RodeoHouston closes, cancels several concerts amid coronavirus concerns

KTRK logo
Thursday, March 12, 2020
Katy ISD helps house rodeo animals
After the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo was canceled, Katy ISD stepped in to help by providing a barn shelter for participant's animals.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- One of the largest livestock exhibitions and rodeos in the world is being shut down early amid the growing concerns over the spread of coronavirus, according to Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner.

The closure comes as Turner has declared a health emergency for Houston, which impacts the rodeo and a number of other events in the city.

As officials urged calm and common sense advice on preventing the spread of the illness during a Wednesday press conference, it may have come too late. The RodeoHouston BBQ on Feb. 28 was attended by the person that's been identified as Montgomery County's non-travel related coronavirus patient.

The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo's closure is 11 days ahead of the March 22 finale.

"Having to close early is extremely difficult as guests, volunteers, exhibitors, rodeo athletes and entertainers look forward to the 20 days of the Rodeo each year," according to a statement from rodeo officials. "We look forward to the 2021 Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo to continue to promote agriculture, education, entertainment and Western heritage."

The event draws millions of people from around the world and funds millions in scholarships every year. Despite the closure, rodeo officials said Wednesday that this year's scholarships will be fulfilled.

"We are in a position to fulfill our annual contribution to youth and education," Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo president and CEO Joel Cowley said.

Cowley later explained the process of winding down the event, adding that it was still allowing some livestock shows to press on to completion well after the 4 p.m. closure time.

As for ticket refunds, StubHub began handling those. Cowley said the rodeo would start informing customers beginning Thursday about concert tickets and carnival packs.

"We ask people to be patient without us," Cowley said, adding the event won't have the process in place until the next week.

Cowley revealed officials didn't really know about the city's decision until the "wee hours" of Wednesday morning. Due to this, Cowley said people who entered the carnival grounds weren't charged an admission fee.

While the rodeo now looks forward to 2021's event, Cowley assured the rodeo's "long-term viability" will not be impacted.

WATCH: RodeoHouston president/CEO explains how it came to decision to close for 2020

In the wake of the abrupt end of the 2020 Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, the event's president, Joel Cowley, explains how he and other leaders came to the decision.

Even before Turner made the announcement official, attendees told ABC13 the carnival rides were no longer allowing guests to board.

"I guess we're going home," one man said. "We just got here and we tried to get on some rides and they didn't let us on."

The decision to shut down the event was as sudden as it was historic and caught attendees off guard.

"These babies didn't ride a single thing," one mother told ABC13's Nick Natario. "Facepaint and food is all they got. It's their spring break and all I can do is say 'I'm sorry.' I wouldn't have them out here if I was scared of what they're scared of."

Rides shut down before noon Wednesday.

WATCH: Rodeo attendee's emotional reaction to the cancellation

What's next for contestants and scholarship nominees in the midst of the rodeo cancellation?

The rodeo is the latest in a growing number of large events across the United States that have been cancelled or postponed.

READ MORE: South by Southwest canceled amidst coronavirus outbreak

A petition titled "Petition to Cancel the Houston Rodeo Amid Coronavirus Outbreak" was started ahead of Wednesday's announcement. As of Wednesday morning, more than 4,500 people had signed on.

Petition to cancel RodeoHouston gains hundreds of signatures online

Rodeo season kicked off Tuesday, March 3 and was supposed to last through Sunday, March 22.

All 12 concerts set for NRG Stadium have been cancelled. Here was who was scheduled to perform:

Wednesday, March 11 - Country - Kane Brown

Thursday, March 12 - Country - Cody Johnson

Friday, March 13 - Hip Hop/Pop - Lizzo

Saturday, March 14 - Country - John Pardi

Sunday, March 15 - Country - Dierks Bentley

Monday, March 16 - Country - Keith Urban

Tuesday, March 17 - Pop - Gwen Stefani

Wednesday, March 18 - R&B/Pop - Khalid

Thursday, March 19 - Country - Chris Stapleton

Friday, March 20 - EDM - Marshmello

Saturday, March 21 - Country - Brad Paisley

Sunday, March 22 - Country - Luke Bryan

StubHub is offering a full refund for tickets purchased.

SEE ALSO: How to get a refund on your Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo tickets

The multi-day event generates a $227 million economic impact, according to the RodeoHouston website, and generates nearly 3,700 direct jobs.

It's the first shutdown of the rodeo since it was cancelled entirely in 1937, Cowley confirmed. The original rodeo site, Sam Houston Hall, was burned down before that year's event was called off. Since 1938, however, the rodeo has taken place each year, including during World War II.

This year's announcement comes as attendance has been down over previous years. The 2020 event experienced the lowest opening attendance for the first six days over the past five years.

Rodeo Houston and area museums seeing spring break decline as coronavirus concerns grow

The event was established as the Houston Fat Stock Show in 1931, before a name change 30 years later to the current Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo.