Since the pandemic forced the closure of the National Western Center and the cancellation of the National Western Stock Show, more than 200 events have been canceled, resulting in a loss of more than $120 million in revenue.
But there is also a silver lining, which organizers are confident will make all the difference come 2022: the gift of time.
For one thing, because the stock show was canceled in January 2020, construction on the National Western Center redevelopment project did not have to take a months-long pause between December and mid-February, allowing contractors to work uninterrupted.
“That’s a real advantage as we look at 2022,” Stock Show CEO Paul Andrews said in a phone interview. “This is the year, in January 2022, that we open the brand new stockyards, which are 20 acres of cattle pens and livestock exhibitions that only happens in Denver, Colorado.
“The grand opening of the Yards, which first opened in 1906, is a historic, not-to-miss event and ticket," he went on. "At the same time, the Stockyards Event Center will be done by the 2022 stock show, so we’ll have a brand new event center out in the center of the Yards that can be celebrated for the first time at the January stock show in '22.”
A lack of events on the calendar has also given Andrews and his team an opportunity to examine “every part” of the NWSS business model and find ways to improve it, he said, “because we have time to do that."
“We're looking at our trade show floor. We're looking at our horse shows. We're looking at our rodeo. We're looking at the livestock show and how we can improve each and every element of what we do,” he said. “Frankly, my staff does a pretty darn good job now, but they're never satisfied. We're going to find a way to even do it better at the grand opening of '22.”
Andrews typically leads a staff of about 95 people, but the loss of revenue has forced him to slash that number by more than half.
The chief executive is quick to admit the National Western Stock Show is struggling financially and is actively looking for revenue sources to help. Staff is looking to the state for potential funding and going to the federal government for loans in the Paycheck Protection Program.
“We’re turning over every rock we can,” he said.
The National Western Stock Show leadership is also setting an example as a leader among other ag institutions across the country, a role it takes on "whole-heartedly."
The NWSS is one of 10 “super events,” Andrews said, invited to participate in a monthly call to share best business practices.
“The most prestigious livestock shows, rodeos, and horse shows have been on those calls,” including the Calgary Stampede, a 10-day rodeo, exhibition and festival in Calgary, Alberta, Canada — “one of the world’s greatest,” he added.
It's important to learn from each other, Andrews said, "because no matter how good you think you are, there's always somebody who's got a great idea just a few steps away from you."
In fact, he and his team learn new things every day, he said, and are dedicated to sharing that knowledge with brother and sister organizations.
“We’re all great friends, very close,” he told Colorado Politics. And through the pandemic, they've grown tighter.
“All of us that have had to postpone our shows are heartbroken," he said. “This is what we love. We love agriculture. We love rodeo. We love the horse show. We love livestock. So not being able to do what you love is heartbreaking. But we're also — the world of agriculture, farmers, ranchers, frankly — the toughest people on the planet. And we won't be overcome by a virus.”
After all, forging ahead is the nature of the industry.
“It's pretty hard to find anybody more resilient than a rancher or a farmer,” he told Colorado Politics.
Whatever lies around the bend, Andrews and his team stand ready.
“We're prepared,” he said, “and you're never going to find a more prepared group than the board, the staff, the volunteers and all of us here at the National Western Stock Show.”
Further than that, he says, what they’ve worked together to build and maintain is in Denver to stay.
“The National Western Center and that buildout is going to put the National Western Stock Show in a sustainable business model for the next hundred years,” he said, “and it's important for people to know when we're celebrating our 200th anniversary, which is 86 years from now, nobody is going to remember the global pandemic of 2020.
“They're going to know that the great agricultural world, the farmers, ranchers and the heart of Stockshow Nation overcame this,” he said. “So I think it's important that you look out past this one year in time and keep focused on what's ahead with what will be the most amazing complex in the world.”