DURING THE YEAR-LONG planning of the Justin Boots Bucking Thunder Tour kickoff in Phoenix, producer Alan Jacoby experienced a wild ride of his own.
The president and CEO of Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Ovation Entertainment, which created and produced the October rodeo event, says “everything was going along great” when tickets went on sale in mid-August. “Then we were faced with the tragedy of 9/11.” After considering their options, he and Western-wear company Justin Boots, the event's title sponsor, decided to forge ahead with a show they believed would provide a celebration of national pride. After all, Jacoby says, “Rodeo is America's original sport.”
Bucking Thunder, an exhibition of saddle bronco riding, bareback riding, bull riding and women's barrel racing, required extensive setup of the America West Arena in downtown Phoenix — home of the Phoenix Coyotes hockey team.
Starting at 6 a.m. the day before the event, crews hauled in truckloads of dirt, which they laid out over a special liner covering the arena's ice floor. Production staff set up rodeo equipment, including the chutes and panels that had to be installed around the arena “because you don't want a bull jumping in someone's lap,” Jacoby says.
Once threatened with cancellation, the event ended up drawing almost 11,000 rodeo fans.
In the aftermath of Sept. 11, Jacoby made a few adjustments, including bringing in the Phoenix Boys Choir to sing “God Bless America” and the national anthem. To provide maximum exposure for sponsors, Ovation decorated the chutes, pens and perimeter with signage, and used electronic matrix boards to display each sponsor's name 75 times during the course of the show. Jacoby says he broadened the reach of sponsors by filming the event, then using Ovation's in-house syndication operation to clear coverage in more than 140 television markets across the United States.
According to Jacoby, the $500,000 event convinced sponsors to stay on board for a four-city tour of Bucking Thunder. “That's the defining moment of an event,” he says, “when your major sponsors come to you and say, ‘This is great, this works.’”
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