More than 100 top pro rodeo performers, including the cowboy called “the LeBron James of the rodeo world,” are staging a mutiny against the association that represents them.
Bull riding and steer wrestling are hard enough. Now, professional rodeo stars are trying to do something arguably even more difficult.
At a newly created Support Rodeo Contestants Facebook page, dozens of professional cowboys and cowgirls have come together this week to announce they are leaving the Professional Rodeo Cowboys’ Association (PRCA) and forming their own organization. Among those breaking away from the PRCA and riding off in a new direction is Trevor Brazile, the 11-time world all-around rodeo champion who the Las Vegas Review-Journal refers to as “the LeBron James of the rodeo world.”
“We appreciate what the PRCA has done for the sport in the past, but at this point we feel the time has come for the top contestants to be more directly involved in the future of our sport,” Brazile said via a statement released on the Facebook page. “We are forming a new organization to work together with committees and sponsors to make sure that the sport of professional rodeo continues to deliver the highest quality product to our great fans.”
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Joining Brazile in the movement is his wife, Shada Brazile, who competes in barrel racing and comes from a rodeo family—her dad, brothers, and cousins have also been in the business. K.C. Jones, a seven-time National Finals Rodeo (NFR) steer wrestling qualifier, is one of the leaders of the new cowboy group, which is reportedly being founded after a frustrating series of failed negotiations with the PRCA. “After an exhaustive effort of the top cowboys to help save the current structure, we now realize it’s time for a change and that there is a huge opportunity for the contestants of professional rodeo to work together to advance the sport,” said Jones.
The subject of how much money is earned by rodeo performers is not directly addressed in the announcement, but the group did state that its purpose is “to make sure that the integrity of their profession is not lost in the negotiations over the millions of dollars created each year by the fans who flock to the NFR.” For nearly three decades, the NFR (a.k.a., the “Super Bowl of rodeo”) has been held in Las Vegas. In mid-December, however, the PRCA rejected the latest offer of Las Vegas Entertainment to keep the event in Sin City beyond 2014. The plan for 2015 is that the NRF will move to central Florida, where officials bid $4 million more than their Las Vegas counterparts in order to win hosting duties.
PRCA chief executive Karl Stressman told the Las Vegas Sun that the decision to leave Las Vegas was made partly to increase prize money for riders. “We’re looking for a higher value on the contestant money, no question,” he said.
But apparently, many of the top contestants feel that the PRCA isn’t acting in the interests of performers, nor of the sport itself. After trying to get more say in how PRCA decisions are made, the group is heading off on its own. In all likelihood, that will mean more rodeo events like RodeoHouston and the Calgary Stampede, which pay winners well but aren’t officially sanctioned by the PRCA. Such an event in Las Vegas would seem like a natural if it’s no longer hosting the NRF.
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Montana Missoulian columnist Joe Kusek noted that rodeo event TV rights’ deals could be at the root of some of the drama concerning rodeo stars and the PRCA. “This past December, RFD-TV offered the PRCA $1 million for the television rights to its premier event,” Kusek wrote. (RFD-TV is a cable channel that dubs itself “Rural America’s Most Important Network.”) “The PRCA declined, opting to pay CBS Sports Network to broadcast the NFR. I’m still trying to figure out that math.”