Rodeo: Days of '47 seeking jump-start with return to ESA
Only 10 miles separate EnergySolutions Arena and the Maverik Center.
Days of '47 Rodeo leaders are betting, however, that the short move back to downtown Salt Lake City after a four-year experiment in West Valley will re-energize the signature sporting event of Utah's annual Pioneer Days celebration.
"We're trying to get back to our roots," said Kim Gardner, the Days of '47 Rodeo chairman.
According to Gardner, the decision to "centralize" the Days of '47 gives the rodeo an improved chance to become a "destination" for fans and competitors.
"We're following the model that has worked in other cities," Gardner said.
In 2009, former rodeo chairman Brad Harmon moved the Days of '47 to the Maverik Center, partly because of logistics.
There was more room around the arena to care for the stock needed to produce a weeklong rodeo. Competitors also had easy access to the facilities, which is located just off I-215.
Rather than navigating through downtown, participants could pull off the freeway, compete and quickly be on the road again headed to their next rodeo.
"I'm not going to criticize the Maverik Center," Gardner said. "It's a fine facility. But the problem they were having out there was a lack fans and sponsors. ... [The rodeo] drifted in and out of people's consciousness."
Last summer, Gardner says the Days of '47 drew a total of "about 15,000" paying fans, although announced attendance figures were higher.
"I just felt, if we brought it back downtown and got the business community behind it, we could grow the rodeo again," he said.
Maverik Center general manager Kevin Bruder told The Tribune on Wednesday that the loss of the Days of '47 resulted from a scheduling conflict.
A concert by the pop group One Direction is scheduled for the arena July 25 one night after the rodeo's traditional final performance. Despite negotiations with the Days of '47 committee to change some dates or even move up the starting time of the final performance an agreement could not be reached.
"We just could not get the arena turned in time," said Bruder.
Another factor in the move, perhaps, was the uncertainty surrounding the Days of '47 rodeo committee just as the negotiations with the Maverik Center started.
Arena officials committed to the One Direction Concert in early 2012 about the time Harmon was fired as the long-time Days of '47 Rodeo chairman.
Later, the Days of '47 committee sued Harmon to recover assets it claimed he took from it. The suit was settled out of court, although Harmon is still facing criminal fraud charges. Harmon did not return telephone calls seeking comment for this story.
Bruder did not dispute Gardner's claim that rodeo attendance dropped during the four years at the Maverik Center but added, "Brad seemed happy with how we were doing things out here. â¦
"We felt, operationally, that it was a wonderful set-up for the [rodeo] committee and the cowboys. Of course there are advantages of being downtown. But we felt there were some unique advantages out there, too."
The bottom line?
"We would love to hold the rodeo again," Bruder said.
Meanwhile, plans for this year's Days of '47 Rodeo call for a carnival-like celebration inside and outside EnergySolutions Arena, including a Saturday night concert by popular country and western group Lonestar.
Participants will also notice a difference, Gardner said. About 500 contestants are expected to compete in the five-night rodeo, which starts Friday and runs through July 24 (except Sunday).
Along with the jump in the number of cowboys and cowgirls who have entered, the purse money has been increased from about $120,000 to almost $200,000, according to rodeo director Dan Shaw.
Unlike recent years, when the Days of '47 offered roughly the same prize money as neighboring rodeos in Ogden and Spanish Fork, the increased purse should help improve the quality of competition.
In addition, Gardner says the Diamond G. Rodeo Company has promised to supply some of its top stock to the Days of '47, adding to the quality of the product being offered to the public.
"We've gone to great lengths to make this happen," Gardner said. "â¦ We have the Chamber of Commerce behind it. We have Gov. [Gary] Herbert behind it. We're trying very hard to make this a good show."
Utah's three major rodeos being held during the annual Pioneer Days celebration:
Days of '47 Rodeo
When • July 19, 20, 22, 23, 24
Where • Energy-Solutions Arena
Time • 6:30 p.m.
Tickets • ESA box office, Smith's Tix
Fiesta Days Rodeo, Spanish Fork
When • July 20, 22, 23, 24
Where • Utah County Fairgrounds, 475 S. Main
Time • 8 p.m.
Ticket information • 801-804-4666
Ogden Pioneer Days Rodeo
When • July 19, 20, 22, 23, 24
Where • Pioneer Stadium, 668 17th Street
Time • 7:30 p.m.
Tickets • Smith's Tix, Pioneer Days office, Pioneer Stadium ticket office