By ALAN SNEL
LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL
Professional rodeo’s most prominent cowboys say they are defecting from the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association to form their own organization, but they are coy about their views on the future of the National Finals Rodeo or any other major rodeo event in Las Vegas.
The biggest names in rodeo led by 11-time world all-around champion Trevor Brazile — the LeBron James of the rodeo world — signed a statement posted on Facebook this week saying it’s time for the sport’s top contestants to be directly involved in the sport’s future.
One of the organizers, steer wrestler K.C. Jones, on Tuesday confirmed the efforts to leave the PRCA and start a different rodeo cowboy organization.
“It’s an exciting time for professional rodeo,” Jones told the Review-Journal. He noted cowboys are already talking with rodeo committees and venues about events outside of Colorado Springs, Colo.-based PRCA, the sport’s governing body.
Charly Crawford, a seven-time qualifier in the NFR’s team roping category, said the motivation behind the efforts is that the sport’s top cowboys want a bigger voice in the PRCA’s decision-making process. Crawford said the NFR draws the top 120 cowboys, but their voices are not heard at the PRCA board meetings. Overall, there were 5,071 PRCA contestant card holders in 2013.
Crawford also said a concern is big rodeos such as Calgary and Houston are breaking away from PRCA’s governance.
And with the PRCA flirting with moving the NFR — the sport’s Super Bowl — to Osceola County in Central Florida starting in 2015, Las Vegas might be another city that starts its own major rodeo event outside of the PRCA banner.
“It started a trend now. It’s a big concern for us,” Crawford said of rodeo cities starting non-PRCA sanctioned events. Crawford said talk of the sport’s biggest stars participating in an independent Las Vegas rodeo if the PRCA moves the NFR to Osceola County has surfaced.
“We’d like to talk to Las Vegas,” Crawford said of the top cowboys.
In the top cowboys’ Facebook statement, posted on the page, “Support Rodeo Contestants,” Jones said “It’s time for a change.”
“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,” Jones said in the Facebook statement. “We are extremely excited to showcase the best contestants at the best venues to give the fans the top quality action they want.”
The page had 14,524 likes as of 4:30 p.m. Tuesday.
Brazile could not be reached for comment Tuesday. His wife, Shada Brazile, an NFR barrel racer, said she also signed the statement.
Brazile did say in the Facebook statement: “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. … 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.”
The Facebook statement does not address specifically why the cowboys want to leave the PRCA and does not bring up the topic of money.
But Crawford said the cowboys’ proposal asked for adding two more cowboy representatives to the PRCA’s governing board, which currently has four cowboy reps out of the nine board members.
Even though the cowboys’ proposal called for six cowboy (or contestant) reps on an 11-member board, Crawford noted the proposal also suggested that an affirmative vote would take at least seven votes. That way, the six contestant reps could not control every vote, Crawford said.
The PRCA rejected the cowboys’ proposal for two extra seats at the board table.
The Facebook statement said the top cowboys united last month when the PRCA and Las Vegas Events were negotiating over whether the PRCA will continue staging the prized NFR in Las Vegas after 2014. The 10-day rodeo, considered the Super Bowl of rodeos, has been held in Las Vegas from 29 years. The deal between the PRCA and Las Vegas Events expires after this year’s event at the Thomas & Mack Center.
“A group of the top contestants in the sport of professional rodeo have come together 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 to see the top cowboys and cowgirls compete for the world championship buckles,” the Facebook statement said.
On Dec. 15, the PRCA board rejected a Las Vegas Events offer to keep the NFR in Las Vegas for 10 years after 2014, but then the PRCA’s members also voted unanimously for the organization to continue negotiating with LVE.
Meanwhile on the same day, Osceola County commissioners in central Florida outside Orlando made an offer to lure the NFR from Las Vegas, committing to $10 million more in prize money for the cowboys, a 24,000-seat rodeo arena and millions of dollars annually for marketing.
PRCA Commissioner Karl Stressman could not be reached for comment Tuesday, while Las Vegas Events President Pat Christenson declined to comment. Stressman said previously that he would send a counteroffer to Las Vegas Events this month on keeping the NFR in Las Vegas.
Some rodeo observers said the cowboys abandoning the PRCA is reminiscent of the bull riders who bolted in 1992 to form Professional Bull Riders.
“It’s like deja vu,” said Chris Woodruff, a former rodeo bareback rider who runs two retail country and western shows in Las Vegas during NFR.
Bob Thain, a Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame rodeo producer from Reno and former PRCA board member, said this is not the first time cowboys have tried to leave the PRCA.
Thain advised the cowboys: “People don’t come to see the individuals. People come for a good time and tickets that are not $200 like they are to watch the 49ers.”