BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – After close to two decades working with the Tri-State Rodeo, Fort Madison’s Tony Johnson will slide into general chairman’s saddle for the next three years.
Johnson is replacing outgoing general chair Josh Denning, who will in turn take over as past-chair on the board and serve as an advisor to Johnson, along with the rest of the board, during his term.
Johnson said he’s not a typical rodeo guy and doesn’t do this everyday, so it’s nice to have so many people supporting the rodeo including the volunteers, the board, CINCH Jeans, and Cervi Rodeo.
He said he wants to continue some of the progress was made under Denning’s leadership and then look at what the future may hold.
“I have some ideas. The first year I’m going to take some things in and not go crazy budgetwise,” Johnson said. “We have some numbers we need to look at. Entertainment costs are skyrocketing and hopefully we’ll have some answers on what direction we’re going to take in a couple weeks.”
Denning said last year the rodeo invested about $40,000 in infrastructure and upgrades to things like lighting and wifi capabilities. Johnson said he wanted to continue the strides Denning made with entertainment, as well as capitalize on the investment last year.
“There are some things we’re hoping and wanting to do with lights and entertainment. Josh has done an excellent job and set the bar with entertainment. I feel like we have to continue that because our customers expect that. It gets harder every year because of the cost increase, but we’re still trying to provide strong value for that ticket price.”
Denning said Wednesday the soggy weather didn’t do the budget any favors, but he wanted to thank area schools, businesses, and SEIBUS, for helping move rodeo fans from designated parking lots around Fort Madison to the rodeo after Wednesday.
“Obviously it was a wet rodeo for 2018. From a profitability standpoint we were down a little from the past. We did some nice improvements with the lighting and the infrastructure with wifi so Holy Trinity can now go wireless so they can take credit cards,” Denning said.
“Overall, it was not as dry as we would have liked it. We got a little hurt on Saturday with not having the parking lot available.”
Johnson said the Tri-State Rodeo got some good news out of his last trip to Las Vegas, when the rodeo was informed that CINCH became a Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association sponsor and, with agreements being finalized, it looks like the CINCH Shoot-out payouts will count toward PRCA’s National Rodeo Finals point standings.
He said the PRCA is also taking all of the points earned at the top 60 rodeos in the country for consideration for the National Finals Rodeo.
Denning said having CINCH money be a part of the Tri-State Rodeo’s total prize money puts $200,000 on the line for contestants which will also entice the top competitors in the world to Fort Madison.
“Having that be part of the PRCA rodeo and it being invite-only, that will bring the top contestants from the PRCA. The $120,000 Cinch money before was all money in their pockets but didn’t give them points towards the National Finals Rodeo, but now the $88,000 we had going the other three nights gets lumped together for more than $200,000 towards the prize money to qualify for the NFR,” Denning said.
The lighting improvements were a switch to LED lighting, which will allow some different dramatic effects, but the heavy rain kept the rodeo from getting the full effect the new lighting. Denning said the new lights allow the arena to go dark for spotlight action and other dramatic effects.
He said his three years as chairman were fun and exciting, but he’s happy to turn things over to Johnson.
“When I first came into this, and I told Tony the same thing that Bob (Huffman) told me, it’s like creating another job. You run it like a business but you have to deal the weather,” Denning said.
“The three years has been fun, but I’m more than happy to turn it over to Tony and I’m sure he’ll feel the same way when he’s done. Its a great committee. You couldn’t do that position, which is non-paid, without the help of that committee.”
Johnson said he started with the rodeo about 17 years ago as an assistant and then worked his way through various committees including security, ticketing, marketing, and advertising.
He said it’s his intention to keep the rodeo more of a show than just a rodeo and the organization is structured to make sure fans get the most for the ticket price.
“We want to make it more of a show, than just a rodeo. We’ve been fortunate to have Boyd (Polhamus), CINCH, and Cervi Rodeo to really guide us. And our national sponsors are a big part of the rodeo’s ability to bring in top talent and entertainment for the fans,” Johnson said.
Denning said having RiverFest a month before the Tri-State Rodeo is getting people geared up for festivals and music. He said the overlap of people involved in both festivals and the timing make it a unique opportunity for the area.
“He’s getting people revved up for festivals and for music,” Denning said. “I think Charles (Craft) is doing a great job promoting that and there could be some partnerships there. The rodeo might get behind sponsoring a country night or something, but he doesn’t run a weekend of country so that gives people exposure to different music and that’s a good thing.”
This year’s Tri-State Rodeo is set for Sept. 4-7 at C.E. “Eddie” Richards Arena.