What is the meaning of "tarmac" in "Grab your friends and join the rodeo action with our Bud & Barbeque deal! For $39 plus GST, score admission to Stampede Park, tarmac tickets to the rodeo, and a voucher for a mouthwatering beef on a bun paired perfectly with a cold Budweiser"?

According to The Free Dictionary, "tarmac" means:

  1. A tarmacadam road or surface.
  2. A paved surface of a runway, taxiway, or apron at an airport.

Thank you!

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    Today I learned that tarmac is short for tarmacadam
    – No Name
    Commented Jul 12 at 13:16
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    Historically, tarmac is short for tarmacadam, which originates from the early days of flight, when a (usually military) aerodrome (airport/runways, etc) was made by putting down crushed stone which was smoothed (macadam) then covered with tar and rolled (tarmacadam). Especially in England, during WWII, bomber fields were absolutely ginormous, with very long runways and many yards wide, as flights would take off spaced side-by-side as well as front to rear, in order to get off the field in large groups quickly, without endangering other planes if there was an accident (or shutting down it all)
    – CGCampbell
    Commented Jul 12 at 16:06
  • The reason that I knew that tarmac is short for tarmacadam is The man who wasn't there, where, if I remember correctly, that's the product (one of the products?) that Billy Bob Thornton's character is selling.
    – LSpice
    Commented Jul 12 at 19:11

2 Answers 2


This isn't a phrase that has general use, but is a specific term invented or adopted by the Calgary Stampede Rodeo.

It is a ticket that does not reserve you a seat, but allows you to stand on the tarmac. There is a large area covered in tarmacadam where rodeo visitors can stand to watch the action. These tickets are considerably cheaper than reserved tickets:

Reserved rodeo tickets can be expensive (starting at $40 each). Standing room tickets aren’t (starting at $14), and the huge tarmac is a great place to get close to the action. Standing room tickets are sold on the day of the show. You must be at the Grandstand ticket office or BMO Centre ticket office before 11:00 a.m. on the day of the show that you wish to attend. There’s only a limited number of tickets go on sale each day, so arrive early.

  • Thank you so much for your detailed explanations!
    – Maurice
    Commented Jul 10 at 20:46
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    "This isn't a phrase that has general use" In motorsports, this is a term used for being able to go on the tarmac before the race starts, it's the equivalent of a backstage pass (except there's no stage and it isn't at the back of it). Contrary to the rodeo example, it is a better than default ticket (being allowed near the cars), as opposed to a lesser ticket (i.e. not getting a seat)
    – Flater
    Commented Jul 12 at 1:59
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    The question is clearly asking about American usage, but it’s worth noting that “tarmac” is a common word in British English, where it is the equivalent of the American “asphalt” (“asphalt” on the other hand is never used in British English outside of civil engineering, and even then “bituminous macadam” is the preferred term).
    – KrisW
    Commented Jul 13 at 15:33
  • @KrisW "Clearly asking about American usage"? I don't see what makes that clear. Calgary is in Canada, where many BE usages prevail. Commented Jul 16 at 14:45
  • @Andy Bonner - I honestly didn’t see “Calgary” there, or I would have been more specific (I must have picked up Alberta-blindness from my Saskatchewan friend…). Rodeos aren’t a common thing in places where British English is used, so “American” was only meant in contrast to “British”. The Canadian location does explain why “tarmac” was chosen in favour of “asphalt”, though - perhaps you should do an answer?
    – KrisW
    Commented Jul 17 at 9:20

@JamesK wrote a fantastic answer for this specific term, but for generalization I wanted to add a couple similar terms that may aid understanding.

"Tarmac" is indeed how you defined it in the question -- a large, paved asphalt space which could have many uses, but in this case is used for standing room for the event. This is (in my experience) an uncommon usage of the term tarmac, which is far more common on airports, military bases, and other utility/transportation spaces.

In entertainment and ticket sales, the far more common term in American English would be a "General Admission" (or GA) ticket, which grants entry to the event, but not an assigned seat. This can take many forms, sometimes directly in front of the stage, but often this area will be somewhat further away from the performance with worse visibility than the assigned seating. Some outdoor venues will call this "Lawn Seating", if there is a grass field near the stage instead of paved tarmac. In the lawn case guests are often allowed to bring folding chairs or blankets of their own, but this depends on the venue.

All of these types of tickets will allow access to purchase food, drinks, and other merchandise vendors if they are present at the event. Just not an assigned seat for the actual performance.

  • 2
    I guess a difference between my expectation for a general admission ticket and what "tarmac ticket" apparently means in the OP's context is that I would usually expect a GA ticket to give me a right to a seat (albeit not a specific one). It sounds like a "tarmac ticket" does not entitle one to a seat at all. Commented Jul 11 at 21:06
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    @NoName: In UK usage (in my experience), “paved” typically just means surfaces made of discrete blocks of some kind — tiles, paving stones, prefabricated concrete slabs, etc. Continuously-laid surfaces like asphalt/tarmac aren’t thought of as “paved”. (Meanwhile “tarmac” and “asphalt” are essentially the same in colloquial use, though their precise technical meanings are slightly different.)
    – PLL
    Commented Jul 12 at 14:39
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    @No Name ... in the UK paved would usually imply a surface made of blocks, usually stone or concrete rather than laid like tarmac or poured concrete. By the way strictly speaking tarmac is made with tar whereas asphalt is made with bitumen. Outside of civil engineering the terms are often used interchangeably, mainly because no-one knows the difference. Commented Jul 12 at 14:39
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    @PLL Ah, so it's 'paved' that we're misusing
    – No Name
    Commented Jul 12 at 16:09
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    Mmmm.  Of course, the really confusing word is ‘pavement’, which in the US I think means the road surface (UK usu. ‘tarmac’), whereas in the UK it means the pedestrian walkway next to the road (US ‘sidewalk’)!
    – gidds
    Commented Jul 12 at 17:42

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