Oakley Rodeo hits the big time
Thursday night, the Oakley Rodeo welcomed the biggest visitor they have ever had into the arena. This was no steer wrestler, not even a bull. This Fourth of July weekend, the Oakley Rodeo officially hit the big time by introducing a Jumbotron into the four-day event for the first time.
Already one of the state’s larger rodeos with 500 cowboys and cowgirls, nearly 6,000 spectators per night and a reputation so far-reaching that it outsells the Independence Day rodeos held in the big cities of Salt Lake and Ogden, Oakley Rodeo Chairman Gerald Young knew he was making the right decision to bring in the new technology. With instant replays and shots of normally obscured views into the chutes, the Jumbotron will both entertain and educate the crowd and give the event a cutting-edge feel.
"You try to do something better every year," Young said.
Young, who has been with the Oakley Rodeo for 60 years, became interested in the 38-foot high screen after seeing it at the Cowboy Convention in Las Vegas in December. After a lot of hard work to secure extra sponsorship, the behemoth piece of visual equipment finally rolled into town on Thursday. Fresh from a Toby Keith concert, the I-Mag Company of Nashville, Tennessee brought with the screen to Oakley where they erected it on hydraulics. The 20 foot by 27-foot screen also brought with it an entire production crew cameramen, producers, production assistants and others from Zoli TV of Colorado Springs, Colo.
"It’s the new technology for rodeos that everybody’s doing now," said Kyle Fishlock, a cameraman for Zoli TV.
But even without all the staff and set-up, Young felt confident in his decision.
He’s not the only one that is excited to see the rodeo taking the next step forward.
"It’s not the norm in rodeo. It helps us get more publicity, so we can get more fans," said steer wrestler Rod Lyman of Victor, Mont., a 16-time Wrangler National Finals Rodeo (NFR) qualifier.
"It’s really something that I wish all rodeo committees could do. Its a great asset."
The new technology rounds out the Oakley Rodeo that already specializes in small-town hospitality and big-time success.
Besides Lyman, many of the other top professional competitors in the country will spend at least one night at the Oakley arena. With rodeos being a patriotic tradition in small and large cities across America, cowboys and cowgirls may make as many as nine rodeo appearances in five different states between now and the Fourth to capitalize on the publicity and earning potential of the week.
"This is a big time for us to try and make a living," Lyman said, who could earn anywhere from $1,000 to $10,000 for winning a competition at one of the different rodeos in the region.
It’s also a great opportunity for newer pros to make an appearance on one of professional rodeo’s larger stages. Eighteen-year-old Lena Floyd of Beaumont, Texas just turned pro in January and made her Utah debut Thursday night.
"We couldn’t believe we were in Utah when we came in yesterday," said Floyd who is currently in second place for the title of "Rookie of the Year" in barrel racing.
Oakley is a popular stop on many competitors’ agendas, because of the large crowds and the quality of the event.
Lyman will only be in Oakley one night as he flies to as many Western towns as he can before Tuesday, but he is happy he made the stop.
"It’s always been a wonderful rodeo and the new facility is so accommodating," Lyman said.
Fellow steer wrestler Les Shepperson of Northern Wyoming agreed.
"It’s the hospitality. Everybody is real friendly and tries to help you," Shepperson said.
He also praised the fact that the rodeo does not come out of the taxpayer’s pocket and employs a mostly volunteer staff.
He’ll be back later in the month for the Days of ’47 Rodeo and others.
"Utah is a fun state to rodeo," Lyman said. "We look forward to coming to them."
Young ensures that the cowboys and cowgirls, many of whom are on the road all summer long, are well-fed and cared for while they are in Oakley and treated with the professionalism and respect of an elite athlete.
"Some of these are the top hands," Young said. "It’s all business with them."
It’s also "all business" for the town of Oakley, which will benefit with numerous athletes and fans alike flocking to the small community. It’s also an opportunity for businesses, both big and small, which sponsor the rodeo, to expose themselves to consumers from all over the West.
Nobody knows that better than Chris Williams, an Ogden native, who travels to at least 500 rodeos all over the country for the Oakley Rodeo’s title sponsor, Dodge. The extended event allows him to display his trucks as he drives barrels in and out of the arena and disperses sweepstakes tickets to spectators to win a Dodge Mega-Cab with dual wheels at the National Rodeo Finals in December.
Perhaps the biggest business, though, is the rodeo itself. According to Young, the Oakley Rodeo also has a larger payout than other Utah rodeos, awarding $150,000 in prize money among the seven disciplines — barrels, barebacks, saddle broncs, steer wrestling, calf roping, team roping and bull riding.
The public may witness the battle for the big bucks at 71st annual Oakley Rodeo and July 4th Celebration, which began Friday and will host rodeos on July 1, 3 and 4 at 8 p.m. nightly. Most nights are already sold out. Check http://www.oakleycity.com/rodeo/rodeohome.htm for details and ticket information.
"You just have to come and see it," said Young.
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