Curt Johnson, Spooner Rodeo Arena Director for forty-plus years, and Dick Fankhauser, head of the rodeo for over thirty-five years, often meet for coffee in the morning to talk about old times. Much of the time, although is spent talking about the rodeo, what still needs to be done, what's been done, and how things are going.
Last year there was little to discuss, thanks to the virus. There was no rodeo, no grand rodeo parade, no after-show entertainment. Nothing. Everything had been canceled.
This year the rodeo is entirely back on July 8 to 10, celebrating 67 years of cowboys, clowns, horses, and bulls with all 5,600 seats available, no masks required.
But what about last year? Were there consequences to an empty arena?
The most obvious would be the rodeo committee. A great deal of money passes through their hands during June and July. It's not only the income from ticket sales they handle but the entry fees from the cowboys are included, which can be anywhere between $90 and $200 depending on the event. Multiply the ticket cash with the events, bull riding, calf roping, steer roping, barrel racing, etc., and that's quite a bit of money.
Officially there are an even dozen that qualify for each event each night. Even though the rodeo is a three-day venue, contestants can only participate once. Many cowboys leave immediately after the performance to go to another of the 50 rodeos in the Professional Rodeo Cowboy Association (PRCA) circuit. Spooner is in the circuit that operates in a nine-state area under the banner of the Great Lakes Circuit.
There are several more circuits throughout the United States, Texas having its own circuit due to the unbridled interest in all things rodeo.
Few people realize that up to 92 riders can show up to perform for barrel racing, and over 50 come for the calf or steer roping. Sadly all but a dozen will be in the actual rodeo. When the initial 12 have a reserved spot, the others do their riding to an empty arena on Thursday or Friday morning. Then they leave, never having ridden in front of an audience, but their time has been officially recorded. This comes under the heading of "slack."
After all the performances are over, money for the winners is directly deposited in the contestant's accounts, so there is no need for anyone to stay to get their checks. Cowboys and gals are free to hurry onto the next rodeo, all chasing what can be some serious money.
According to Dick, some of these guys make some serious money in just a year. The PRCA website proves it with current stats logging in the individual cowboy's income.
Each December, the National Rodeo finals held in Las Vegas pays qualified contestants to come to the event with a check for $10 000. Some contestants make up to a million dollars a year. Not counting entry fees, travel expenses, or medical bills. No wonder it's a sport that mainly attracts the 18 to 38-year-old set.
With 50 performances available in the local circuit that ranges from Kentucky to Michigan and Minnesota and all states in between, rodeo takes up a great deal of time during the summer. So when all the rodeos cancel due to the worldwide pandemic, what's a cowboy to do?
When there's no rodeo, what's a local civic group to do without the influx of cash the rodeo sales always provided? Now their hands are tied for doing good work. Many have had to cut some of their valuable programs.
How about all the well-paid announcers with nothing to announce?
Or the stock companies? They still have to feed their bulls, horses, and other animals.
Or the specialty acts that are sometimes the biggest rodeo draws?
Or the motels, the restaurants, and the retail stores that see a considerable uptick in their business thanks to the rodeo?
Believe it or not, there are actually out-of-town people attending all three performances each year in the reserved seats? Think how much they must spend.
Everyone involved with the rodeo took a sizable financial loss last year.
But as far as the Spooner Rodeo is concerned, it's back to doing business this year.
One change you may, or may not notice, will be the absence of Tombstone Pizza as a sponsor. After a long and happy relationship, the ma and pa business was sold several times. Now it's owned by a company in Europe, so good-bye Tombstone and welcome Bernatello's Pizza. They are a company based in Maple Lake, Minnesota, since 1995. Home of the Lotsa Motsa pizza.
Rodeo brochures are out all over Spooner, and tickets are going fast. Naturally, the rodeo committee is honoring the 2020 ticket holders first, so the sooner you buy your ticket at the information center in Spooner, the better.
This year reserved seats are going for $24/adults and $12/kids. General admission is $20 /adults and $10/kids. There are special prices for the 3-day general admission and for the Coca-Cola Family Night. For more information or to purchase tickets, either stop at the information office or go to spoonerrodeo.com and do it all online.
Soon the excitement will be back, and the crowds will once again gather. The smell of cotton candy and popcorn will fill the air, and young men will nervously mount a huge bull in the shoot waiting for the gate to open.
The Spooner Rodeo is back, so let the thrills begin!