A year after weather-dampened attendance caused the Heart O’ Texas Fair & Rodeo to call on its weather insurance to cover lost revenue, the HOT fair this month enjoyed its highest attendance in years, topping 220,000 attendees over its 11-day run.
Fair officials this week tallied attendance at 223,040, up 20% over last year, when severe storms helped drive attendance down to 186,000.
They attributed the increase in part to good weather and a run extended to a second Sunday. Attendance was the highest since 2010, when more than 226,000 people passed through the gates.
Construction of a new $31.8 million expo center on the Extraco Events Center grounds caused adjustments in the 67th annual fair’s layout, parking and entrance gates. But the alterations didn’t seem to affect turnout for the fair, which ran Oct. 3-13.
“All in all, it was super great and the weather was good to us,” said fair President and CEO Wes Allison, reached by phone at the State Fair of Texas where he said he was looking for ideas for next year’s fair as well as use of the Exhibits Building under construction. “As I told my staff, ‘Maybe we need to change (the fair) every year.’ They all growled at me.”
Fair organizers used the second Sunday to introduce a new attraction, One HOT bullfight, which proved popular on the night after rodeo action ended.
“They literally never left their seats for the first hour and a half,” Allison said. “Adding that last Sunday was well worth it for us.”
Overall rodeo attendance also was strong throughout the week despite the Professional Rodeo Cowboy Association’s calendar shift that put the Waco rodeo near the beginning of its rodeo qualification season rather than the end.
This year’s fair also had a record number of entries in the livestock show with 5,743 entries, up 167 from last year. The fair’s Academic Rodeo had 225 participants while the Creative Arts contests had 625 entries.
Allison said the exhibits building won’t be completed in time for next year’s fair, but the exterior and surrounding grounds should be ready, and that should mean less disruption for fairgoers.