds is a regular host to the National Federation of Professional Bullriders (NFPB) and the Missouri Rodeo Cowboy Association (MRCA).
During the annual Missouri State Fair, the MRCA’s Show-Me State Stampede & Rodeo is held during the fair’s first weekend, and the bull riding competition happens during the fair’s final weekend. During the offseason, the NFPB returns to the Fairgrounds for one weekend in February and in early December for its Finals. The MRCA also returns for one weekend in February.
The facility has two venues: State Fair Arena is used during the fair itself and can seat 2,500 fans outside. The Mathewson Exhibition Center is indoor and can seat 3,200 spectators.
“Sedalia’s location plays a vital role, as we are almost in the center of the country and the state,” said Courtney Fry, concessions/off-season events manager for Missouri State Fair. “Sedalia also has deep roots with livestock and was part of the route during the 1895 cattle drive. We have close to 400 permanent stalls, cattle barns and nearby warm-up arenas and easy access to campgrounds.”
The Missouri State Fairgrounds’ west-central Missouri location puts it in an ideal spot for exploring some of mid-America’s favorite destinations, many of which are within a comfortable drive, including Kansas City, St. Louis and Lake of the Ozarks with its 1,100 miles of shoreline for sporting and family activities.
Snohomish County, Washington
Snohomish County hosts a variety of rodeo events each year, primarily at the Evergreen State Fairgrounds as well as its indoor Evergreen Equestrian Park. The Evergreen State Fair Rodeo is held each year in late summer and features three nights of evening rodeo events, including team roping, calf roping, bull riding and barrel racing. There are events for both adults and youth participants.
Evergreen Equestrian Park hosts 28 events each year, with several of them attracting thousands of spectators. In 2019, the Rodeo at the Evergreen State Fair drew 5,000 people and 200 participants.
In addition to the State Fair, the fairgrounds has also hosted the Buzz Inn Hell on Hooves Rough Stock Rodeo, a two-night event produced by Wild West Events, Inc. that features bareback riding, saddle bronc riding, bull riding, barrel racing, bull poker, mutton busting and Mexican dancing horses.
“Snohomish County has a strong culture in supporting rodeo/equestrian,” said Tammy Dunn, executive director of the Snohomish County Sports Commission. “We have 4-H programs and 28 equestrian events and rodeos which occur at the Evergreen State Fairgrounds. We have many horse ranches as well as equestrian clubs.” SDM