By Kathy Aney

(Pendleton) East Oregonian

PENDLETON — Randy Thomas exuded good cheer on Monday of Pendleton Round-Up week.

And why wouldn’t he? The Pendleton Round-Up director, in charge of publicity for the iconic rodeo, has the world by the tail these days.

Ticket sales, for instance, continue on an upward trajectory.

“Last year, we set a record,” said Thomas, as he leaned back in a chair in the media trailer. “This year, we’ve already broken that record. We exceeded all-time ticket revenues before the show even started.”

Jason Graybeal, Round-Up director in charge of office and treasurer, confirmed the record bump in sales.

“We had record revenue prior to last year’s Round-Up of $1.152 million,” Graybeal said. “We surpassed the $1.2 million mark last week. There’s not a single seat left for Saturday and Friday’s about done, too.”

In addition, the 1910 Room is fully booked. That is the tented area at the east end of the arena where guests watch rodeo action while enjoying drinks and gourmet food.

Thomas took a stab at explaining why the famous outdoor rodeo keeps drawing more spectators.

“People just want to be here this year,” he said. “I think we have a big footprint out there with a social media presence.”

Happily, he said, the Round-Up has simply become a hot tourist destination.

“People in general want to experience something authentic, that’s intensely relational,” Thomas said. “They get here and find a community that’s family. When people come here from out of town, they get that experience.”

Another indication of the Round-Up’s increasing magnetism is the annual Queens’ Luncheon. The event, held at the Pendleton Convention Center, hosts visiting royalty who participate in Saturday’s Westward Ho! Parade. Last year, the luncheon welcomed about 150 rodeo queens and princesses.

“This year, I have close to 200 people coming,” said Karen Vanderplaat, who is in charge of the event.

Among the expected royalty, Vanderplaat said, are 16 state rodeo queens who will get acquainted over sandwiches, salads and cookies.

Round-Up director Tiah DeGrofft said sponsorships, like ticket sales, are seeing an upswing.

“For the past three years, we’ve done about $20,000 to $30,000 more than the year prior,” she said. “Each year, we do a little better.”

As if that was not enough, the weather forecast makes Thomas’ mood even more sunny. Temperatures will linger in the upper 60s and low 70s throughout the week. The only hint of rain comes Thursday, but only a 20 percent chance.

“With cool weather, our beverage sales should be really strong,” he said.

Not all beverages, he clarified, since water sales rise with the temperature.

Thomas spends a fair amount of time on the phone fielding calls from writers and photographers and others intent on experiencing the Pendleton Round-Up.

“A lot of people want to be a part of it,” he said. “It’s an iconic Oregon experience.”