Throughout the two-hour performances at the Fort Worth Stock Show Rodeo, Emily Jones and her friends sit in box seats near the iconic white bucking chutes.
During the rough and tumble bronc and bull riding events, they engage in a contest to determine who comes the closest to scoring each ride to match the judges’ score.
Because they are novices, they benefit from watching the rides on the large instant replay screens that hang high in the Will Rogers Memorial Coliseum Arena.
“With the replay, you get to see how the cowboy spurred the horse and how the horse bucked,” she said. “It helps us who aren’t as good at scoring to be able to score the horse when we get to see it one more time.”
Throughout each of the Stock Show’s 36 rodeo performances, fans can watch the action up close on four 16-by-9-foot screens that hang in the middle of the arena that went up two years ago. Two 15-by-8-foot screens hang high in the corner of the end zones. Stock Show officials also have placed two smaller screens in the end zones that serve as a scoreboard. They have also placed four smaller screens – 3-by-8-feet – by the chutes at each end of the arena.
It’s a big effort on the part of the Stock Show to use technology to help fans follow rodeo, a niche sport that’s not well followed or understood nearly as well mainstream sports such as football and basketball.
But with the use of instant replay and scoreboards, fans can learn how to follow rodeo title races in the same way they follow PGA golf title races at the Colonial where they watch individual performances and keep an eye on at the leader board throughout the tournament.
Like golf, rodeo title races are based on aggregate scores. With the help of the scoreboards, a fan immediately can learn where the score places the rider in that performance, in the particular round they are competing in at the time and in the overall aggregate race (which is called the “average” in rodeo terms).
After each rodeo event during a two-hour performance, longtime Stock Show Rodeo announcers Bob Tallman and Doug Mathis direct fans to the scoreboard screens and give a quick rundown on the current leaders.
Stock Show President and General Manager Brad Barnes said it’s imperative that rodeos utilize technology to help educate fans about the sport and on how to follow a rodeo.
“Part of what we’re doing is making sure we slow down enough to be able to educate, so the common everyday folks who come here can try to follow rodeo,” said Barnes.
“Hopefully, the expense we’ve gone to bring in these additional screens, and with our announcers walking them through the process, will make a difference.”
Barnes said fans are accustomed to following other sports with the aid of modern technology and it should be no different with rodeo.
“Your guests who are coming into your arena, they’re coming to be entertained,” Barnes said. “They have a lot of choices for entertainment, places they can go, things they can do. We who are involved in rodeo need to make sure we’re trying to stay progressive in providing them with the experience that they come to expect when they go to a football game, a basketball game or any other sporting event.
“It’s about the engagement and that’s where technology makes a difference. It’s not any longer OK to run a clown out in the middle and call it a day.”
Tallman said the use of technology is a must for rodeo in a day when fans attend mainstream sports events where they are aided by screens and scoreboards.
“You have to understand that this is 2017,” Tallman said. “Every rodeo in the country has adapted to change for the betterment of production through the design of technology. I have way more technology (to make use of in the announcer’s stand) than we have time to use. It’s 2017 and we’re jumping up to stay ahead with all the other venues in the world whether it be Houston, San Antonio, Reno, Calgary or California or New York. It adds to the value to the overall production.”
Tallman said the technology – first installed in the mid-90s – helps fans learn about the sport.
“It’s the greatest education process in the world,” Tallman said. “In two hours and 10 minutes, I can only say so many things and breathe. When they get to watch the replay and the posts of the go-rounds and the average (of the overall leaders that’s displayed on the large screens), there’s no way I can come up with all that information. It triples my ability. I can say it one time, but the screen can show it three times.”
For example, the fans who attended the Stock Show’s Jan. 24 performance witnessed three-time world champion Tuf Cooper of Weatherford turn in a solid time of 10.2 seconds in the tie-down roping event. It was the fourth fastest time of the performance. However, Cooper had a very speedy time of 8.3 in the first round during a previous performance. After both runs instantly were added up by a computer program, fans immediately learned Cooper had taken the lead in the aggregate race with a two-run time of 18.5. Cooper and his 18.5 was flashed on the big screen and it was acknowledged that he was ranked No. 1.
Rodeo has its own distinct rules and regulations. In mainstream sports such as football and basketball, the rules are commonly understood. But in the lower profile sport of rodeo, the rules are understood, for the most part, only by those who grew up around rodeos or those who competed in the sport at some point.
There are rodeo terms such as “missing the horse out.” That means a rider must have his spurs touching the bronc’s shoulders on the first jump out of the chute. If a rider fails to do so, he’s disqualified. He receives a zero regardless of whether he stays on the bronc for the required 8 seconds.
When a cowboy violates the spur out rule at the Stock Show Rodeo, fans can see how the rider faltered on the instant replay screens.
“In the rodeo business, we can tend to get jargon heavy,” said Matt Brockman, the Stock Show’s publicity director. “So, when you talk about breaking the barrier or missing a horse out or anything number of jargon or catch phrases that we use, it gets lost on the average spectator. In today’s world, people’s attention spans are shorter. Ten or 20 years ago, you might have gotten away with taking a minute to explain what breaking the barrier means, but you don’t really have that minute now. You really need to illustrate and show them just exactly what breaking the barrier means or missing a horse out means. So, to have that ability to use freeze framing and instant replay, slow motion, reverse slow motion, all those things give you an opportunity to do that.”
Rodeo features dramatic thrills and spills. Bulls jump four feet off the ground. Riders are unceremoniously dumped. At the Stock Show, instant replay screens capture the drama.
“We now have a ground level camera angle,” Brockman said. “When you’re sitting up 10 or 11 rows high in the upper bowl, you don’t have the same appreciation for how high that bull is getting in the air, as if you would if you were sitting on ground level. So, camera angles and instant replay helps that. It’s utilizing ways to help bring the fan closer to the action. “
Stock Show Rodeo fan Sherman Jones said the technology makes it possible for everyone who attends the rodeo to view the action.
“The screens are a great addition because there are some seats where you can’t see when the bulls come out, and with the screens, everybody in the house gets to see the replay,” Jones said. “You get to watch every ride twice. If you miss something, you get to watch them a couple of seconds later.”