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Marketing with a Western flavor pays

MISSION, S.D. - Marketing western-style is the most recent approach to bringing more visitors to the gaming table at the Rosebud Casino and Quality Inn Hotel. The casino resumed promotion of rodeo events as part of its entertainment.

The first of the events, a Senior Professional Rodeo, attracted about 127 contestants from across the nation. However, few spectators were in the stands at the arena across the highway from the casino for the two-day event July 22 and 23.

Seasoned rodeo pros defied what many would consider when using the term "senior citizens," displaying their vitality and skills in every imaginable rodeo event during the performances last week as part of the Senior Professional Rodeo Tour.

Event Coordinator Jim Whiting, who began his marketing job at the casino in early June, said events were included in casino marketing strategy last year. Whiting has been a part of the professional rodeo circuit for more than 30 years. He said casino management wanted to restore rodeo events in an effort to generate more business at the casino and add greater diversity.

Despite a late start, the longtime resident said he is optimistic the inclusion of the arena events will bring more spectators and additional traffic to the tribal enterprise.

Management had to start over to add the attraction since the corrals were removed during the management transition last year. The present arena was rented from nationally-known PRCA talent and horse trainer Brian Fulton, Whiting said.

Using his contacts in the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association and those he knew in the rodeo world, Whiting was able to line up a series of events.

With a little help from stock contractor Jeff Waln, whose family established one of the few Indian-owned stock production companies, Whiting enticed South Dakota Rodeo Association events to the arena. The late start, combined with higher gas prices and higher purses offered at competing senior events in other states, lowered the number of contestants, he said.

"I think the economy is hurting us a little bit. On the Senior Pro, we are down nearly 70 people from where we were last year," Whiting said. Even so he said the casino has committed itself to the project with plans to purchase the rental equipment.

Admission will be free for most of the events held this summer with the exception of some special events including a bull riding competition and the United States Calf Roping Finals in September.

"We try to keep the cost down for the investment the casino has to put in to get the event here and get the casino building exposure. We want to have them come to the restaurant, use the hotel and come to the gaming board," Whiting said.

Roping events will be more numerous because they are less costly to produce. Rodeos or events requiring rough stock, bucking horses and bucking bulls, are more expensive. The investment for the rodeos carry a hefty price tag since stock contractors can charge up to $20,000, he said.

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Special events such as the bull riding competition will cost the casino between $6,000 to $7,000, but the casino will charge an admission fee for spectators to recover the investment.

Meanwhile, the roping events have become the most attractive prospect for the western-style approach to marketing efforts because they are far less expensive ventures. He said one reason is that contestants pay a stock fee on entry.

"We can have a contractor come in, put the roping on and we don't have to spend $15,000 to $20,000. They will make their money off the stock charge. We give them a facility and a place of diversion," he said.

"The bull riding will probably be one of the most expensive events to put on. It will run between $6,000 and $7,000. Hopefully we will draw about 800 fans. If we can get it pretty close to breaking even and get them to the casino, we are on our game plan."

One of the shortcomings in drawing a potential crowd of spectators to the most recent event was the lack of available information on the casino's Web site concerning the time and location.

Whiting was quick to take note of that issue since more and more travelers are accessing the net to find entertainment while they are traveling.

Key officials with the Senior Professional Rodeo Association hit the airwaves on local radio to publicize the event.

Whiting, whose other marketing duties include developing further rodeo events and helping with upcoming concerts, said he hopes the rodeo will expand the casino's clientele.

"We have some other things we would like to add such as a cutting. We want to give people a little more variety."

One of the limitations Whiting faces with the western events is dealing with a short season because of the outdoor arena. An indoor arena, part of a long-term wish list posted by previous management, is under discussion but no formal plans have been presented.

"If we had an indoor facility we could add stock sales, rodeos, trade shows and conventions. It would open up many doors," Whiting said.

Addition of a convention center would be a first for the tribal casinos in the state and allow the tribe to cash in on the potential of adding business meetings to the entertainment.

"My idea of a goal would be to go after whatever funding it would take to put in an indoor facility that would open up all those avenues. We would be definitely the king of the hill as far as casinos and a facility to offer businesses a place to bring their trade shows."