Many Changes Will Greet Fans This Year
by Ray Newton
Who would have believed that what started as a “cowboy tournament” on the Fourth of July 134 years ago would turn into the World’s Oldest Rodeo®?
This year, it will attract thousands to the Prescott area for what promises to be a new and exciting experience for contestants and fans.
All that will happen largely because of the creative leadership of Jim Dewey Brown, who will complete his second year as general manager of event this year.
Brown, who came to Prescott from his prior role as director of the Socorro New Mexico Rodeo and Sports Complex, told Prescott LIVING that shifting some directions for the coming rodeo season “has been one of the biggest challenges I have had in my professional career. I’m fortunate to have such a supportive board of directors who understand the consequences of what has happened because of the pandemic during the past two years.
“They are firm in wanting to keep the traditions and heritage of the past, yet they recognize the realities of competing for market position in this rapidly changing technological era.”
Indeed, changes in just the past decade in sponsoring events intended to attract a highly mobile — and sometimes fickle — audience compel event management to rethink strategies. That’s what Brown, the rodeo board and the hundreds of volunteers have been doing these past few months.
All those involved with Prescott Frontier Days®, the sponsoring organization for the World’s Oldest Rodeo® and related events, are quick to acknowledge that rodeos are now “big business” throughout the United States.
Rodeo has become a multimillion-dollar enterprise that sees more than 800 amateur and professional competitions in all 50 states.
The primitive rodeo arenas from even just 50 years ago have in some places been replaced by architecturally designed and carefully planned stadiums that can accommodate thousands of fans, sometimes in air-conditioned comfort.
That’s not quite true in Prescott, where the World’s Oldest Rodeo® is still using the same location — Prescott Rodeo Grounds — as it did when it moved there in 1913 and had competitors as renowned as Tom Mix and attendance by celebrities like Will Rogers.
Brown tells of the major changes occurring at the rodeo grounds — expansion of facilities throughout the grandstands, new restrooms and replacement of the exterior rodeo fences and entry and exit areas. He also describes the changes in events and the increase in prize money.
Brown is no stranger to Prescott. His father was a Prescott native who later moved to Las Vegas, where Jim was born. He later lived briefly on a ranch in Seligman. He began competing in professional rodeos in 1997 and continued until 2007.
“The World’s Oldest Rodeo© is now considered one of the best in the country. I’m proud to be a part of it.”Jim Dewey Brown
Jim made a point of competing in Prescott’s rodeo all those years. He won the saddle bronc riding title in 1999 and again in 2003. Since then, he visited the rodeo to assist with some of the timed events and in 2016 he served as a flankman.
In 2002, Brown became the coach for the New Mexico State University rodeo team. In 2007, he received the National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association “Coach of the Year” award. He had that job from 2002 until 2015. He then also directed the Socorro Rodeo and Sports Complex until the COVID-19 pandemic forced its closure.
In January, Brown accepted the position of Commissioner for the National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association (NIRA), which has its headquarters in Walla Walla, Washington. He says that role will give him the opportunity to expand even further the visibility of Prescott Frontier Days and encourage collegiate rodeo contestants to come to Prescott.
Jim riding at the National Circuit Finals in 2004
Brown was praised by the past NIRA Commissioner Roger Walters, who said, “Jim Dewey is very personable and very organized and driven. He wants everything to be the best.”Here, Brown shares his thoughts about the new directions Prescott Frontier Days® and the World’s Oldest Rodeo® are taking.
‘Major Changes Ahead in 2022’
—Jim Dewey Brown Q&A
Welcome to Prescott. You’ve been here slightly more than a year. How has that year been to you?
Jim Dewey Brown: It’s been pretty awesome. There are some shakeups here and there, but it’s growing pains. That’s how it usually is when there’s change.
Was everything as you thought it would be?
Jim Dewey Brown: It’s pretty much right on course with taking a new job and bringing new ideas. It’s kind of what you expect as far as when you do something like this.
