Hanging on for the eight-second buzzer has taken on new meaning for many who make their livelihoods in rodeo.
“We’ve been involved in rodeo for 35 years and there’s never been anything like this,” said C+ Rodeos rough stock contractor manager Roy Call on COVID-19’s impacts on the sport since March of 2020. “We’re the same as a lot of other businesses. It’s been catastrophic.”
Normally at this time of year, Call would be preparing his bucking bulls and horses for the BC Rodeo Association kickoff event at the Williams Lake Indoor Rodeo in April. The BCRA’s first scheduled event in 2021 is listed as the Anahim Lake Stampede from July 9-10.
And while other rodeo scheduling announcements have started trickling in, such as the Quesnel Rodeo Club’s two, single-day rodeos held on consecutive days planned for late May, mid July and Mid August, Call said the company and others invested in the rodeo industry need to continue to find creative ways to weather the storm financially.
“The biggest thing now is flexibility is going to be everything,” Call said. “We’re used to having approval a year before an event. That’s not going to happen. For 2021 you might have to work on 30 days notice, and then there could be a (COVID-19) flare up in a community that changes everything overnight.”
He credited the work of Quesnel Rodeo Club president Ray Jasper for coming up with the idea to run a spectator-free, financially viable rodeo.
“He came up with that idea last October,” Call said. “It’s almost like a pay-to-play event where the budget is based on no fans and driven by contestant money and sponsor money, so we may need to see more of those in the future. We know we’re not going to see fans or spectators until July 1 at the very earliest.”
To help offset revenue loss from rodeos, C+ Rodeos has been hauling cattle this spring. They’ve also taken advantage of an animal care facility initiative grant.
“There’s not a lot we can do,” he said. “You still have to run the ranch every day, you’re still feeding cattle and fixing fences. It’s not like you can go out and get another job.”
To keep their bucking stock busy, Call said they’ve hosted a few small events at the C+ Rodeos ranch since the pandemic began.
“We have all these young bulls and horses we still have to use,” he said. “And we’ll plan to have a few more of those little convention deals at the ranch.”
While some other stock contractors he knows opted to sell off some of their inventory, Call said they’ve been able to keep 90 per cent of what they had pre-pandemic.
“We assume when rodeo comes back we will come back to a full season, and you will need to have that stock,” he said. “We’ve done everything we can to maintain our cows, young bulls and horses.”
And while he’s optimistic about the future, Call said 2021 could result in another 60- to 70-per cent loss in revenue before things turn around.
“Everyone’s going to have to suck that up for a year and work together to keep rodeo alive and relevant so people still see it,” he said. “And we’re not alone. The CFL, the NFL, other sports. We’re just like all of them.”
Questions about what the talent level of competitors will look like following the pandemic also create some concerns, Call noted.
“There’s nothing to shoot for right now,” he said. “You’re not practising to get better. It’s different when you can say: ‘I’m going to the rodeo in Quesnel or in Williams Lake,’ but there’s nothing right now.”
Call said the rules and regulations moving forward don’t need to be perfect — they just need to have some idea of what things will look like for the sport.
“I’m literally bored to tears,” Call said of no rodeo events to travel to.
“But we’re happy to see the wheels turning on some events. Drayton Valley is going to go at the end of August. Smithers is going to go. So we’re going to have work. But how much and when?”
Most of the top-10 Canadian professional cowboys in bareback, bronc riding and bull riding have been competing in the U.S. during the pandemic. As long as the border remains closed, Canadian pro rodeos could see 30 per cent of its U.S.-based contestants vanish.
“It’s a little frustrating,” Call said. “The governments are making an honest effort to keep people safe, fed and alive but at the end of the day you need some leadership to say here’s the reopening plan.”
The C+ Rodeos arena will open toward the end of April, with a few tentative events planned. They could host a small event with spectators at a later date should provincial health restrictions continue to loosen.
The Williams Lake Stampede Association is still looking at ways it can host a modified event in 2021.
“Everyone’s going to scramble for another full year,” Call said. “There will be events, they’re going to be small and they’re going to be short notice. But it’s what we’re going to have to do to survive.”