After a record year, WestWorld seeks continued growth



Scottsdale’s WestWorld has long been a hub of equestrian activity in the Southwest, a home for horse shows and tournaments that fit perfectly with the West’s westernmost city.

Thanks to major investments over the past few years and a deliberate attempt to land more, newer and bigger events, WestWorld has enjoyed another record year and is poised for even bigger and better things, according to a press release.

The venue grew out of a humble collection of outdoor equestrian arenas called Horseman’s Park when it opened in the early 1980s. WestWorld’s modern era began with expansion in 2014, when 300,000 square feet of contiguous, air-conditioned event space was built around the long-standing Equidome arena.

Among many nationally recognized events that call WestWorld home and are produced by longtime partners: the Barrett-Jackson Collector Car Auction, the Scottsdale Arabian Horse Show and the Sun Circuit Quarter Horse Association; each contributed to the cost of the center’s $51 million expansion.

Since the opening of the expanded facility, WestWorld has reestablished itself as a busy center for equestrian shows, competitions and event activities. But the promise of the new facility was that more and different events would be attracted to the flexible facility – especially in the hotter months.

This promise is implemented.

Last year, more than 70 events at WestWorld spanned 579 days of events at the facility and drew 500,000 people to a wide range of activities and attractions, from a sewing fair to the Abilities Expo for the disabled community, to fitness and powerlifting competitions, Horse, car and motorcycle events along with the city’s annual indoor and outdoor celebration on July 4th.

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“Scottsdale represents the full attraction,” said WestWorld director Brian Dygert. “A large, first class, flexible facility supported by an incredible team in a great location with first class amenities all around. This combination is why we’ve been able to attract events from California, Nevada, Texas and other parts of the country – you can’t beat what we offer here.”

The bottom line is that this steady increase in activity produces the desired results. Prior to its expansion, WestWorld was often in financial deficit. That changed for the better when the pandemic was disrupted, but over the past two years the facility has reached financial equilibrium, with direct revenues exceeding operating costs. For the 2021-22 fiscal year, direct revenues are estimated to exceed $6.5 million, the highest in WestWorld history.

WestWorld’s full economic impact far exceeds its direct financial equilibrium. A 2019 study by ASU’s WP Carey School of Business estimates that activity generated in and around the venue generates an overall annual financial impact of more than $111 million in Scottsdale and nearly $184 million in Cause Maricopa County.

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These positive financial trends are expected to continue as WestWorld’s reputation as a year-round venue with limitless opportunities grows.

(Independent News Media/Arianna Grainey)

New events in a star-studded lineup

A perfect example of the venue’s ability to attract new patrons is WestWorld’s growing relationship with the National Reined Cow Horse Association. The NRCHA signed a three-year deal to host its DT Horses Western Derby in Scottsdale, and the venue’s appeal was quickly apparent, the press release said.

In June 2022 (previously a downtime for WestWorld), the NRCHA Western Derby welcomed more than 1,400 entries and 800 horses, nearly 30% more entries than the previous year. Attendees flocked to local hotels and restaurants – but also took advantage of WestWorld’s 400 on-site RV sites, another element of the venue’s flexibility and appeal.

The Arabian Horse Association of Arizona has presented the legendary Scottsdale Arabian Horse Show since 1955 and has added more national shows for breeders, junior and amateur riders in recent years. Other new equestrian events produced by various organizations have also been added to the calendar including dressage, quarter horses and many other breeds and disciplines.

Although WestWorld is an equine facility at its core, WestWorld may shine brightly during the week of January when the Barrett-Jackson Collector Car Auction takes center stage. The domestic event has grown into an international attraction made even bigger and better within the expanded 300,000 square foot Tony Nelssen Equestrian Center.

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In 2022, Barrett-Jackson celebrated its 50th anniversary with its most successful auction ever, welcoming hundreds of thousands of guests, auctioning off more than $200 million in collector cars and automobilia, and raising nearly $9 million for charity. WestWorld and Scottsdale were in the spotlight for nearly 40 hours of television coverage.

(Video courtesy of the City of Scottsdale)

What’s next?

Using lessons learned from the past seven years, a new WestWorld master plan is in the works that will strengthen facilities and operations, improve their usability and access, and address upgrades to their electrical, IT infrastructure, parking lots, and signage.

Scottsdale voters approved additional investment in the facility as part of a 2019 bond election, which will take the form of replacing barns originally built in the 1980s, along with other improvements.

Looking ahead, the city is pushing for even more synergies between WestWorld and new multi-purpose athletic fields being built adjacent to the 386-acre complex. The venues form a recreational and events core that makes Scottsdale even more attractive for large international events, small local sporting tournaments and everything in between.

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