Is it a different environment from where you were in New Mexico?
Jim Dewey Brown: Not really. We — rodeo — are a pretty tightknit community. But as far as the size of rodeo, yeah, it’s definitely bigger than what I’ve dealt with in the past as far as pro rodeos go. What I was doing, they were little $1,000 added rodeos. So, it was definitely small potatoes compared to the World’s Oldest Rodeo®. I think the biggest thing is the infrastructure; just trying to make it a little more seamless and user-friendly.
Tell us a little about your family. You have a daughter, Elise. What does she do now?
Jim Dewey Brown: She’s punching cows. Her boyfriend runs a 1,800-cow outfit in Geary, Oklahoma.
Do you and your wife enjoy Prescott?
Jim Dewey Brown: My wife Jody Martinelli, one of Kirsten Vold’s best friends since high school – who also set us up on a blind date back in 2014 — loves the area and everything about it. This is one of the friendliest and most supportive towns we’ve ever lived in.
You had a successful rodeo year even with the pandemic last year. Were you content with it?
Jim Dewey Brown: Yeah. I think it was great, nearly seven sellouts. It wasn’t a record. There were probably 32,000 attendees. Of course, it’s kind of apples and oranges now because we didn’t have the skybox. But I’m happy with nearly seven sellouts. We definitely did have a record number of cowboys here. So that was good.
How does the World’s Oldest Rodeo® compare to other rodeos around the country as far as participation of cowboys and visibility?
Jim Dewey Brown: I think all over the country, it was up last year, even after the pandemic hit. Rodeos were shutting down left and right. And there’s still some that are suffering, didn’t make it back in 2021. I hope that changes in 2022.
But as far as participation and crowd and attendance, I think it will be up all across the nation. We saw a record attendance at the College National Finals. People were ready to get out of the house and ready to do something and go back to their roots.
Why is rodeo so successful?
Jim Dewey Brown: I think there’s still that romantic view of the American cowboy and the American West because it’s the last frontier. Have a devil-may-care attitude? It’s all there; that’s rodeo. It’s kind of a macho sport. Who’s the toughest and who’s going to do the best?
Did you find that same kind of attitude in New Mexico?
Jim Dewey Brown: With rodeos? Oh yeah. It’s all the same everywhere. You have that friendly competition. The attitude is the same. Also, it’s a lot of the same cowboys. They’re coming here, they’re going there. They’re going anywhere they can make money.
Tell us what you will do differently in 2022.
Jim Dewey Brown: Well, the rodeo grounds and arena are getting a face lift. We’ll have an almost brand-new facility.
This winter we tore out everything, cleaned it up. And it will be safe for our animal participants. We are getting rid of the old animal enclosures and putting in a new set to give this arena more bucking chutes. We’re actually adding two more, so there’ll be 10 altogether.
And then we’re adding two mutton-busting chutes, which is something new that we’re going to try this year. For those who don’t know, mutton-busting is an event for young children to stay on the back of a sheep for as long as possible.
So, we’ll be doing that kind of a pre-rodeo at a few of the performances. We haven’t locked down how many we’re going to do, but it’s looking like about three nights that we’ll have mutton-busting right before the rodeo starts.
How much money are you spending on upgrading the rodeo grounds?
Jim Dewey Brown: It’s nearly half a million dollars on the pens and another $600,000 on the restrooms.
So that’s more than $1 million in expansion and upgrading. And that presumes that construction prices stay reasonable, and that you got a supply chain that brings you the materials?
Jim Dewey Brown: Yeah, exactly.
What are you doing about parking?
Jim Dewey Brown: Parking is always going to be an issue here because we can’t grow any more land.
OK. What about in the stadium? What are you doing?
Jim Dewey Brown: The thing that we’re working on, which won’t likely be finished for 2022 unfortunately, is restrooms on the east end. They’ll be a two-story setup. We should be breaking ground before the rodeo. It just won’t be totally finished.
What about food?
