For the first time in nearly a decade for La Fiesta de los Vaqueros, it will no longer have to share top billing.
With the defection of the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship from its home of nine years, the Tucson Rodeo won’t have to compete with it for fans and coverage in late February or early March.
When the 91st version of the celebration kicks off next year, it will dominate the local sports landscape — along with Arizona basketball, of course — as it has longed to do since professional golf came to town.
“The main impact the golf tournament had on us was not so much with respect to attendance — two different demographics — but we noticed it a lot with respect to media coverage,” Tucson Rodeo general manager Gary Williams said. “That media coverage is so important in terms of getting the message out there. That’s hugely important to us.”
Now, professional golf isn’t leaving the area entirely — the PGA Tour announced last week that a Champions Tour event was coming to town next year — but the event will take place in mid-March next year, keeping the two big events from sharing the marquee.
Not that the rodeo’s attendance was affected much: the 2014 Tucson Rodeo was one of its best ever.
“It didn’t hurt us this past year. We had maybe our best year in history, and that was on top of match play,” Williams said. “I felt sorry for the people of Tucson who wanted to do both but had to make a decision. Golf fans are golf fans, and rodeo fans are rodeo fans, for the most part. So in that respect, I don’t think we hurt each other too much.”
Williams said the rodeo relies on some of the loyalty it’s built up from competitors and fans alike, which has helped it survive the lean times.
“It’s been that way since 1925 when the Tucson Rodeo started,” Williams said. “The Tucson Rodeo was started to help expand the tourist season. Our economy depended upon that for many years, but the bedrock support are the people of this community. We would not have lasted 90 years if we had not gotten that support.
“Without Tucson in our corner, this rodeo would not be what it is today.”
Still, Williams feels for the community, which has seemingly lost major sporting events annually over the past few years.
“As a native Tucsonan, I’m really sick and tired of losing events,” he said. “That’s just sad in our opinion. But I’m really happy to see they’re bringing the seniors in. I think that’ll be a better draw for them, anyway.”