WWIII: Wilson’s hang on to rodeo contract

JACKSON HOLE, WYO – The Wilson family will retain the Jackson Hole Rodeo contract for another four years. The decision was made at a town council meeting Monday, when the council discussed the possibility of opening the concessionaire arrangement to bidding as the current four-year contract expires.

WW Productions is a Wilson family rodeo contractor. Phil Wilson heads the outfit that wrested the rodeo contract from the Moses family in 2009. Since then the Wilson’s have made notable improvements to the rodeo fairgrounds and the show itself receives mostly positive reviews from contestants and visitors alike.

With the contract set to expire September 30 of this year, WW Productions was hoping to exercise an extension provision that would allow the company to continue operating the rode for another four years with an automatic contract renewal, provided a deal was reached by August 1. If not, the concessionaire contract would go out to bid where WW Productions, as incumbent, would presumably have the upper hand amongst its cobidders, according to assistant town manager Roxanne Robinson.

Fair manager Kaitlyn Mangis told the council there were a few other contractors interested in bidding. Some local and some with experience.

The bidding process is a bit of a misnomer. The contract stipulates a set fee to the town of $50,000 or 10% of gross receipts. Above that is profit for the rodeo contractor. The council could have also considered raising that fee to $60,000 (12% of the gate), but at any rate, bidders would be simply submitting what they intended to do in putting on a rodeo every Wednesday and Saturday night.

Behind the bucking chutes

From contestants to employees to attendees, dozens of people spoke on behalf of the Wilson’s and how that family has approached the sport of rodeo in Jackson. The council was reminded repeatedly of the family’s generosity and professionalism.

Former Chamber prez Jeff Golightly said he never had a moment’s hesitation recommending the rodeo to visitors because he was sure it was a “safe and entertaining experience.”

Chief Todd Smith said in his 27 years as a cop, previous rodeos sometimes ended up in a drunken junk show. Not this one.

Bill Lewkowitz, a rodeo contestant and former fairboard president who helped draw up the current rodeo contract, reminded the council of the significant investment made by the Wilsons or any rodeo contractor. Stock and equipment has to be purchased. “It’s a lot of time, effort, and money they have invested,” Lewkowitz said. “If you choose another contractor, you are putting a local out of business. They aren’t moving down the road to put on [another rodeo somewhere else]. They’re done. He’s going to have to sell hundreds of bulls and horses and stock.”

Option for a reride

In the end, councilors generally agreed with the ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t break it’ mentality. Only Jim Stanford was insistent about opening the bidding up just to see what’s out there.

“I’m not interested in trying to maximize profits and getting more money to the town. I think it’s simply good business to listen to all ideas. And by putting it out to bid and proposals we would in no way exclude continuing with the current operator,” Stanford said. “I think we are fast-tracking this. There may be room for improvement. If, in the process, WW has the strongest proposal, obviously we will select it. But WW would have never had the opportunity if we had fast-tracked it back then.”

Don Frank employed a slightly different take on the old western adage about switching horses in midstream.

“I’m going to employ a bit of western wisdom: Always ride a horse in the direction it’s going,” Frank side. “I’ve not heard complaints but, rather, have seen a lot of happy [people]. We have an option to renegotiate. I’d like to see this contract extended to the Wilson family.”

The option to renegotiate is inherent in every rodeo contract. At the end of the season members of the town and fairboard meet with the rodeo operator to discuss what went well and what can go better.

The council voted 3-1 in favor of extending the rodeo contract to WW productions for another four years. Stanford was opposed. Hailey Morton-Levinson was absent.

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