Last week members of the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo's marketing and public relations team held a press conference to present some of the rodeo's new-for-2011 offerings, chief among them a feature-rich smartphone app meant to improve all aspects of the rodeo experience, from parking to buying tickets for concerts.
Also new this year is a horticulture competition, which was introduced by Chief Operating Officer Leroy Shafer, who cracked a joke about the Jason's Deli boxed lunches provided at the meeting.
"Our food booths are not set up yet or else we'd be serving you something on a stick."
Shafer talked about the urban nature of the rodeo, and last year's major attendance milestone, which he referred to as the "sacred barrier": more than 2 million people attended the HLSR over the course of 23 days in 2010.
"We're in a city of 6 million. We think there's a lot more people in Houston interested in their gardens and in their yards than there are in livestock. We're also thinking more about how to fit all those people in here safely."
It's that second concern that the smartphone app is meant to address, according to Executive Director of Operations Mike DeMarco.
"The arrival experience is a huge part of the show," he said, referring to a tanker truck accident last year on 610 West that brought rush hour, Rodeo and spring break traffic to a standstill. "(The app) is an additional tool for spectators to plan their trip."
The app, which should be available as a free download in the next few days, is "highly integrated, complex and real-time," Shafer said. It includes GPS capability and will be available for both Android phones and iPhone. The app will also allow HLSR employees to instantly update message boards through the rodeo campus to reflect traffic conditions, parking availability and other news.
Among the app's elements:
- A "Get Here" feature including up-to-the-minute traffic, maps and parking lot capacity percentages updated every 20 minutes or less
- "Mark My Spot," which will help direct you back to your car via GPS after you've forgotten which way was up from riding the midway rides. The parking feature also includes lot prices and shuttle schedules.
- Full schedules of rodeo events. Spectators will be able to purchase concert tickets online and read bios of the performers, as well as plan their entire day and "stay on task," according to Clint Saunders, communications director.
- A GPS-enabled map of the grounds, including a "You Are Here" icon and a friend-finder, which is sure to be popular with teenagers hoping to ditch their 'rents for the day.
- An online store for HLSR merch, rodeo weather, a live feed from the RodeoHouston online radio station and social media access to Twitter and Facebook from within the app.
All snark aside, the app actually looks pretty cool. The rodeo team worked on it for nearly a year, partnering with Austin development company Avai Ventures, which has also designed smartphone apps for the Austin rodeo, several zoos (including Houston's) and a handful of events such as car shows.
The app will be available under "HLSR" in iTunes and "Houston rodeo" in Google Marketplace. It is not available yet, though there is a copycat app for sale in the iTunes store. Both apps will feature the rodeo's bow-legged H as their logo. Hair Balls will update you when the real deal is ready to be downloaded.