Auburn’s Wild West Stampede rodeo canceled

Organizer cites declining attendance, sponsorships
By: Amy Lobenberg, Journal Staff Writer
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Auburn lost a piece of its Western heritage and tradition this week, as the Wild West Stampede rodeo has been shut down.

Declining attendance, sponsorships and revenue forced the heartbreaking decision to end the event that’s been a tradition in town since the early 1980s, said Wild West Stampede board member and president Betty Estep.

Within the last week, four of the five rodeo board members resigned after the event lost two more of its sponsors, Estep said Wednesday.

After realizing she was on her own, Estep decided that the 2014 Wild West Stampede would need to be canceled and took to the event’s Facebook page to break the bad news.

Estep has been involved with the rodeo since 2001 and said the decision was a difficult one.

“You have to have five board members,” said Estep. “I went out to try to put a team of five together to take over, but people just don’t like to make that type of commitment. It’s a huge production. This is professional, and it’s very different compared to amateur. It’s a lot to learn and it’s a huge budget.”

Estep went on to explain that over the past five years, the rodeo lost about 50 percent of its sponsorship and incurred additional costs from its host, the Gold Country Fairgrounds, which is also struggling economically.

The $19,000 fee to use the fairgrounds, the $42,000 fee for the stock contractor, the loss of sponsorships and occasional low attendance left no room for the event to generate substantial income, said Estep. She also noted that professional rodeos do not make money from rider fees.

With the steep increase in costs and declining revenue, she said, the rodeo probably lasted longer than it should have.

 “Everything goes up, and you can’t make any income,” said Estep. “We tried everything.

We did everything that we could, and we did make it when we shouldn’t have made it. It’s pretty depressing because I did not want it to end on my watch.”

According to Estep, rodeos have been taking place in Auburn since 1932. This year’s event had been scheduled for April 27-28.

Fairgrounds CEO Laurie Johnson said the Fairgrounds had been trying to help out the rodeo, but could do only so much.

“We’ve worked to try to make it financially possible,” said Johnson. “Because of their rodeo dates in April, it seems like every other year or so they have rainy weather, which affects attendance, which prevents them from raising the necessary funds for the next year.

“They need a lot of large sponsors and can’t always rely on attendance. It brought a lot of people to the fairgrounds. It was a major activity in the community. I hope they are able to come back next year.”

David Harrison, general sales manager of Magnussen’s Dodge-Chrysler-Jeep in Auburn, was surprised when he heard the news Wednesday. The car dealership had been a long-time sponsor of the event.

“Magnussen’s has been a sponsor for over 15 years,” said Harrison. “We look forward to the event every year. They have done such a good job for so long, and it’s such a loss for the community.”

The Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association worked in conjunction with the Wild West Stampede and provided the event with some of its national sponsors. PRCA spokesman Jim Bainbridge said that competing in the Auburn rodeo gave riders points toward the All American ProRodeo Series. He was disappointed when he got the news of the cancellation.

“I saw that Auburn had been canceled, and they have been around forever,” said Bainbridge. “You hate to see a rodeo that has been around so long and has such great tradition drop out. We hope to see a group or committee step up and get it going again.”

Estep said that although she may not be involved in future endeavors, she is hopeful that the rodeo will once again ride back into Auburn.

“I’m through,” said Estep. “I’m exhausted. I take a week off from my regular job and work (the rodeo). No matter how hard you try to keep the tradition going, sometimes you just can’t. I have confidence that somebody will pick it up and put on something.”