CALGARY, Alberta — This is the fourth piece of a series this winter, presented by COWBOY SH*T™️, transitioning out of 2020 and into 2021. It features a number of the key players in western sports in Canada and beyond, looking forward through the Covid-19 pandemic and a hopeful return to normalcy in the coming months.
TED STOVIN: How did you spend your 2020 away from the sport of rodeo?
SHAUN MORTON: 2020 was a quiet year for us. We spent a lot of time doing things close to home, spent more time with friends and family and made some extra trips to the mountains. I was able to take on some projects that I might not normally have time for, like becoming the editor of the Cowboy Sh*t Podcast. Give it a listen!
TS: Speaking of the podcast, we’re glad you have the time to edit for us and glad to have you as part of the team. What have been some of your favorite shows so far and what do you think the impact of them has been so far in western sports in Canada if any?
SM: I’ve really enjoyed “The Greatest in Canadian Rodeo” episodes for bull riders, bronc riders and steer wrestlers. I’m looking forward to when we get to the other events with this format. Another favorite is definitely “Kidnapped in Istanbul”. That’s a great story by anyone’s standards.
TS: What did you miss most about not going to many, if any rodeos in 2020?
SM: I missed seeing the people I work with, missed the excitement of live events and being part of a production.
TS: What was your favorite moment or thing about the year you wouldn’t usually get to experience in a normal year?
SM: This past year allowed for a lot of time with family and I think I will look back on it as a time I got to watch my kids grow up every day without the busyness a typical year brings. Spending time with friends we usually only see at an event was a big highlight for us.
The covid year was the catalyst for the John Scott Arena created by the Alpha Bull Team. Seeing that come together and working a couple events there felt like not all was lost during such a difficult year for the sport.
TS: What are you most looking forward to when we get back to events in 2021?
SM: Every part of it, I enjoy it all. The travel, the people, watching rodeo and playing music. I’ve always appreciated being part of rodeo and will sure look forward to getting back at it when the time comes.
TS: Music, we’re both music guys. What are your goals with the music you play at events? How do you fit your music into the event best? What do you have to do with what you play so it has an impact on the feel of the events you work?
SM: We all work a spectrum of events and I try to tailor the music to suit. At one end of the spectrum I would put the traditional rodeos I get to work, like Lea Park and Bruce. The other end of the spectrum is a PBR Monster Energy Event or Bulls After Dark at Calgary Stampede, which are much more of a modern atmosphere that is closer to a rock concert. With any event I want add some energy to compliment the action in the arena and the rodeo announcers which have a similar goal. And at any event I look for opportunities to help the crowd get more excited or engaged when big moments happen. Sometimes it’s with old rock and roll and other times with new music that fits with a party atmosphere but the goal is the same.
TS: What do you see as the biggest challenge for rodeos to come back in 2021 and beyond?
SM: Rodeo was facing some uphill battles prior to 2020. The demographic is changing, less people are connected to the western way of life. Add to that people are more difficult to entertain and have more options than ever before. Coming back in 2021 and beyond, the money that is the lifeblood of our sport will be harder to come by.
My optimism in the future of rodeo is in the people involved that are committed to getting through this and getting back at it.
TS: What do you see as an improvement of our sport moving forward?
SM: It’s tough to say definitively because different rodeos find their own unique ways to improve, and not all rodeos draw the same people looking for the same thing. I think at this time it’s a more realistic goal of rodeo to sutain what we had in 2019. If rodeo in Canada can get back to a similar amount of events and payout that would be a huge success in my opinion.
TS: What do you think the average contestant could learn from helping put on a rodeo if they haven’t before? How can contestants help their local rodeo?
SM: I haven’t met any committee personnel that are involved with rodeo for the thanks or praise they get, because if they wouldn’t last long. It’s a very thankless job. I think anyone who wants their local rodeo to succeed can first go out of their way to support the sponsors of that event.
TS: As a former bullfighter now turned music director and sound tech, what are these events you work now like from your position?
SM: I’m a big fan of protection bullfighting and I find myself watching those guys work as much as the bull riding at times. Mostly I’m thankful to still be involved in the sport without having to do that job anymore, because it doesn’t look appealing to me anymore.
TS: As we know, most rodeo athletes and personnel in Canada aren’t exclusively making their living in this sport, tell us about your “real job”.
SM: I went to college to become a Technologist in petroleum and mechanical engineering. I mainly work with design and fabrication of drilling equipment. The work has taken me to some of my favorite parts of the US, some scary parts of Mexico and to Fier, Albania one time.
TS: You did some work some people might have seen at the Calnash in Ponoka, what’s the story there?
SM: We did the design of the steel for the new mezzanine. Our work was the most important part that no one really cares about the, the structural steel. The project is an awesome addition to that arena, it was fun to be a part of.
TS: What do you think it would take for Pro Rodeo to be a full-time full-wage gig for more than a few top level athletes and rodeo personnel in Canada?
SM: The amount of money available in any sport for the athletes and personnel is directly related to the audience they can draw, live and broadcast. So for rodeo to pay more we just need to grow our audience, by a lot.
TS: With team roping coming to the Calgary Stampede in 2020, tell us about your involvement in the added event.
SM: The Nutrien Western Events Centre on Stampede Park is where I work during Stampede. We were all excited to host a PRCA sanctioned team roping in that venue with the best ropers in the world, paying $50,000 per side. I’m confident in saying that event was going to be the most well produced team roping the sport has seen yet. I’m looking forwarding to seeing it happen in the future.
TS: What are your thoughts on breakaway roping? Does that become the seventh event in place of tie-down at some point or is it the eighth event?
SM: The exciting part of the growth of break-away roping is having another event to feature talented women in western sports. I do think it can be difficult to get a new rodeo fan as excited about an event where the best runs start and finish in 2 – 3 seconds, but we’ve seen it be a crowd favorite when presented properly. If an audience can get behind it I feel it has a place in the sport.
TS: What else do you think needs to happen in the sport of rodeo to move it forward? If we need to sell more tickets to raise the bar, how do we do that?
I think if we want to move forward we first need to be sure we aren’t moving backwards. The rodeos I see that are successful and improving seem to hit on at least two things that attract people to their event…
They’re a community event that people don’t want to miss
They provide quality rodeo with good stock and contestants that a seasoned fan can appreciate
They provide enough action and entertainment at a good pace that new spectators can enjoy.
I feel it takes at least two of those three to fill seats. Knowing why your people attend your event and making sure you are offering those things in as-good of or a better way year over year helps the event improve along with the sport in general. I know there’s much more to the equation but I feel this is foundation.
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