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0 Comments | Jan 26, 2021

The Show Must Go On: Cody Davenport, CEO San Antonio Rodeo

Rodeo CoverSan Antonio Stock Show & Rodeo 2021


Let’s get the bad news out of the way right from the get-go, shall we? Contrary to what you may have heard from friends, colleagues, or certain political figures running for office, 2021 is not magically going to see the end of the pandemic, at least not for a few more months. There will still be masks and Zoom calls and daily case counts on the news. But it’s not all doom and gloom. It looks like there are vaccines right around the corner (and who doesn’t enjoy a good shot in the arm?) and, with luck, many of the annual events we had learned to take for granted before 2020 will begin making comebacks, albeit cautiously. One such event will be the 2021 San Antonio Stock Show & Rodeo, scheduled to take place from February 11th through the 28th. But for regular past attendees, there’ll be changes this time around. We’ll get into these directly.

I went straight to the source to get the lowdown on the coming rodeo festivities—the source, in this case, being San Antonio Stock Show & Rodeo CEO Cody Davenport. Even if you had no idea what Cody did for a living, you’d figure it out once you’d sat in his office for about thirty seconds. It’s chock full of rodeo photos, banners, and memorabilia from the event’s seventy-year history. The rodeo in San Antonio actually started out as a livestock show in the late forties, with the first actual rodeo taking place in 1949. But, despite all that history, the main thing Cody and his crew of volunteers want folks to know (and the thing that many seemingly do not know) is that the entire event is one big nonprofit, its mission focused squarely on providing a showcase for kids to compete and generate funds for scholarships and other educational opportunities.

On that score, there are a few important points to make: in 2020 alone, the rodeo educationally impacted 21,275 Texas youth and generated over $12.2 million in scholarships, endowments, junior livestock auctions, premiums, horse and livestock shows, calf scrambles, etc., with 1500 scholars currently attending Texas colleges and universities using rodeo proceeds (luckily the event squeaked in just under the wire in early 2020, i.e., before everything began shutting down). Through its entire seventy-year history, the rodeo has generated more than $223 million to be put toward educating future generations, and it’s one of the largest educational assistance providers in the state. Helping to drive that mission are the dedicated volunteers who make it all happen. With thirty-one full-time staffers and more than six thousand volunteers, there’s no question it’s a big operation, and Cody is just the guy to keep it all flowing smoothly. He’s native to the San Antonio area and grew up around all things rodeo.

“The cultural diversity here is so unique,” he observes, “and so suited to the rodeo. I’ve always been a big history buff, going all the way back to when the rodeo began with vaqueros coming out of Mexico and moving cattle out of the brush. They started teaching the skills to the natives, and they, in turn, started holding competitions—breaking horses, roping, that sort of thing. A lot of the sport of rodeo derived from right here in south Texas. I love San Antonio because no matter what direction you look, you’re in some aspect of agriculture—cattle, sheep, goats, wine, you name it. The Hispanic culture here is the birth of the sport of rodeo. We have a very enthusiastic and rodeo-savvy community in south Texas: a good strong rodeo following.”

Born in Uvalde and raised with his sister and two brothers by an old-time rancher, Cody is a sixth-generation Texan. He came out of Texas A&M University as a construction guy, and spent years managing home and small land development. But how do you get from construction to leading one of the country’s biggest rodeo events?

“Growing up the way I did, rodeo just seemed like the most natural thing in the world. We started a little group once back in the day called the Corral Club, and it was a heck of a good party. We booked Robert Earl Keen for a concert one time, then used the proceeds from that to go to a junior livestock auction where we bought animals for the kids. Shortly after, I got a call from Keith Martin, who was the CEO of the rodeo back then, and he said ‘I want to do a barbecue cook-off for the rodeo and I’d like you to run it.’ Well, I called some folks I knew in Houston and asked them how to do it. We got our hands on all the rules and regulations we could, just studied it and figured it out. Now, all these years later, we have 330 barbecue teams that net us about $333,000/year. After that, they named me the chairman of the barbecue committee and I ran the thing for about eight years. Then they asked if I wanted to join a middle management team to overlook various parts of the show. It was there I learned all the different aspects of the show, looking over different areas, learning more about how it all came together. That was my first real look at it all as one big thing, and my first understanding of just how huge it really was.”

Cody would go on to serve on the rodeo executive committee, then president for three years, and, finally, Executive Director & CEO three years ago.

“The biggest challenge to this job is surrounding yourself with great people, a challenge that’s even bigger, and that much more rewarding, when the vast majority of those people are volunteers. At this point I’ve seen just about every element that’s involved in bringing a rodeo to life. There’s nothing I’m going to ask someone else to do that I haven’t done at one time or another myself. I am genuinely grateful for all my years here.”

