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Rodeo packs economic jolt

Web Posted: 02/08/2007 11:48 PM CST

William Pack
Express-News business writer

Some retailers see it as a second Christmas.

The 58th San Antonio Stock Show & Rodeo, which is into the ninth day of its 17-day run at the AT&T Center, is primarily about raising money for educational endeavors that strengthen the agricultural industry, said veteran banker and longtime rodeo official Tom Frost.

But it also honors the area's agrarian roots, keeps rodeoing healthy and pumps a lot of money into the local economy.

"It's a big deal dollar-wise," said Frost, vice chairman of the board of the nonprofit organization that puts on the rodeo.

At Paris Hatters on Broadway, the jump in revenue leading up to and during the rodeo may reach 60 percent, said owner Abe Cortez.

Terry Cooper, marketing director for Cavender's Boot City, said his stores generate 20 percent to 25 percent more revenue when the rodeo's in town.

"It's probably kind of like Christmas," said George Harris at Harris Western Center in Lytle.

But precisely how much effect the rodeo has on the local economy hasn't been calculated. Steve Nivin, chief economist for the San Antonio Economic Development department, said an initial evaluation showed out-of-town visitors spent nearly $46 million on rodeo-related activities last year. But that doesn't include how much local rodeo visitors spent or any multiplier effect that counts how money recirculates through the economy.

Rodeo officials estimate the total annual economic impact exceeds $100 million. Officials are crunching numbers to develop a better estimate, but considering the numbers produced by rodeos of similar size, $100 million may be conservative.

The Fort Worth Stock Show & Rodeo, which just ended, also believes its performances generate more than $100 million for the local economy, based on studies that show about a third of the rodeo visitors come from out of town.

The Fort Worth rodeo set an attendance record last year with 955,800 visitors. That's about 198,000 fewer than attended the San Antonio rodeo.

The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo is larger than San Antonio's with more than 1.7 million visitors in 2005, its most recent economic impact analysis. That study estimated a $344 millioneconomic impact for the Houston area, which includes $210.5 million from "new money" impact, or spending by nonresidents that otherwise would not have circulated in the local economy.

Scott Nagel, president of Birchhill Enterprises, an analysis firm that is updating economic numbers for Fiesta officials, said special events get their biggest boost from spending by nonresidents.

Each event's impact is unique, Nagel said, because each draws differing levels of out-of-towners. In addition, the income level of the visitors varies from event to event.

"A NASCAR race draws a different crowd from an arts festival," Nagel said. He has yet to assess the economic punch of a rodeo.

The 10-day Fiesta celebration in San Antonio produces $254 million in revenue, according to a 2002 study, said Fiesta San Antonio Commission spokeswoman Anne Cannon. She said the event draws 3 million to 3.5 million people a year, although some who visit several events may be counted more than once. About 20 percent of the visitors are believed to be out-of-towners.

The San Antonio rodeo broke attendance records in 2006 with a total that approached 1.2 million people. Officials said surveys showed that more than 22 percent of the visitors stayed in a hotel and 43 percent spent between $101 and $500. Another 44 percent spent less than $100 and 9 percent spent $501 to $1,000.

County Judge Nelson Wolff said the rodeo's impact is significant, although a precise dollar figure would require more study. He agreed Fiesta is the community's top-drawing annual event, but "the rodeo would be right behind that."

"It certainly brings in a lot of people from around the state and Mexico," Wolff said.

Hotel operators said their business has jumped because of the rodeo, though not tremendously.

At the Holiday Inn Express Rivercenter on East Commerce, occupancy has increased the most on weekends when big-name entertainers are performing at the rodeo, said Jesus Rivera, general manager. Still, he said more guests "are heading west" toward the River Walk and downtown rather than east toward the rodeo.

The less tangible economic benefits of the rodeo include the boost it provides agriculture through competitions and scholarships that keep top students involved in the industry.

Rodeo officials say more than 3,000 students have benefited from its fund since the first scholarships were offered in 1984. Last year, scholarships, auction payments to junior livestock winners and other proceeds were part of a $7.2 million contribution to education.

Officials hope to add another $1 million in scholarships this year, said Glen Alan Phillips, the rodeo's assistant executive director.

"Kids work real hard at this," said Robin Reed, who this week helped her ninth-grade daughter Amanda mind the first animal she's had judged at a show. "Our daughter wants to be an animal geneticist. This is like the start of her future."

The rodeo, which features two televised shows this year, also helps promote the city as a tourist center and is a popular event with local residents, many of whom have attended since their youth.

"It's hard to tell how it compares to things like the Alamo Bowl and Fiesta, but all of these things together are what make San Antonio an interesting place to come to," said Jorge Gonzalez, a Trinity University economist.

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