20190727-spts-rodeo-mc-88 bkm

Brody Cress of Hillsdale, Wyo., competes in saddle bronc riding during the semifinals of the Cheyenne Frontier Days Rodeo on Friday at Frontier Park Arena. The two-time defending champion scored 88.5 points to advance to the finals. Michael Cummo/Wyoming Tribune Eagle

CHEYENNE – Most days, the information Cheyenne Frontier Days is using to determine whether to go forward with the 124th edition of the “Daddy of ’em All” amid the COVID-19 pandemic is encouraging.

Some days, it’s not.

“It seems to change almost daily,” CFD Chief Executive Officer Tom Hirsig said Friday afternoon. “We’re hopeful we can have a show this summer, but we’re waiting to see how we open the state and what affect that has on things.

“We’ll be working with city and state officials, who will tell us whether it’s safe or not.”

CFD is slated for July 17-26. Slack – the early rounds of some events and contestants that can’t fit into the main performances – starts July 13.

The Calgary Stampede, which was scheduled to start July 3, canceled its rodeo for the first time in its 97-year history Thursday. Hirsig wasn’t surprised by that announcement. He regularly talks with the heads of other large rodeos, and most are taking the same wait-and-see approach as CFD.

The first week of June is the drop-dead date CFD has set for deciding whether to host this year’s event.

That gives rodeo athletes, night show acts, carnival workers, concessionaires and volunteers plenty of time to make alternate plans.

“If we have to cancel, we have to cancel, but we’re still planning for the show right now,” Hirsig said. “We’re also weighing our options and looking at alternatives if we can’t have the show.

“Our mission is to have an economic impact on the community, and we have a facility we can do a lot of different things with. We have to look at what are some other things we can do if we don’t have the show.”

Several ideas have been bandied about among CFD’s leadership, but it’s too early to put those ideas in motion or discuss them publicly, Hirsig said.

“There is the potential for Wyoming to still have a fairly good tourist season,” Hirsig said. “There might be people who see Wyoming as a sparsely populated state, and they might want to stop for a night and go to something we do that’s on a smaller scale.

“But nobody knows what this situation is going to look like, so it’s too early to make alternate plans.”

Despite the uncertainty, people have continued to buy rodeo and night show tickets. CFD typically draws a third of its attendees from Wyoming, a third from the Front Range, and a third from around the United States and world.

Hirsig said he wants to make sure CFD puts on a safe and entertaining event.

“Ultimately, we have to think about what the fan experience is going to be like,” he said. “Some people might feel good about going, and then they’re sitting next to people with masks on, and they start second-guessing their decision to attend.

“People have to be comfortable enough to attend a large event. We want people wanting to come back here when they leave here.”

Nearly 250,000 people attended a CFD night show or rodeo in 2018. The event brings more than $100 million into the local economy annually. Greater Cheyenne Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Dale Steenbergen describes CFD as a second Christmas season for Cheyenne. Having to cancel the event in the interest of public safety would be a significant loss for the capital city, and not just from a financial standpoint.

“This is an event that has been here for more than 100 years, and is part of the DNA of Cheyenne,” Steenbergen said. “It’s a signature event, and something Cheyenne is known for all over the world. Additionally, it’s a centerpiece for business recruitment and welcoming leadership from the Air Force and government in.

“It gives people a chance to meet and talk with those leaders while they’re here. It would be a major loss on a number of levels.”

Jeremiah Johnke is the WyoSports editor. He can be reached at jjohnke@wyosports.net or 307-633-3137. Follow him on Twitter at @jjohnke.

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