What's better that a rodeo coming to Facebook? If Facebook also comes to the rodeo. A highlight of the 2017 Fort Worth Stock Show & Rodeo was a high-profile visit paid by - Mark Zuckerberg, CEO & Founder of Facebook.
The social media tycoon was joined by Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price and other local leaders, for a tour of the entire event and even attended a Bull's Night Out rodeo show. The press reported that Zuckerberg admitted this was his "first rodeo," and was photographed petting a baby calf. Zuckerberg was in town to visit Facebook's massive data center, a 2.5-million-square-foot complex that is said to create nearly 1,000 jobs in the Forth Worth area.
It was reported that Zuckerberg posted on Facebook about his rodeo experience, in particular the rodeo contestants. "Professional cowboys live an intense life..." the billionaire wrote on Facebook.
A videographer accompanied the multibillionaire during his visit, bringing positive attention and publicity to the Fort Worth Stock Show & Rodeo. Security reasons prevented any pre-visit promotion, "it kind of just fell in our lab, but it was blast to have him here," said Matt Brockman, Publicity Manager, Fort Worth Stock Show & Rodeo. "We had very high security, but he was very gracious and conscientious guest, and very inquisitive."
Prime Time Promotions
However incidentally, the Zuckerberg visit dovetailed with the fair's 2017 marketing theme, "Welcome to Prime Time," which Brockman said was developed "in house," and succeeded mainly due to connections with the word Prime - "prime beef, prime cattle," for example. Welcome to Prime Time was emphasized through television commercials and other media.
Social media was expanded this year with more "video postings and contests." For the stock show's Mobile App, which Brockman described as "relatively, new." The fair developed "a fun and engaging trivia contest, which was also light hearted," he said. The intent being to grow the event's main draw - the rodeo.
Asking if rodeo popularity is growing is actually the wrong question to pose. Brockman points out that the Fort Worth area has seen a population growth spurt. Like many cities, there's been an influx of millennials and young professionals and while attending rodeos, stock shows or even fairs may not necessarily be high priority, but once embedded in Texas, they "immerse themselves in the cowboy culture," he said. "There's a vibrant social aspect of coming to the stock show, and it is certainly affordable, and they enjoy the rodeo, see performances and enjoy some food."
Through the years, organizers and stake holders have also made sure the rodeo itself is as well produced as any other sporting event. "Our rodeo has a very traditional feel, but it is also high tech, with banners and streamers, yet we utilize instant replay and have interesting camera angles. Fort Worth is known for having one of the best rodeos in the country, and people know that so we get a lot of tourists who come to town to see this sport, just like someone might go to Boston to see the Red Sox play, they don't have to be a baseball fan."
Marketing the Welcome to Prime Time theme - especially on social media, reaching millennials and younger families - leveraged with new collaborations with the Fort Worth CVB and Chamber of Commerce, which increased the stock show's audience reach while augmenting their social media presence. In addition, the Fort Worth Stock Show & Rodeo also was featured in music streaming services, such as Pandora.
The advertising budget and the media allocation remained relatively unchanged from the 2016 event, although there was a shift towards more digital without decreasing their news print presence. "We were able to increase our digital advertising through their sites," he said.
Print still pays an important role in a crucial segment of the stock show - in horses and livestock publications. "We place ads in the industry trade publications, mainly in the cattle and equine print publications."
The Fort Worth Stock Show & Rodeo saw slight attendance dip, mainly attributable to weather and some downturns in the Texas economy. Attendance hovered around 1.2 million for the 23-day event, a decline of about 3 percent from the year before, and while weather may have dampened the annual stock show, one of the first fairs of the year, the Fort Worth traditions of remained strong.
"Weather played a factor this year, we had some rainy days, but we had a pretty good fair," said Brockman. "You can get some thunderstorms and dreary days, but on the flip side, we saw some very mild days. You can get some rough weather in January and February, so you do not want to get your expectations too high. I would say our expectations were met. We did not set any record attendance days, but we tied some on a couple of days."
Texas seemed resistant to the recession and the often sluggish recovery that followed, but with the drop in fuel prices negatively impacting many sectors of the energy industry, the Texas economy has lost some of its vim and vigor. Brockman pointed out that due to increased business diversity, Forth Worth has withstood some of the worst aspects of the recent downswing. "There is uncertainty, but the Fort Worth economy is more diverse than other parts of the economy," said Brockman. "There are other industries, like technology and transportation, so the economy here has remained resilient, and compared to last year, it has picked up."
A sign that that the regional economy may be faring better than the state as a whole is that the sponsorship program at the event was strong. "We've retained most of our major sponsorships," said Brockman. "People were still coming to us late into December looking for sponsorships."
"It wasn't the best stock show but it wasn't the worst," said Mary Talley of Talley Amusements. "We got rained out the first weekend, but you can get colder weather in January in Texas and we didn't get close to that, so that is good."
Talley Amusements celebrated its 15th year as the midway provider at the Fort Worth Stock Show & Rodeo, and is the first fair of the year for them, signaling the start of this carnival company's season. It's also as Talley describes, "our hometown, so it is a very important show for us. We are very proud of our midway at the Fort Worth show."
The midway featured 50 rides (the carnival company had a 48-ride midway in 2016), and gave Talley Amusements the opportunity to debut The Beast, which Talley said was a brand new KMG Fireball that the company re-themed. The biggest grossing rides for Talley Amusements were the Century Wheel and Fast Track Slide. "People come to the midway, it's a weather driven event," she said. "I'm looking forward to this season, we have a new President and I think the economy in Texas will start getting better and people will be spending more money again. All we need is good weather. The weather is always a factor."
Beer & Barbecue
All food concessions at the Fort Worth Stock Show & Rodeo are operated by Coburn's Catering Service, which according to Steve Coburn, is celebrating its 72nd year in business. The company operates 50 points of sales, which includes 12 subcontractors. Without hesitation, the biggest sellers and mainstay food items at this event are "beer and barbecue, that's what sells the most every year," said Coburn. The Texas styled barbecue here is slow smoked (15-18 hours) brisket. "We use Nolan Ryan brisket, it is always a good seller."
He mentioned that the Nolan Ryan Hot Dog is also a major brand. Ryan, a Hall-of-fame major league pitcher, is a Texas native and currently owner of the Houston Astros.
Coburn said that his company contracts with Mc Kinney Food Services, and said that many of the concessions featured typical fair cuisine - corn dogs, funnel cakes, pizza, and "huge burritos." "The McKinney family does a great job and they sell a lot of the staples," he said.
A local favorite was Stubby's Cinnamon Rolls by Stoney Humphries, a Fort Worth-based vendor that is an annual feature of the event's food concessions. "He always had a line," added Coburn.
Coburn pointed out that out that he brings in some local vendors. For instance, this year he convinced a Fort Worth Italian restaurant to have a stand. "The owner was hesitant at first," he said. "A vendor might not make a lot of money at the Stock Show, but it always brings in new customers to their local location. The local restaurant was very pleased with the business that followed after the show. There was a baker who made specialized cakes, and his cake orders were up for his Fort Worth store on Valentines Day."
The other benefit of the local vendors is the media appeal. "The media always wants to do stories about fair food," said Coburn. "And they like the local vendors to be in those stories."