Producing rodeos in California has put stock contractor Cotton Rosser up against some stiff competition when it comes to the general public’s coveted entertainment dollars. And that’s why he believes rodeos should be more than just a sporting event – they should be entertaining as well.
“Guys like Everett Colburn and Harry Knight (early rodeo stock contractors) were really showmen,” Cotton says. “I’ve tried to pattern myself after those guys. California is the toughest entertainment market in the world. We’ve got to compete for those dollars that people could be spending at Disneyland or Magic Mountain or all these other types of places they have today.
“A lot of people will tell you that if you’ve seen one rodeo, you’ve seen them all. I don’t think that’s a bit true – especially when it comes to our rodeos. There are so many guys out there today who want to be stock contractors, but they don’t want to be rodeo producers. They just want to show up with some stock, have the rodeo and then take the stock home.”
Another difficult factor in selling rodeo to the general public is the cowboys themselves, Cotton says. “You can’t sell world champions to the public because you never know if they’re going to be there or not. Sometimes they’re supposed to be there, and then they turn out at the last minute. So you’ve got to sell the show itself, things like the specialty acts, the announcers, the bullfighters and all the other stuff we try to do with our rodeos.”
For 10 years after the WranglerÂ® National Finals Rodeo moved to Las Vegas, the Rosser family produced the opening ceremonies each night at the Thomas & Mack Center. They used everything from a 20-foot cowboy boot to spaceships to horses standing on turntables in an effort to give the crowd a good show.
“Our barns are full of that stuff,” Cotton admits. “We’ve built so many contraptions through the years all in the name of entertaining the fans. My old partner, Lex (Connolly), was really good at putting words and music to these types of things.”
As she got older, Cotton’s daughter Cindy Moreno took over the role of coordinating rodeo productions. “I told my dad once that about the only thing he hadn’t done is shoot me out of a cannon,”Cindy recalls, hoping that Cotton wouldn’t get any bright ideas from the comment.
In reality, there isn’t anything Cotton hasn’t tried in his quest to put on a show. “A fellow told me one time, ‘You run the show, don’t let the show run you,’ and that’s what we’ve always tried to do,”Cotton says. “We copied a lot of stuff from Gene Autry and some of the stuff he used to do at the old Madison Square Garden rodeo. We’ve copied stuff from some others and brought in contract acts that have a unique act.
“There’s no reason why even someone who doesn’t know anything about rodeo shouldn’t be able to go out to a rodeo and enjoy the experience,” Cotton says. “I hope if they come to one of our shows, they’ll be able to leave with smiles on their faces.”