By Jim Angell and Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily
Cheyenne Frontier Days, one of the nation’s largest outdoor rodeos, will be canceled for 2020, Gov. Mark Gordon announced Wednesday.
Gordon, during his weekly media briefing, also announced that five other major rodeos in Wyoming will not be held this year, largely due to the difficulties in maintaining the events while observing social distancing requirements.
“This coronavirus thing sucks,” Gordon said. “There are no two ways about it.”
Gordon was joined in his briefing by officials from Frontier Days, the Thermopolis Cowboy Rendezvous, Central Wyoming Fair and Rodeo, Cody Stampede, Sheridan Wyo Rodeo and Laramie Jubilee Days.
Gordon said the officials had worked with his office for six weeks to determine if there was a way the large events could be held while guarding against transmission of the coronavirus. He stressed the decision to close was not made by the state, but by the rodeo officials.
Officials determined while the rodeos themselves could take place, related activities such as concerts parades, street dances and beer gardens could not, Gordon said.
“Holding these events without the night shows, parades and carnivals just wouldn’t be the same,” he said. “Simply having these (rodeos) doesn’t guarantee that people will come or if they do that they won’t get sick afterwards.”
Tom Hirsig, president and CEO for Cheyenne Frontier Days acting as a spokesman for all the rodeos, said other factors also figured into the decision of the major rodeos to cancel their events, including the health of the volunteers who handle much of the labor of running the events.
“Many of our volunteers are part of that at-risk population or have family members that are part of that population,” he said. “Risking their health is something we are not willing to do.”
Also of concern was the possibility that people could be infected with the coronavirus while attending the events, Hirsig said.
“One of the worst things we could do is to cause our state to go backwards in the recovery process,” he said.
Given the uncertainty surrounding the events, everyone agreed it made sense to cancel the large rodeos, Gordon said.
“To proceed in these uncertain times would be touch and go at best and could quite possibly compromise the events’ ability to hold a rodeo next year,” he said. “A bad experience could do enormous harm to Wyoming and these events’ reputations.”
At the same time as Gordon’s announcement, CFD posted a notice on its website, confirming the cancellation and updating fans about ticket sales. The Thomas Rhett, Eric Church and Blake Shelton concerts will be rescheduled and included in the 2021 night show lineup.
Rodeo and PBR bull riding tickets will automatically roll over to the 2021 season.
The cancellation of Cheyenne Frontier Days is the first for the celebration since it was created in 1897.
According to a Frontier Days report, the 142,000 attendees to the event in 2018 spent $21.7 million in Cheyenne, so the economic impact of the move on the city is expected to be significant.
In a news release issued by CFD on Wednesday afternoon, it stated visitors spent over $28 million, generating over $1 million in local and state taxes, more than $5 million in overnight lodging and almost $9 million for retail businesses.
Darren Rudloff, former Visit Cheyenne CEO and tourism consultant with Rudloff Solutions, agreed with the governor and Hirsig that Wednesday was a tough day for both Cheyenne and Wyoming.
“The committee discussed every option, including an event where there were no fans in attendance,” Rudloff said. “But once you begin to pick off pieces of a rodeo and Western celebration, what do you have left? These events are core to Wyoming’s culture, identity and heritage. This wasn’t a flippant decision at all.”
Frontier Days began in 1897 as a one-day festival showcasing the skills of working cowboys. It has since grown to a 10-day event featuring rodeo performances, concerts by top country music acts and a carnival, in addition to related activities such as parades and pancake breakfasts.
Though largely run by a volunteer workforce, the event also creates 302 full- and part-time jobs, resulting in $5 million in wages and salaries.