What I Learned At The Rodeo

As one who has had the great fortune of visiting every MLB ballpark and my fair share of other sports venues, I was able to cross a new one off my bucket list the other weekend by attending my first rodeo, deep in the heart of Texas. 

As a sports marketing researcher, one of the greatest aspects of my job is the opportunity that it affords me and my team to better understand the mindset and vantage point of consumers from myriad walks of life and interests. Further, I believe that as “social scientists” our perspectives are broadened by being able to observe and interact with those who don’t spend all of their waking hours thinking about the marketing aspects of sports and who are far from being immersed in the intricacies of our business. Obviously, I’m a huge advocate of marketing research, not just because it is my livelihood, but because it enables all marketers to ground themselves with the proper perspective, beyond intuition and assumption. 

Of course, I’ve already used this space, in the past, to reflect on how one of the first tenets of great sports marketing is understanding and appreciating how our target customers aren’t always like ourselves. But as I watched this small, but entertaining, rodeo unfold in front of me, I couldn’t help but frequently observe and comment to my colleagues about how the event served as a great reinforcement of some of the fundamental lessons that every sports marketer needs to consider when activating around an event. Here’s what I learned:

  • Optimize Sponsor Presence: One of the first things that I pointed out to one of our staff that attended with me, was how this rodeo failed to creatively integrate sponsors into the actual experience. Granted this was a small venue, drawing no more than a few thousand attendees, but signage was relatively static, and absent a couple of sponsor flags that certain riders carried, there was little in the way of integrating sponsors into the events and interludes over the course of our two hours in venue. For an environment that had relatively little clutter, and a relatively engaged crowd, there could have been a prime opportunity to create better connection points.
  • Focus On Family: On the flip side, one thing that was very well done at this rodeo was the ways in which the event organizers involved multiple generations in both the scheduled events and their presentation. Countless studies that our firm has conducted have asserted the necessity for sports marketers to recognize that their events are competing not just with other sports, but the growing proliferation of choices for family entertainment. That two separate rodeo segments allowed kids of various ages to come into the ring and become a part of the event, seemed to resonate with most in attendance, and clearly helped ingratiate these members of the next generation of rodeo fans to the pageantry and challenge of the sport.
  • Provide An Interactive Experience: We are in an age of participatory fandom. So much of what we’ve observed of late, regarding venue renovations and emphasis on the live experience revolves around this great truth of 21st century sports marketing. At the rodeo that we attended, there weren’t table tops with embedded tablets or a strong wifi signal, but there were four separate occasions where portions of the fan base were invited down onto the arena floor or coerced to participate. Couple that with plenty of opportunities to observe horses and livestock adjacent to the grandstands, and you have a great recipe for building engagement and appreciation in ways that can’t be replicated out of the live sports environment. I, for one, now have several photos of steers, saved on my iPhone.
  • Leave Them Wanting More: Building a better knowledge base among more casual fans could have certainly enhanced the experience and ideally grown a better connection between more casual fans, like myself, and the athletes and competitive events. But while this opportunity was missed, the event organizers were clearly aware of the popularity of bull riding relative to some of the other events, by leaving this to the final slot on the program. That there was only one bull rider at this rodeo, and that he was thrown only a few seconds after entering the performance ring, was clearly disappointing. However it did leave me intrigued enough to want to come back.
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