Every year, the PRCA staff hosts a news conference at the Thomas & Mack Center where association brass talks about the good, the bad and the ugly that is going on in the sport.
Sometimes there’s good news to report, other times there is bad news to manage, and most times there are PR-spun numbers to digest.
This year was different.
PRCA Commissioner Karl Stressman addressed a sizeable group of media, staff, sponsors and industry leaders in the Wrangler NFR press room Tuesday afternoon, and I’ve never seen him more upbeat or optimistic about the state of professional rodeo and where it’s headed. I spent 20 minutes after the news conference talking to the former Wrangler VP about just how good things are for the sport.
The numbers don’t lie.
Stressman announced that rodeo attendance was up by 700,000 in 2012, page views on ProRodeo.com are 39 percent higher than last year during the Wrangler NFR, there were 1,900 new permit holders, and 5,900 new rodeo entries, and total money at 591 PRCA rodeos was back above $39 million this year.
In addition, the association has launched a new ProRodeo application that has been downloaded nearly 14,000 times, and the PRCA has recently inked contract extensions with Wrangler, Justin Boots and GAC.
Simply put, times are good for the PRCA and its more than 7,000 members.
I found Stressman, my former boss, to be almost giddy about the state of the PRCA, and he was open and honest about his feelings for where things are headed.
Q: Numbers don’t lie, and it appears that the PRCA’s major indicators are all pointing upward. How do you feel about the growth you’ve seen in 2012?
KS: When you look at the numbers, that is what’s really happening, and it’s as transparent as can be. We have a third party (Scarborough Research Group) that’s giving us the numbers, and they’re saying, "Man, you guys are on a run." Sponsors are saying, "We really see the future of the PRCA as being a better opportunity for us." They see we have the only product, professional rodeo, that can reach their consumers. The numbers are saying we’re going off the charts. If we can put together some of these things, we’re going to see the next two or three years as a huge growth opportunity for ProRodeo . A high tide floats all boats, and I absolutely believe that.
Q: You seem like you’re really enjoying your job and the successes the association has had in recent years.
KS: I love this deal. I do this job every day with a passion. This year has been much more of a relaxed year for me and for the PRCA because the numbers are good and it is stable. Our contestants are excited, and our groups are working much, much closer together because our board is working much closer together. We’re not in the position we were a few years ago, and if you’ve got money in your checkbook, that makes life a lot easier.
Q: You just signed major sponsors Wrangler and Justin Boots to three-year extensions. How big is that for the sport?
KS: We never had any doubt they were going anywhere because they weren’t, but they did want some make-goods in their contracts where they said, "You know Karl, we need to see this." When you get sponsors to say, "This is the direction we’d like to see," and it’s the right direction to go as a professional sport, then man, you’ve got all your bases covered. Justin and Wrangler wouldn’t be with us if they didn’t have an emotional connection to the rodeo business.
Q: A few years ago, the PRCA had virtually no presence on television, but you were able to sign Great American Country as your TV sponsor and just signed the company through 2013. How big has that partnership been for the association?
KS: GAC has been a great partner. We got a little push-back when we went from ESPN to GAC, and I understood it. But the responses we’ve gotten on GAC since then have been so positive, and it’s unbelievable. I think it’s a better fit, and I wouldn’t have ever said for us to do it if I didn’t think that. The GAC pieces we’re going to be doing this year going forward will give us what we need, and that’s to develop a new fan base. We want people to find us and go, "Man, rodeo is a cool sport." There are tons of stories we’re not telling, and that’s what GAC is willing to do.
Q: You just announced a new competition called the Champions Challenge, a made-for-TV series of events featuring the top 10 contestants that will begin in 2013. What do you expect it to do in your attempt to market your stars and grow the sport?
KS: I think it’s the right time for the Champions Challenge, and I think it’s ripe with opportunity. I think what we’ve done for so many years is put on mediocre TV, and I’m not going to do it anymore. There’s no way you can take the 55th guy in each event and (count on him) to keep making the short rounds each week. Those guys help run our business, but until we as an administration can say that we have to create stars, then we’re just putting people on TV. This is our opportunity to put the best of the best out there, and when you put the best of the best out there, everybody else benefits.
Q: Speaking of stars, could you pick a better face of the sport than Trevor Brazile, who just clinched his 10th career All-Around title Monday?
KS: I don’t think it’s possible, I really don’t. Here’s a guy who, if you talk about any aspect of his life, he’s got it together. He gets it. He is an absolute superstar.
Q: Do you have any major concerns going forward, or is your chief goal to just keep your momentum from 2012 going strong?
KS: When the wave comes, you have to ride it. I guess the question is, "How do you keep the wave rolling?" I’m not sure I have the answer, but I can tell you one thing, we’re going to keep surfing down the front of it until something changes. Right now, we just don’t have any big initiatives that are negative. The sport of pro rodeo can show its growth model and what’s happening, and we’re just ecstatic. The PRCA is doing something right.
Neal Reid is a freelance writer based in Colorado Springs, Colo., who spent five years as editor of the ProRodeo Sports News and who has written for USA Today, ESPN, ESPNW, American Cowboy, Western Horseman and The Associated Press. This is his ninth Wrangler National Finals Rodeo.