WYO Rodeo board president Billy Craft drove to Nebraska to pick up a load of irrigation pipe, his next destination was Cheyenne to stand beside the representatives from five other rodeo boards as they jointly announced the most difficult decision they had faced as members.
The decision – to cancel the six largest rodeos across the state, including the WYO Rodeo in Sheridan – had been made a week and a half prior to the press conference on May 27. The toughest part, Craft said, was keeping that secret until the boards could jointly announce the cancellation. To add salt to the wound, this year is the 90th anniversary of the WYO Rodeo.
That decision carries a $6 million impact on Craft’s adopted home of Sheridan and the surrounding communities – an impact that Craft and his fellow WYO rodeo board members have thought about for months.
“We worked for five to six weeks on this. We were trying to gather information from as many different directions as we could. We were not alone,” Craft said. “We had the county health department helping us, the Wyoming Department of Health, the governor’s office was helping us, the PRCA (Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association) and Wyoming Travel and Tourism.”
Cheyenne Frontier Days Chief Executive Officer – Tom Hirsig – formed a group of Wyoming rodeo boards to share the most up-to-date information.
“That was instrumental in helping us gather information on a wider scale,” Craft said. “And look at far more data and everything in trying to make this decision.”
The rodeo boards had questions to consider: Would the WYO Rodeo cause an increase in COVID-19 cases? Would that cause another, more severe, shut down in the state? Would it bring COVID-19 to Wyoming from other states? Would it lead to the death of a rodeo attendee(s)?
“This is not something we took lightly,” Craft said.
Options were considered, WYO Rodeo Board Vice President Zane Garstad said.
“We tried to look at every angle that we could,” Garstad said. “And it just didn’t work out.”
Reducing crowd size and ensuring social distancing in the grandstands was discussed, but that meant the removal of the parade, the lack of a carnival and other events that would not be present.
WYO Rodeo is more than just a rodeo, Craft said. It’s about talking to neighbors, sharing the experience with families that have sat in the same seats at the rodeo, in some cases, for generations. The WYO Rodeo is and has always been about community, Craft said.
On top of that, COVID-19 restrictions left many small businesses in Sheridan feeling a financial crunch.
Garstad, who was in charge of sponsorships, couldn’t imagine having to ask small businesses in Sheridan for sponsorship money only to have a small percentage of rodeo goers see the sponsorship banners, he said.
The WYO Rodeo board also consulted with the Sheridan County Health Department as well as county and city officials.
“They are focused on the right thing,” Craft said. That focus is the health and safety of the residents of Sheridan County, Craft said.
With support from officials and Sheridan County Commission Chairman Nick Siddle, who was instrumental in aiding the board, the board made the tough decisions to cancel the event, Craft said.
Various rodeo boards from across the state felt similar, Craft said, and the decision was made to cancel the events for the 2020 year.
In a unified voice, the announcement came on May 27. Members from each of Wyoming’s big six rodeos met in Cheyenne to stand with Gov. Mark Gordon and deliver the message as a united group. It was a better strategy to announce the cancellation of the six largest rodeos in Wyoming together, Craft said.
“This whole thing is brutal,” Craft said. “And I want to specify that this was not the governor’s choice. This was a collective effort, (of the rodeo boards). This was a painful, emotional decision that had to be made and it was tearing the governor up.”
The Sheridan WYO Rodeo uses Etix, a web based ticketing service that automatically refunded credit card purchases. The board was also able to provide refunds to many ticket holders who paid using cash or check. Some residents chose to donate the money from their tickets back to the board, Garstad said.
“Graciously, there are people who did that,” Garstad said.
The board has now shifted focus to next year’s Sheridan WYO Rodeo with new events and a 90th anniversary celebration during the WYO Rodeo’s 91st year, Craft said.
If you have purchased tickets and have yet to be refunded, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
It is the “absolute priority” that people get their money back, Garstad said.