It’s become a running joke on Houston’s TV news. The anchor introduces the weather segment by saying, “It’s rodeo time in Houston, let me guess, it’s going to be cold and rainy tomorrow.”
Have you been outside today, or most any day the past week? Hope you remembered to bring a jacket and umbrella. The high temperature predicted for today is 43 degrees, that’s frigid for us. Once it gets dark, temperatures will dip into the 30s, with a hard freeze predicted for areas in the north. Our afternoon high won’t hit 70 until the weekend.
The 2019 Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo started February 25. So far, there’s been one truly nice warm day. It’s not worry time yet — attendance has been holding firm from last year. But if skies don’t clear and temperatures pick up…
This isn’t about the rodeo or concert parts of the Houston Livestock and Rodeo. They’re held indoors, dry and toasty, under the NRG Stadium roof. Tickets for those events are sold weeks and months in advance. In fact, rapper Cardi B broke the concert attendance record with 75,580 fans. The rodeo is doing a great job.
The problem is, people are parking their cars, bundling up and hustling into the stadium, enjoying the show, and jumping straight back in their cars to leave.
They’re not eating corn dogs on the grounds before the concert, not grabbing a funnel cake on their way out. They’re not riding the ferris wheel, shopping at the cowboy hat store or trying to win a stuffed toy by tossing a ring around a Coke bottle.
Here’s a TV report live from opening night: “Rain, cloudy skies and cool temperatures left the carnival area sparse and rides fair empty.” I went last Thursday night. It felt like “table for one” at the carnival. Even the most popular rides had no lines.
Let's get Frank about a new date
Maybe it’s time to move the time of the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. What if the rodeo ran from mid-March to early April? Would just two weeks delay make a significant difference in the weather? Let’s ask Channel 2 meteorologist Frank Billingsley.
“Yes, definitely. As winter retreats and spring tries to barge in, February and early March tend to be vulnerable to rainy, cold days. Once spring finally takes over, which is mid-March in Houston, we experience average daily highs near 80 with long stretches of blue sky," he says.
"Occasionally spring break can spring a leak, but generally it brings us pretty nice weather. And April tends to be one of our nicest weather months."
Here are the facts: the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo is the reigning biggest, most-attended fair in America. It’s relatively affordable family fun and it’s wonderful. I love the carnival, I eat it up (Editor's note: Literally.).
Last year, 2,408,550 people attended the Rodeo, making it No. 1 by a long shot, by nearly half a million people over the next biggest fair. In second place, just for the record (and grins) is the Texas State Fair in Dallas, with a tick more than 2 million people.
It should be noted that the Texas State Fair is held from late September to mid-October, some of Texas’ best weather months, plus the University of Texas vs. Oklahoma football game thrown in as a bonus. A ticket to the Red River Rivalry in the Cotton Bowl includes admission to the fair. That’s 70,000 football fans added to the fair attendance.
Dallas’ event is scheduled with almost guaranteed good weather, plus a prominent sports event on the grounds, while ours is scheduled with almost guaranteed iffy weather, without a sports event to boost attendance. It’s an unfair fight, and we still clobber the Texas State Fair in attendance.
Obviously, it would take a great deal of negotiations and moving of mountains to shift the rodeo a couple of weeks later. Schedules and performer contracts are set months and years in advance. There would be a unique monkey wrench in considering moving rodeo dates because ranchers have animals to care for, and early spring is calving season.
The Miami example
Let’s look at the schedule of fairs across the U.S. The Miami-Dade County Fair runs from March 15 to April 8. Attendance last year was 437,000 people. That’s less than one-fifth the attendance of the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. Miami’s weather in late February and mid-March is near perfect, bright and sunny, averaging 10 degrees warmer than Houston.
Today’s high in Miami is forecast to be 88 – more than double the warmth of Houston.
The fair season has been set in stone for decades. Trading slots on the calendar would require major cooperation in a killer competitive industry. But the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo is the big dog in the yard. We’re big business. Vendors and venues would do what it takes to keep us. Logistics wouldn’t be that much of a problem. Miami is sort of just around the corner from Houston. Head east on I-10, make a right when you hit I-95, and you’re in Miami. The Miami fair might actually benefit from swapping dates because an earlier start would bring more spring breakers and spring training fans through its gates.
Or, if you really want to play games, let’s switch dates with the Texas State Fair — that will show ‘em who can draw a crowd around here.