This year’s Cloverdale Rodeo & Country Fair gets going on Friday, May 19. (file photo)

Ready for the rodeo — and a whole lot more, all year long

Caretakers of Cloverdale Fairgrounds push to make it a year-round place for events

CLOVERDALE — As the saying goes, this isn’t Mike MacSorley’s first rodeo. It’s not his second, third or fourth either.

“This will be my fifth rodeo since I got here in September of 2012,” said the talkative boss of Cloverdale Rodeo & Exhibition Association, the organization that plans the annual event that will fill the Stetson Bowl with cowboys and horses this Victoria Day long weekend, starting Friday (May 19).

As the association’s general manager, MacSorley’s job is to not only oversee planning for the annual rodeo and country fair, he and his team also work to fill Cloverdale Fairgrounds with events throughout the year. Fun runs, dog shows, concerts, wrestling matches, model car races, swap meets, dances, weddings, movie shoots – these are just some of the gatherings that keep the city-owned buildings and lots busy.

“The rodeo is still two-thirds of our yearly revenue,” noted MacSorley, a former PNE exec who went about changing the association’s way of doing business when he came to Cloverdale.

“People still might think of us as just about the rodeo, but I hope that’s changing,” he added during a wide-ranging interview with the Now-Leader. “We’re a year-round facility here.”

Some events work, some don’t.

This year, Surrey Night Market will not return for a fourth year to the parking lot east of the Agriplex.

“It was a combination of things that ended it,” MacSorley elaborated, “because they weren’t making any money, and they weren’t doing it the way I thought best exemplified what we wanted on the grounds. It wasn’t as professional as I wanted.”

Also gone this year is the motocross racing series that took place at the Stetson Bowl last June and July.

“We’ve tried to do lots of stuff that hasn’t worked, and that was one of them,” MacSorley said. “And I really don’t know why that one didn’t work, because they do a weekend in the Agriplex – or used to, when we had the dirt in there – and they’d draw 1,500 to 2,500 (people), and outside on a nice summer night, they couldn’t draw. I still can’t figure that one out.”

In 2014, the floor of the 22,000-square-foot Agriplex – home to the rodeo’s popular Longhorn Saloon – was paved with concrete, replacing a dirt floor that just didn’t make sense anymore in a growing city that needs convention and expo space.

“It was empty all the time, for most of the year, so we asked ourselves, is that because there’s not a need for it, or is the building just not suitable, so we went about finding that out,” said MacSorley, who recalls seeing mushrooms grow on the dirt floor when he first toured the building.

“Now, we’re starting to grow business in there,” he added. “So instead of anybody spending millions of dollars on something new, that was about spending $250,000 and finding out whether there’s a need. We’re seeing special events, trade shows, graduations, expos, all kinds of things in there.”

MacSorley credits Brent Lang, the association’s events manager, with having great enthusiasm to book all kinds of things and be open to new ideas. A monthly email from Lang details all the happenings at the Agriplex, Alice McKay Building, Shannon Hall, Show Barn, Bill Reid Millennium Amphitheatre and other fairground venues.

So-called “novelty” runs are booked with regularity, including Color Me Rad on June 3, a Foam Glow 5K evening event on Aug. 5 and a Color Run on Sept. 2.

The city’s Festival Event Support Team, or FEST, is tasked with approving such events planned in Surrey.

“We’ve recently had some delays with (FEST) authorizing the runs to take place, because of the contaminants, the coloured powder,” MacSorley related during an interview on May 1. “They’re still studying the issue, because they’re worried about the water runoff and some other stuff.”

However, last Thursday the FEST committee approved the three runs mentioned above, MacSorley said.

“They’re just doing their job to make sure all (events) go through the right rules and regulations,” he explained. “Despite some resistance there, we will continue to find innovative ways to bring revenue and continue to try to do whatever we can to put the word out. Brent’s on social media telling people what we’re doing, what’s going on here, and we’ve had some really good success just parking film crews, so it’s that type of thing we’re doing just to make sure this place is successful. You know, a colour run is good for Cloverdale – good for the businesses of Cloverdale, places like the Henry pub, the restaurants, stores.”

The rodeo and country fair is good for local businesses, too, and MacSorley and the others on his team – Lang, controller Yogesh Bansal, rodeo and sponsorships administrator Jamie Rogers and office manager Launa Hinkson – work to ensure the event sticks around for years to come.

That’s not a certainty, he underlined, and a replacement plan seems to be in place.

“At the strike of a pen, the rodeo could be gone,” said MacSorley, who recently won the Bill Reid Memorial Business person of the Year award from the Cloverdale Chamber of Commerce.

“At any given time, somebody in government could make a decision, if someone gets hurt or an animal gets killed. So what we’re trying to do is build a big enough foundation of an event on the May long weekend, that if the rodeo goes away we will have a country event of some sort, featuring country music, a three-day event at the Stetson Bowl. It’s all related because at the rodeo we program for two things, and that’s for children and for country music. Those are the two things we do.”

Of course, rodeo and fair planners always hope for sunshine, which brings larger crowds. Ticketing for the rodeo performances has been streamlined under MacSorley’s watch, with kids under 12 allowed in free, as part of an effort to make the event more affordable for families.

“We want the place packed,” MacSorley said. “But now, there’s a limited amount of space (in the Stetson Bowl), so we have to adjust how we do the ticketing, because we’re trying to figure out how many people fit in there. It’s a good problem to have.”

Alcohol consumption during the rodeo and fair is another issue.

“I really want to change the perception that it’s a drunk,” MacSorley emphasized. “Before I got here, the impression of the place was it was somewhere to go get hammered – and that’s fine in the Longhorn, but I don’t want people hammered on the midway. We changed the licensing three years ago, and that’s spread it evenly. Now people can come in with their families and have a beer or two, not 10, and that’s good. So we’ve gone away from having that guy sitting in a beer garden not leaving, just getting hammered, because they don’t want to leave behind that half a glass of beer. Well now, they can walk up with that beer.”

Last year, the rodeo itself had more than 22,000 spectators see the five performances, and event managers took the “bold step” of relocating the bucking chutes to give spectators a better view of the event, according to MacSorley in his report to the organization’s annual general meeting in February.

This year, rodeo tickets are $25 and admission to the country fair is $10 – except for kids 12 and under, who are admitted for free. More details can be found online at Cloverdalerodeo.com.

tom.zillich@surreynowleader.com

 

Mike MacSorley, general manager of Cloverdale Rodeo & Exhibition Association. (file photo)

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