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San Antonio Rodeo To Saddle Up Despite Cancellations Across Texas

James Baker
Texas Public Radio

The scaled-down San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo is set to become the biggest, continuous public event to be held locally since the pandemic began a year ago.

Rodeo officials expect around 4,000 people to attend the event on the grounds of the AT&T Center and Freeman Coliseum each day during its run from Feb. 11 to Feb. 28, or around 56,000 visitors.

But rodeo officials say strict COVID-19 protocols are in place to protect rodeo goers.

“With the significant precautionary measures we have taken to provide a safe environment, we are grateful to host the Rodeo and fulfill our mission of helping educate the youth of Texas,” said Executive Director & CEO Cody Davenport.

“These livestock exhibitors and their families depend on this opportunity for scholarships, and we are committed to helping them attain their educational goals.”

Still, every mass gathering comes with increased risk according to San Antonio’s Metropolitan Health District.

“Anytime you get more than 100 people together right now, at the rate that we have, somebody in there is going to have COVID," said Dr. Junda Woo, Metro Health’s medical director. "It’s better to wait until we have less in our community, so that we can do many kinds of gatherings like that again."

In order to access the San Antonio Stock Show & Rodeo, a digital Rodeo ticket or an approved rodeo credential is required. There will be no fairgrounds, attractions or carnival this year for patrons to attend.

There will be a total of 14 Rodeo performances starting Friday, Feb. 12, followed by entertainment, which will all take place in the Freeman Coliseum with limited capacity.

According to a new release from the stock show and rodeo, COVID-19 precautions include:

  • Face coverings are required to be worn properly for those over the age of 4, unless eating or drinking
  • Social distancing
  • Temperature screenings required at all entrances
  • Reduced capacity in the Freeman Coliseum (3,800 attendees) and livestock barns
  • Pod seating in the Freeman Coliseum and all tickets are digital in the Freeman Coliseum
  • Synexis Biodefense systems that help reduce the presence of microorganisms
  • Dust Free Active air purification system in all HVAC units in the Freeman Coliseum
  • All locations to be sprayed and cleaned with Bioesque disinfectant every day
  • Multiple sanitizing and handwashing stations throughout

Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff said he supports the stock show side of the event since it is not open to the general public and was among the Bexar County Commissioners who voted to approve a $750,000 grant in January for the stock show to continue its mission of awarding local scholarships.

He is not, however, a big supporter of large indoor gatherings, like the rodeo inside Freeman Coliseum, during this pandemic.

He wrote a letter to Nancy Loeffler, chair of the event, urging them to postpone the event like other major rodeos in Texas initially did. The Houston and Fort Worth rodeos have since been canceled. Austin's event was also canceled earlier.

Fort Worth has also canceled its stock show.

Wolff also expressed concern about new variants of the virus from Brazil, South Africa and Great Britain that have been detected in the U.S. and are even more transmittable.

The judge concluded the letter by admitting he has no power to stop the event by the San Antonio Livestock Exposition (SALE) at the county-owned facility.

“You have every right to proceed under the current lease with Bexar County as long as SALE follows the Governor’s Emergency orders,” he wrote.

He said he knows the rodeo officials will do their best to enforce protocols, but said that will be difficult to do with large crowds.

“The decision to move forward is your decision, just realize the difficult situation you will face in enforcing compliance and the risk that doing so presents.”

In a non-scaled down year, the stock show and rodeo attracts well over 1 million visitors each year. It is one of the largest events of its kind in the nation and professional bull riders have named it the best indoor rodeo in the nation in the past.

The rodeo plans a retro theme this year since it will be returning to its original home in Freeman Coliseum and not in the larger AT&T Center, as part of COVID precautions.

Vintage indoor rodeo advertisements and wooden-looking shoots are part of the look along with videos that include the late singing movie and television cowboy Roy Rogers and his wife, Dale Evans, who hosted a rodeo from the coliseum before a national television audience in 1955. Evans was from Uvalde.

Only Fiesta attracts a larger crowd every year, and it has now been canceled or postponed for a second year.

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Brian Kirkpatrick can be reached at brian@tpr.org and on Twitter at @TPRBrian