by Betty L. Martin
HOUSTON, March 20 (Xinhua) -- The world's largest rodeo ended this week by smashing previous records for attendance, bringing in more people than the total population of Houston, the fourth largest city in the U.S., where the annual event was held for three weeks.
More than 2.5 million visitors -- up from last year's record of 2.25 million -- at the 2013 Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo contributed to a single-year amount of 115 million U.S. dollars, LeRoy Shafer, the rodeo's chief operating officer, told Xinhua Wednesday.
With that sum, the nonprofit rodeo will pay its expenses, including millions in record purses for the top riders of wild horses, bulls and steers; for the top-grossing musical concert stars; and promotion of regional agriculture.
The rodeo this year also will be able to dispense a record 24.6 million dollars in scholarships, 108 of them newly begun for 2013.
The 2013 show was a far cry from the show's humble origin in 1932, when it was started by a group of Texas ranchers to promote the state's livestock production including Texas's hallmark cattle industry, Shafer said.
"In 1931, seven men met to develop the cattle industry along the Texas Gulf Coast," Shafer said. "That meeting led to the beginning of the Houston Fat Stock Show. The first show was held in 1932. In 1938, the show had its first star entertainer, Gene Autry, and the first rodeo performance."
Since then, he said, the show has had more than 370 different star entertainers perform, and now has an attendance of more than 2.5 million annually. The event has added the rough-riding rodeo and an all-star lineup of musical concert performers rodeo goers know today.
The March 17 concert this year featuring country music performers George Strait, Martina McBride and the Randy Rogers Band set an all-time paid attendance record for Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo concerts, and for any event in Reliant Stadium, with 80,020 people.
Over the years, the show has added barbecue, wine, student art and horticulture competitions, a multi-acre carnival and a scholarship program that has so far contributed more than 330 million dollars in total in four-year college scholarships, graduate internships and grants to a myriad of educational institutions.
Some features since the 1932 show have remained the same, though a lot bigger. Those include the livestock show and the emphasis on honoring Western heritage, Shafer said.
"The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo is dedicated to benefiting youth, supporting education, and facilitating better agricultural practices through exhibitions and presentation," Shafer said. "These goals remain the same, but we add and change attractions, change our rodeo format, invite a wide variety of entertainers, and more to appeal to an increasingly urban audience and a changing demographic."
A 2010 study of the impact of the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo on the Houston economy found that the show annually increases area aggregate sales by 475.4 million U.S. dollars, gross regional product by 320.2 million dollars, personal incomes by 290.7 million dollars and more than 7,200 full-time jobs.
Visitors to the rodeo increase the local population of Houston, 2.1 million people as of the 2010 Census, by an additional 16,316 people each year. Tax revenue to local government is increased by 27.3 million.
Expanded over the life of the Show's current 30-year lease at Reliant Park, the increase in government revenue is estimated by the show staff to exceed 820 million dollars, the study concludes.
"The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo has a staff of nearly 100 individuals who work year-round with the more than 28,000 dedicated volunteers to plan and execute the event each year," Shafer said.
Shafer called the show's success "an amazing feat" in which people from all over Houston come together for a common goal.
"Our volunteers are dedicated to the cause, and find a lot of gratification in the educational aspects of the show," he said.