Scottsdale's WestWorld has long been a center of equestrian activity in the southwest, a home for horse shows and competitions that are a perfect fit in The West's Most Western Town. Thanks to major investments in recent years and an intentional push to land more, new and bigger events, WestWorld enjoyed another record year and is poised for even bigger and better things to come.
The venue has evolved from a humble collection of outdoor equestrian arenas called Horseman’s Park when it opened in the early 1980s. WestWorld’s modern era began with its 2014 expansion, when 300,000 square feet of joined, climate-controlled event space was built around the longstanding Equidome arena.
Among many nationally recognized events that call WestWorld home and produced by longtime partners: the Barrett-Jackson Collector Car Auction, the Scottsdale Arabian Horse Show and the Sun Circuit Quarter Horse Association; each contributed toward the cost of the center’s $51 million expansion.
Since the expanded facility opened, WestWorld has reasserted itself as a bustling hub of equestrian shows, competitions and event activity. The promise of the new facility, however, was that more and different events would be attracted to the flexible facility - especially during the hotter months.
That promise is being realized. Over the past year, more than 70 events at WestWorld spanned 579 event days at the facility, attracting 500,000 people for an array of vastly different activities and attractions, everything from a sewing expo, the Abilities Expo for the disability community, fitness and powerlifting competitions, equine, car and motorcycle events along with the city’s annual indoor/outdoor 4th of July celebration.
"Scottsdale represents the full appeal," says WestWorld Director Brian Dygert. "A big, top-rate, flexible facility supported by an incredible team in a great location with world-class amenities all around. That combination is why we have been able to pull events from California, Nevada, Texas and other parts of the country – what we offer here just can't be beat."
This steady increase in activity is achieving the desired results on the bottom line. Prior to its expansion, WestWorld often ran at a financial deficit. That was changing for the better when the pandemic interrupted, but in the past two years, the facility has achieved financial balance with direct revenues exceeding operating costs. For fiscal year 2021/22, direct revenue is estimated at more than $6.5 million, the highest in WestWorld’s history.
WestWorld’s full economic impact is far greater than its direct financial balance. A 2019 study by ASU’s W.P. Carey School of Business estimated that activity generated at and around the venue creates annual total financial impact at more than $111 million in Scottsdale, and nearly $184 million in Maricopa County.
Read: WestWorld 2019 Economic Impact Study - City of Scottsdale (PDF) Maricopa County (PDF)
These positive financial trends are expected to continue as WestWorld’s reputation as a year-round event venue of limitless possibilities grows.
New events joining a star-studded lineup
A perfect example of the venue's ability to attract new users is WestWorld's growing relationship with the National Reined Cow Horse Association. The NRCHA signed a three-year contract to host their DT Horses Western Derby in Scottsdale, and the attractiveness of the venue was quickly evident.
In June 2022 (previously a down time for WestWorld), the NRCHA Western Derby welcomed more than 1,400 entries and 800 horses, nearly a 30 percent increase in entries from the previous year. Attendees flocked to local hotels and restaurants - but also took advantage of WestWorld's 400 full-hookup RV spaces on site, another element of the venue's flexibility and appeal.
The Arabian Horse Association of Arizona has presented the iconic Scottsdale Arabian Horse Show since 1955, and in recent years, they have added other national shows for breeders, youth and amateur riders. Other new equestrian events produced by different organizations have joined the calendar as well, featuring dressage, quarter horses and many other breeds and disciplines.
Although an equine facility at its core, WestWorld perhaps shines bright for the week in January when the Barrett-Jackson Collector Car Auction takes center stage. The homegrown event has become an international attraction, made even bigger and better within the expanded footprint of the 300,000 square foot Tony Nelssen Equestrian Center.
In 2022, Barrett-Jackson celebrated its 50th anniversary with its most successful auction ever, welcoming hundreds of thousands of guests, auctioning more than $200 million in collector automobiles and automobilia, and raising nearly $9 million for charity. WestWorld and Scottsdale were in the spotlight for nearly 40 hours of television coverage.
Video: See WestWorld's North Hall transformed during Barrett-Jackson 2020.
With lessons from the past seven years in hand, a new WestWorld master plan is in the works that will strengthen the facility and how it operates, improve its ease of use and access, and address modernization of its electrical, IT infrastructure, parking and wayfinding.
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 toward even more synergy between WestWorld and new multiuse sports-fields being built adjacent to the 386-acre complex. The venues create a recreational and events core that makes Scottsdale even more attractive to big international events, small local sports tournaments and everything in between.
See everything happening at WestWorld at WestWorldAZ.com.