Some 6,000 people attended weekend rodeo events, a 20 percent jump from last year, said Payson Director of Tourism and Economic Vitality Cameron Davis.
Although the number of competitors and prize money declined this year, Davis credited a $13,000 advertising campaign in the Valley and nearby towns with a heartening increase in attendance.
In addition, the Saturday morning Rodeo Parade down Main Street drew more than 1,000 spectators and 71 entries, up from 42 last year, said Davis.
Davis said the shift of the parade route from Highway 260 to Main Street helped a lot, cutting costs significantly and resulting in a more compact and concentrated parade. Instead of three miles long, the parade was concentrated in a one-mile stretch and lasted about an hour and a quarter. He estimated that at least 1,000 people gathered near McLane and Main streets, at the center of the parade route.
The visitors snapped up every one of the 600 hotel rooms in town, he said, making it perhaps the third strongest weekend of the summer -- behind July 4 and the visit of the Vietnam Memorial Wall.
"The parade was a huge success and attendance at the rodeo jumped across the board," said Davis. "I haven't heard stories like July 4 that the restaurants were running out of food, but it was a good, solid, sellout weekend."
Davis noted that the rodeo also drew good crowds to the casino's mechanical bull contest. Organizers reported big crowds for the Friday, Saturday and Sunday night dances at the Oxbow and full parking lots at most restaurants throughout the weekend.
Police reported relatively few problems with the once-rowdy rodeo crowds. Payson Police Chief Don Engler reported a total of eight arrests for Friday and Saturday, but only one or two involved people in town for the rodeo.
"It has slowed down considerably" from past years, said Engler. "More people are attending and it is more family oriented."
However, Arizona Department of Liquor Licenses and Control issued 18 criminal and administrative violations, including three employees drinking on the job at the rodeo grounds -- plus one citation for unauthorized alcohol and one for lack of knowledge of the laws.
"Usually at big events, we get these type of numbers," said Payson Police Sgt. Bob Dorn.
Citations at area bars include six for underage drinking, one for false identification, one for selling to a minor and one license violation.
All told, the weekend went off without a single major problem, said town officials.
"It's been awhile since we've seen one so successful in terms of the turnout and the enthusiasm for all the ancillary events," said Mayor Kenny Evans. "It was a great and exciting time -- just kudos and credit to the tremendous efforts on the part of a huge number of volunteers -- what a great group."
Davis noted that the town invested little in advertising last year, which probably reduced attendance.
Still, some rodeo organizers worried about the decline in participation and prize money, even if the long slide in attendance has been checked by a more aggressive advertising campaign.
"It's hard to make money out here," lamented one exhibitor.
The weather provided another challenge, with a brief flurry of rain on Saturday that sent some spectators running for cover. Total attendance on Saturday night was about 1,800. Evans noted that the clouds kept temperatures down during the day.