Jim Dewey Brown: There will be some new vendors here and there. Much depends on who shows up and which ones get accepted. They need to take care of their business and apply in advance to be a vendor.
You’ll have a unique event — screening a movie?
Jim Dewey Brown: On Monday, June 27, we have the kickoff party. We’ll do that first. The kickoff party folks are rodeo production staff and contract personnel. Those folks will already be in.
We are going to screen the award-winning rodeo movie Junior Bonner. It’ll be kind of the kickoff of the 50th anniversary for the movie, which was filmed in Prescott. Once we start that, we’ll close the gates. When it’s done, we’ll open them back up. I don’t know the precise timing yet.
Another new thing that you’re going to see is — or I guess you’re going to hear — Randy Corley’s been our announcer for years and years. At a lot of big rodeos, management is shifting to this co-announcer format because of the number of sponsors involved and the number of events that they have. By the time an announcer gets to the fifth, sixth or seventh performance, he’s tapped out. We need to keep our positive relationship with our sponsors.
So I talked to Randy about hiring a co-announcer. He was like, “Yeah, when do we start?”
So, Randy is tickled about it. You’ll be hearing a new voice. He is actually going to come in, do some Facebook live stuff and some of the radio commercials. So folks will be meeting him in a roundabout way.
His name is James Horcasitas.
Are you going to be able to do anything about the traffic around the rodeo grounds?
Jim Dewey Brown: The traffic is a challenge. We know that won’t change. However, something that’ll be new this year is — and we are working on this like tirelessly —we have reserved Mile High Middle School Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday for an event.
We’re still working on what we’re going to call it. It will be kind of like a downtown rodeo experience. So on those days that we sell out normally, we’ll have vendors downtown. We’ll have a big screen there and rent another big screen so we can stream the rodeo down there as well. It’s fantastic.
That’s a big change.
Jim Dewey Brown: That’s huge. And there are still lot of details we’ve got to work out, but we do have that location secured. As soon as the rodeo parade’s over, if folks don’t have a ticket to the rodeo, they can go there. Ticket sales are already solid. We’ve sold over $145,000 worth of tickets so far. We have a variety of ticket prices. So my advice — “rodeo fans, just find one that fits your budget.”
Also there is something else new. I changed the sponsor package. We’re trying to free up some of the box seating because those have never been available for the public. We’re trying to get that done.
And then there’s also something else that we’re trying to do. I wouldn’t call it a VIP experience, but more of a unique rodeo experience, up on a deck so they can watch the rodeo from there. We want to bring some cowboys up there where they can sign autographs or just mingle and toss back a Coors or whatever.
This means that “Everyday Joe and Jane” can get in, whereas in the past, it’s just been limited to sponsors. We’ve got to do better with our fans and give them more opportunities to be engaged with the rodeo, with the cowboys and with the experience central to it.
How do you market the rodeo? Do you do it mainly regionally or throughout the Southwest?
Jim Dewey Brown: It’s more than statewide. Being the World’s Oldest Rodeo®, we have a national and worldwide following. There are folks who come from other countries. Germany loves us. They’re coming to see the rodeo. I haven’t looked at what other countries and what states have bought tickets, but yeah, they’re from everywhere.
Do you use social media and other online venues?
Jim Dewey Brown: Yep, which we’ve beefed up.
How many contestants do you expect?
Jim Dewey Brown: We had 686 last year and that didn’t include the wild horse race or the cow punchers.
I’m looking at that or more this coming year, more because we’re going to have more in the breakaway roping. We limited it before to just eight girls this last year, but we’re opening it up. It’s full on. They’re going to be just like everybody else. So, that’ll be four more.
Where do the contestants come from?
Jim Dewey Brown: Everywhere. We have a lot from Texas, Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, California, Washington, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona.
What other changes do readers need to be aware of?
Jim Dewey Brown: We used to be a called a tour rodeo. Now we’re an NFR open series rodeo, I think. PRCA (the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association) rebranded the tour system.
