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story.lead_photo.caption Thomas Pittman replaces the stadium seating numbers at Parsons Stadium to get the stadium ready for the 74th Rodeo of the Ozarks. The rodeo is Wednesday through Saturday. The rodeo still has openings for youth ages 4-12 to participate in the pre-rodeo activities of mutton bustin', goat scramble and calf scramble and online registration is available at This year they also offer the ability to purchase tickets online and print them at home. - Photo by Spencer Tirey

SPRINGDALE -- The Rodeo of the Ozarks wouldn't happen without local sponsors spurring the riders on, said Rick Culver, executive director of the annual event.

Top cowboys of the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association will be at Parsons Stadium this week to compete in one of the association's top outdoor rodeos.

Rodeo of the Ozarks

When: 7:30 p.m. June 27-30

Where: Parsons Stadiums in Springdale

Tickets: $7-$38

Good to Know: Rodeo parades will take travel down Emma Avenue at 3 p.m. Wednesday and Saturday. There will be fireworks after the rodeo Saturday.

Source: Staff report

The Springdale Benevolent Amusement Association is the nonprofit group that presents the rodeo each year. Culver estimated the organization runs on an annual budget of about $500,000.

The rodeo's board of directors depends on sponsors for financial support.

Sponsorships help pay the prize money to the cowboys for each event -- $10,000 for each of seven events. Another helps pay $60,000 for the rodeo association's top stock contractor, Stace Smith of Malakoff, Texas, to bring his animals to Springdale.

"And that's before selling any tickets," said Steve Smith, a member of the rodeo's board of directors. "Without our sponsors, there would be an effect on the quality of the rodeo."

Sponsorship contributions range from $3,800 to $4,500 put up by nearly 50 local companies, Culver said.

Rodeo directors expressed concern this spring when it appeared one of the major sponsors, Tyson Foods, would not renew its commitment.

"Because our sponsorship has sometimes gone to an online system, and there's been some transition there, our sponsorship of the Rodeo of the Ozarks just kind of fell through the cracks," Derek Burleson said last week. "We will be sponsoring the rodeo this year and moving forward."

"Tyson has been part of the rodeo since way back when," said Tex Holt, a 30-plus-year member of the rodeo's board of directors. "And so many people who worked there have always been good to us. I can't imagine over these 74 years that we wouldn't be where we are today without Tyson."

Tyson Foods has been a sponsor of the rodeo since its inception in the 1940s. The company's founder, John Tyson, served many years on the rodeo board, said Pat Hutter, rodeo president and daughter of one of the rodeo's founders, Thurman "Shorty" Parsons. "And his son Don kind of liked it, too," Hutter said.

"If not for sponsors, we would not pay all our bills. The rodeo couldn't survive without them," Holt said. "Most of what we collect is pure expense of putting on the rodeo. We need a little help."

The rodeo is not a money-maker. The benevolent association, doing business as the rodeo, recorded a $200,000 deficit on its 2016 tax forms.

The Springdale Benevolent Foundation owns the rodeo and the grounds and rents them to the association. The foundation is the 501(c)3 fundraising arm supporting the rodeo, much like the Razorback Foundation supports University of Arkansas athletics. Sponsorships, which are considered donations, are made to the Benevolent Foundation, which turns the money over to the association.

To determine the bottom line, both organizations must be considered together, Culver said. The foundation listed net assets of $705,050 for 2016, according to its 990 tax form.

"The finances of the rodeo are the best they've been in years," Steve Smith said, and Culver agreed.

"We still have some debt to retire from upgrading the west side bleachers 10 years ago," Culver said. "Aluminum, steel and roofing are very expensive. But now that debt is very manageable, and we've paid ahead on it."

Culver reported 22,000 in attendance at the 2017 rodeo, compared with 20,000 in 2016. Ticket sales reached $279,218 last year, compared with $236,339 in 2016.

The 650 rodeos put on each year across the country by the Professional Rodeo Cowboy Association attract crowds, said Justin Shaw, the association's media director. "The NFL and Major League Baseball have stuff off the field bringing their fan base down. But our biggest rodeos are selling out."

Shaw shared a 2017 Nielsen Scarborough report that recorded 43.7 million people identifying as rodeo fans -- up about 20 percent from 2016.

"The Rodeo of the Ozarks is just for entertainment," Culver said. "Money that's not spent putting on the show is put into scholarships and keeping the grounds running."

The benevolent association organizes only two other events during the year to raise money: the Ozark Demolition Derby in the fall and spring. The spring event sold out, and people were turned away, Culver said. The arena can seat 10,000, according to the rodeo's website.

The association also rents out the facilities. Sponsors of monster truck rallies, concerts, carnivals -- even the annual Professional Bull Riders competition -- rent the arena. And rodeo board members are always looking for other events, such as a minor league soccer team.

The Rodeo Community Center is rented nearly every weekend for flea markets, meetings, family reunions and quinceaneras. The foundation allows some other nonprofit programs to use the grounds for free, such as the junior and high school rodeo associations and organizations giving away school supplies in August.

The foundation unveiled a vision in 2016 of a $15 million renovation. The work would include utility and drainage upgrades; paving parking lots; new concession stands, ticket booths and restrooms; upgrading and covering the east side bleachers; and ultimately covering the arena.

The vision remains a dream.

"The east side really needs to be like the west side," Holt said. "We don't have all the millions we need."

Culver said the capital campaign has been mentioned, but formal presentations and requests of benefactors have not been made. The foundation board hopes for a local partnership. Marsha Jones, former associate superintendent of the Springdale Public Schools, soon will be helping the foundation write grant proposals.

The association improves the grounds each year. This year, all the buildings have been painted, and the pathway inside the fence and around the arena was paved, as was the driveway at the main entrance, Culver said.

Photo by Spencer Tirey
Jimmy Bowen compresses the sand and dirt on the arena floor of Parsons Stadium to get the stadium ready for the Rodeo of the Ozarks. The rodeo is Wednesday through Saturday. This will be the 74th year for the Rodeo of the Ozarks.

NW News on 06/25/2018

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