Big rodeo names missed Greeley Stampede, won’t appear at Cheyenne Frontier Days | TheFencePost.com

Big rodeo names missed Greeley Stampede, won’t appear at Cheyenne Frontier Days

Samuel G. Mustari

ERA or PRCA — what's the difference? In one aspect, nothing. Both are pro rodeo associations — the Elite Rodeo Association and the Professional Rodeo Cowboy's Association — and are about competing in rodeo and winning money.

As long as there's letters involved — throw in the PBR (Professional Bull Riders), and WPBRa (Women's Professional Barrel Racing/Women's Pro Rodeo Association).

However, the ERA and PRCA don't really like each other.

The ERA is the new kid on the block, formed a little more than a year ago and was once-owned by many of the contestants to provide an avenue for future contestants while earning ownership.

The PRCA is the big boy, been around forever and considered the governing umbrella of pro rodeo for decades. It has 7,000 members and sanctions 600 rodeo events across the nation.

However, competing for both has caused problems. It's safe to say they do not peacefully coexist.

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A horde of contestants — because of their allegiance to the ERA — didn't compete in the PRCA-sanctioned 95th Greeley Independendce Stampede Rodeo at Island Grove Arena. They'll miss the PRCA-sanctioned rodeo at the Cheyenne Frontier Days at the end of July, as well.

Weld County's most notable former PRCA World Champion Bruce Ford — a four-time World Champion bareback rider— has an allegiance to the PRCA.

"I'm old school," Ford said. "My loyalty is to the PRCA."

The discord between the associations has caused lawsuits, injunctions and counter-injunctions.

The ERA was formed in 2014 after several pro rodeo competitors were unhappy with some elements of the PRCA, and initially 70 top PRCA members publicly supported the ERA.

In a nutshell, the ERA was created to consolidate the number of events to compete in by employing a tour with the idea that a limited schedule will extend the life of a cowboy's career.

The ERA's structure has a commonality with the PBR — it has a season-long tour that culminates with a World Championship Event, Nov. 9-13 at the American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas.

The ERA regular-season tour consists of 15 rodeos in eight cities — the first one was March 25-26 in Redmond, Ore. The final regular-season rodeo is scheduled for Oct. 8-9 in New Orleans, La.

The PRCA conducts its Wrangler National Finals Rodeo in December in Las Vegas, Nev., with prize money in the neighborhood of $10 million.

TELL IT TO THE JUDGE

Lawsuits between the two organizations have bounced around like an unseasoned rookie on a rank bull.

In February, a preliminary injunction was filed by ERA members Trevor Brazile, Bobby Mote and Ryan Motes against the PRCA, hoping to allow ERA members who are owners in the new organization would be able to compete in PRCA events.

The injunction was denied.

In September, the PRCA issued a bylaw that indicated anybody with a financial interest in another rodeo association could not compete in PRCA events. Since the ERA's members are also owners, it prevented every ERA member from competing in PRCA events.

That brought on an antitrust lawsuit by the ERA, hoping to prevent the PRCA from enforcing its new bylaws, stopping just short of calling the PRCA a monopoly.

On the ERA website, spokesperson Holly DeLaune said that 15 percent of the organization's members are no longer owners and only competitors.

"They've given up their ownership under much duress so that they can be in compliance with the bylaws and attend PRCA rodeos as well as ERA events," DeLaune said in news release. "Many of them have contractual obligations to sponsors that require them to attend PRCA events.

"This group has pledged their commitment to make ERA events their first priority in their rodeo schedules – they will compete in both associations," DeLaune added.

The membership roster — updated from its website on Friday — lists 11 bareback riders, 11 saddle bronc ricers, 11 team roping/steer wrestlers, 11 women's barrel racers, 11 steer wrestlers and 11 bull riders.

In the end, a district court ruled that the PRCA is not a monopoly, partially based on the ERA's success of scheduling a full season of rodeos, securing a television contract (with FOX Sports 2) to televise its finals, and arranging for a high-profile performance venue.

Thus, all competitors are eligible to compete in the ERA and the PRCA and can qualify for ERA World Championships and the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo.

SOME AREN'T COMING WEST

One big-name draw — Mote, a four-time world-champion bareback rider — wasn't in Greeley for the Stampede Rodeo.

Mote is one of the owners of the ERA, who has opted to direct his attention to the ERA's inaugural year.

"We haven't changed our mission because of the injunction ruling," Mote said in a news release. "We're going to keep moving forward, doing what we set out to do. For the cowboys like myself, I want to go to the NFR again this year, but that's off the table now. It's unfortunate for the fans and for the contestants, but I feel like I can make more of a mark in trying to improve rodeo by being involved in this great group of men and women in rodeo than I can by winning another gold buckle."

"If we could somehow work with the PRCA, and believe me, we've tried, and we'd love to," Mote added. "We'd love to see both organizations thrive. But at the same time, if they don't want competition, we cannot let it deter us from what we set out to do."

Other world champions — Luke Branquinho, Tuf Cooper and Kaycee Field — will only compete in ERA events, according to the news release.

The 10-year reigning PRCA all-around champion Trevor Brazile wasn't in Greeley, and won't be competing in Cheyenne. Neither will four-time world champion bareback rider Field, reigning bareback champion Steven Peebles, steer wrestler Hunter Cure, and tie-down roper Caleb Smidt.

PRCA RULES HAVEN'T CHANGED

In the end, PRCA's rodeos are open to all members of its organization who pay for a membership card.

However, to participate in the NFR, a cowboy must pile up sufficient points at other PRCA-sanctioned rodeos throughout the year.

In 2015, the total available prize money for all PRCA events exceeded $41 million The NFR prize money was in the neighborhood of $10-million — numbers the infant ERA may never come close to.

As for Ford, he has a long history with the PRCA and he's seen other associations come and go in his storied career.

"I don't know much about it (the ERA), but I'm old school," said Ford, a five-time world bareback champion from Kersey. "I'll stick with the guy that paid me pretty good … the PRCA.

"The (ERA) other thing sounds like it's becoming pretty established, but then again, it might be one of those flash in the pan things."

Field, who is a four-time world champion bareback rider, is devoted to the ERA.

"(Field) has a chance to tie me as a five-time world (bareback) champ, but it seems like he's thrown that out the window now," Ford said. "I know a lot of guys are believing in it (the ERA), but I'm old school. I'm a PRCA guy." ❖