I don’t know enough about it, but we now have the NFR, National Finals Rodeo. We also have the NFR Open, which used to be the RAM National Circuit Finals.
We had the tour, the pro-rodeo tour. Now it’s an NFR playoff series rodeo. And then they’ll have an NFR playoff. And what happens after that, the finale, after that, I don’t yet know. It’ll be kind of like bowl games basically.
How many will there now be?
Jim Dewey Brown: There’s 30, 40, something like that. And Prescott is one of them.
That’s pretty good when there’s more than 700 rodeos in the country. And you’re going to be one of 30 or 40. That’s a tribute to Prescott. Wow.
Jim Dewey Brown: Being one of those rodeos, our entries are limited, it’s basically 80% world, 20% circuit. So 80% of the entries in a single event are top cowboys, whatever the number is. And then the 20% is reserved for just our circuit cowboys, which is the top set of those guys. There’s usually quite a bit of overlap. We have a good circuit. It limits the number of rookies and permit guys that can get in this rodeo. It’s pretty tough competition. But with the added money, we’re requiring a step upward in competition.
So prizes are going to be up?
Jim Dewey Brown: Yes. We increased the prize money from our sponsors. The majority of them are local. They want to be a part of this rodeo and part of the history of Prescott. We do have some national ones, too.
How long does the typical cowboy contestant stay in town?
Jim Dewey Brown: Day or two. It’s a tough time of the year for rodeo cowboys, because there are probably 60 to 80 rodeos during that week’s timeframe.
They’re in Colorado. Utah? Wyoming? Oklahoma and Texas? All over the map?
Jim Dewey Brown: They’re everywhere. And those don’t even count the amateur ones going on.
When you were professionally rodeoing, did you ever get any sleep?
Jim Dewey Brown: (laughing) While driving. You sleep with one eye opened.
Tell us — how big of a rodeo staff do you have?
Jim Dewey Brown: Seven professionals, counting me.
How many volunteers?
Jim Dewey Brown: There’s about 200 to 300 standing members of Prescott Frontier Days. But then our volunteers swell during the rodeo to 400, 500, 600 folks.
You got bartenders, you got parking folks, ticket ushers, ticket takers and program sales. And then we’ve got folks loading cattle and sorting, derigging, shoveling. It takes the whole team to do this. And there’s a lot of them.
And you get a lot of people here in town who just love it.
Jim Dewey Brown: It’s great. And we can always use more.
You recently accepted a new opportunity. You’re now the commissioner for the National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association (NIRA). What do you do?
Jim Dewey Brown: It’s basically the same thing as here. It’s the general manager, the CEO of college rodeo. We’ve got about 3,500 student athletes in college rodeo. I don’t know what the exact number is these days, but it’s like 120 member schools. There are 11 regions in college rodeo.
What’s your role?
Jim Dewey Brown: I make sure we attract national sponsors, run the college national finals, make sure that’s going on schedule and make sure the kids have every opportunity to compete. But students have to do their due diligence, and they have every opportunity to get an education, too.
Does this mean you’re going to be traveling nationally?
Jim Dewey Brown: That’s the fun part, I guess, of this job. I have to go to one rodeo in each region, a different rodeo in each region every year. So that’s 11 rodeos. And I need to go to Casper, Wyoming once a month for the local committee, CNFR committee meetings. And that’s just one day.
So it’s lots of traveling. Lots of flying. But this was something that I had set my sights on 20 years ago. It just happened to be odd timing. The Prescott Frontier Days® job opening came before that NIRA did, but PFD is glad I have it because it’s a gateway to the future World’s Oldest Rodeo® contestants.
Is rodeo growing in numbers and popularity?
Jim Dewey Brown: I think so. It’s peaks and valleys. You’re going to see it every year. Much depends on which association you’re talking about. Obviously, we’re growing compared to last year because there were few rodeos to go to. Obviously, this year’s going to look great.
The World’s Oldest Rodeo® is now considered one of the best in the country. I’m proud to be a part of it.