Two years after a major shakeup of the Cody Stampede Board, former board president and current member Mike Darby said a review of the money-handling processes did not turn up any discrepancies.
“There was nothing found that was inappropriate,” Darby said. “It showed that we can always tighten up our procedures and whatnot, but nothing major and nothing to be concerned about whatsoever.”
The Stampede Board came under heavy scrutiny at the end of 2018 when then-board secretary and office manager Cherain Richmond’s husband Brett was accused of lobbing racial epithets and sexual innuendos. Brett Richmond was also accused of making disparaging remarks about Nikki and Hadley Tate, part of the Mo Betta Rodeo Company, the longtime stock contractor of the Cody Nite Rodeo.
The remarks were made while Brett Richmond was at the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas as a guest of the Stampede Board.
Brett Richmond received a lifetime ban from Stampede Park after the incidents. Cherain Richmond left her position with the Stampede.
After those developments, the Stampede Board received five new members, including Jeri Gillett, the first woman to serve on the board since founder Caroline Lockhart. An audit was announced shortly after the new board members were sworn in in 2019 and this procedural review was completed sometime after the 2020 rodeo season ended.
“We were looking at procedures for selling tickets and getting money back and getting money to the bank,” said Michael Wright, of the Thermopolis accounting firm Koerwitz, Michel, Wright & Associates. “It wasn’t the intention to look for improprieties, fraud, anything like that … I didn’t look at past numbers at all. It was about looking to the future.”
Former president and current board member Marc Thompson also said the Stampede Board was using a third-party bookkeeper to provide additional financial support.
Darby said after the Stampede last July, the Board was in good shape financially after making some cuts to what they were offering.
“We held it together,” he said. “We cut back and were really judicious in our expenditures.”
Cheyenne’s Frontier Days, one of the biggest rodeos in the world, posted a $3.3 million loss last year after not holding any sort of event, according to the Wyoming Tribune Eagle. The Stampede operated this year at a limited capacity, did not have a hospitality tent for contestants and cut back on the total purse offered, which Darby said helped the 102-year-old event stay afloat.
Planning for the next Stampede is already in the early stages, and Stampede Board President Chad Ball says they’re taking the lessons learned last year into this year’s planning.
“We’re getting ready for another season with COVID restrictions,” Ball said. “I think we’re already starting out better than we did last year, knowing what’s going on and what we need to do.”
Sponsorships for the Cody Nite Rodeo were only down slightly last year despite the pandemic.
“Our sponsors for the Nite Rodeo were unbelievable,” said stock contractor Maury Tate. “We lost a couple but then we had some new ones come on board.”
Tate said the real financial trouble came with a reduction in spectator attendance due to the pandemic, which was down over 50%. The loss of revenue from foreign travel and tour buses also hurt the Nite Rodeo. Just because revenue was down doesn’t mean the rodeo was any cheaper to put on.
“You can’t pay people less because there is a pandemic,” Tate said. “You can’t feed [the stock] less because there’s a pandemic. You still have to put on a good rodeo and have good employees.”
Tate hasn’t started securing sponsors for the 2021 season yet, but is hopeful that vaccine distribution will boost attendance this summer.