A casual walk around the rodeo offices near the AT&T Center provides an immediate sense of the dedication staff members have to the event and its mission.

“It takes a unique style to manage people,” Cody says. “You have to learn how to make them feel fulfilled. I’m surrounded by folks like that on my staff. I think that on a daily basis I’m just doing my best to arm everyone with the tools and knowledge they need to do their jobs. I’ve got communications professionals, concessions people, livestock directors, plenty of others. Everybody has their own area. Thinking back, the hardest part of the job for me was the transition from being a volunteer to being on paid staff. Sometimes I feel like I’m too married to it. The staff members here are living it; it’s not just a job for them. They sincerely believe in the mission. The group is very stable; we don’t do a lot of recruiting. We’re a pretty unified team. The ones who aren’t really flexible don’t last too long around here. Fluidity and agility are the keys to making it all work. I’ve had to kick people out of here at night because they’re staying so late. Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference between volunteers and paid staff members. It’s a great mission or we wouldn’t have 6000 volunteers doing it.”

So, with all that roping, barrel racing, mutton bustin’, and bull riding going on, it’s not as though COVID is the first thing to come along and raise safety concerns, right?

“I’d be lying if I said I haven’t seen some strange things during my time here. We‘ve had horse and bull riders get bucked off into the stands. A spectator at the post-rodeo concert once got stuck in the fencing trying to catch a drumstick thrown by a band member. One year on Valentine’s Day we nearly had a stampede because the planners thought it’d be a nice idea to paint a big heart on the ground right where the Palomino Patrol was supposed to come riding out. Well, the horses didn’t take too kindly to seeing something new and bright on the ground under their feet and they went a little berserk.”

And so, yes, the rodeo staff members have plenty of safety and medical resources at their disposal, as you would imagine. There are medical committees provided by both the rodeo itself and the PRCA (Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association), as well as volunteer doctors working in the bottom of the facility to take care of riders and other event participants.

“Handling the schedule and the logistics are always interesting challenges,” Cody adds. “Remember, we’re also (in normal times) smack on top of the Spurs season schedule at the AT&T Center, which led to the evolution of the team’s “Rodeo Road Trip” that has become a tradition over the years. Of course, like so many things these days, this coming event might look a little different.”

For starters, the event will take place where it all began years ago: The Freeman Coliseum.  “We’re going to provide a whole lot of nostalgia and old-time tradition for our ticket holders in 2021. We’ll run an old-school rodeo at the coliseum. We’re recreating the feel of the fifties, complete with original Roy Rogers footage and other throwback elements. It definitely won’t be the sort of rodeo people have gotten used to in past years. We’ll only have space at Freeman for season ticket holders though. But we’re trying our best to be fair about allocating tickets while adhering to health and safety guidelines. As a season ticket holder you’ll have the choice of opting in or out, or you can donate your tickets to the cause. Remember, we’re a nonprofit, so our goal is still to maximize how much revenue we can generate to support our mission.

“Normally we have a blend of competitive events. This year, our main goal is to ensure livestock exhibitors will have a venue to showcase their animals and compete in agriculture events in order for us to fulfill our mission. After all, the rodeo is just a big fundraiser to create more resources for the youth of Texas. But it’s a crazy world right now. With other big rodeos and stock shows cancelling outright either this past year or for 2021, we really have to work closely with local officials to host our event. Problem is, of course, it could all change tomorrow. But we believe it’s worth it to provide for the kids.”

Moving ahead with such a large-scale event in the midst of a pandemic can create challenges, including everything from musical acts cancelling at the last minute to state or city regulations changing underneath of the event planners. And it’s not just financial risk. Cody is sensitive, as well, to the public perception around what they’re planning. Will folks be upset if they can’t get tickets? Or maybe that the event is even moving ahead at all when so many others are being left behind? The go/no-go decision had to be made this past October 15th, and Cody and his leadership team looked carefully at what was happening with college football and other large events in order to come to their own decision. That preparation even included visiting several other rodeos around the country to see what sorts of things they were doing to ensure safety for participants and spectators.

As our conversation wrapped up, Cody was keen to encourage potential volunteers to visit the rodeo web site ( and complete a volunteer form. In parting, he reiterated the importance of the rodeo’s mission and its role as a nonprofit organization that supports the education of the youth of Texas.

“Many people still don’t realize that we’re a nonprofit, but it’s how we get so many great volunteers and are able to support so many students and other young people. I’m confident that we can put together a winning show for 2021, even given the many constraints and uncertainties we’re facing. In some ways it’s an opportunity to try some new things and to really test just how flexible and agile we are as an organization. Maybe it wouldn’t have been my first choice for how to accomplish that, but we will make the best of what we’ve been given.”




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