Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association Commissioner Karl Stressman was upbeat and optimistic at his annual “State of the PRCA” news conference at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo press room inside the Thomas &Mack Center on Tuesday afternoon.
The sport’s top official lauded the association’s overall health and expressed relief that the PRCA was able to sign a 10-year extension in January with Las Vegas Events and the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority that will keep the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo in the city for the foreseeable future. Stressman, who is in his sixth year at the helm of the rodeo’s largest governing body, was bullish about the PRCA’s stature going into 2015.
“To say that 2015 is a year we can’t wait to see is an understatement,” Stressman said. “The financial picture of the PRCA is stronger than it’s ever been. The 2014 financial report will be very, very strong, and the 2015 budget that was created by the PRCA Board of Directors will be stronger than 2014.
“Cash reserves are in a place we haven’t seen for (many years), and we’re very pleased about that.”
Stressman said the PRCA’s rodeo count stayed virtually the same as 2013, with just more than 600 sanctioned events, but that overall attendance at those events had slightly increased and checked in at 5.4 million. The association’s total payout was up nearly $2 million to $41.1 million, but the PRCA membership’s recent rate of decline of 3 percent annually had continued in 2014, according to Stressman.
That decline, coupled with a decrease of cowboys’ total rodeo entries by 6,284, is a big subject Stressman and the PRCA Board of Directors will address going forward.
“It is a concern of the Board of Directors and this administration as to how we stunt the slide,” Stressman said. “We’re hoping that the money that’s involved in ProRodeo in 2015 will help turn that around and make it more advantageous for people to get their (PRCA) cards.”
He attributed the decrease to non-PRCA-sanctioned rodeo events pulling contestants in multiple directions throughout the year.
“I’m going to go on record and say that the ‘Showdeo’ business, the one-offs and all of those pieces that people continue to hype up as being good for the sport of ProRodeo are not good for the association of rodeo,” Stressman said. “I don’t think in any way, shape or form it’s good for the PRCA. The Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association would like to sanction everything that goes on, but we cannot do that.
“We’re going to continue to work with those other associations to talk through some issues we have, but the number of entries being down is detrimental to the future of the sport of ProRodeo.
It is a big concern, and we will be discussing that at the PRCA Board meeting in January and try to figure out where it is professional rodeo is going.”
The commissioner reminded everyone that the Wrangler NFR’s total purse will jump from $6.375 million this year to $10 million in 2015, per the new contract. That translates to an increase of go-round winners’ checks from $19,002 in 2014 to $27,800 next year and a boost for the Wrangler NFR average champions of $48,732 to between $76,000 and $77,000.
“Those are significant increases,” Stressman said. “I addressed the LVCVA Board of Directors this morning and freely admitted there was no place like Las Vegas to have this. I wouldn’t say that before the contract was signed, but I did say that this morning.
“This is the great home for the Wrangler National Finals, and we’re thrilled to be here for the next 10 years. It feels more like home today than it did a year ago. We felt like we were renting the facilities last year, and we feel like we’ve been invited to stay home this year. It is a win-win for everybody.”
The Wrangler Million Dollar Tour will once again have seven gold and 13 silver events in 2015, but Stressman said the system could be in for some changes in the future.
“We’re going to see what we can do to give that Tour a shot in the arm,” he said. “We want to maintain top-notch championship events, and I think that probably needs to be looked at.”
Stressman was highly optimistic about the Ram National Circuit Finals Rodeo moving from Oklahoma to Osceola County, Fla., where the group that challenged Las Vegas as host of the Wrangler NFR will serve as host to that championship. The contract negotiations for the Wrangler NFR, Stressman said, resulted in a new quality host for the RNCFR.
“During those negotiations, Mickey Mouse raised his head in Florida and wanted to know if maybe we wanted to come to Florida,” Stressman said. “We turned Mickey down, obviously, but the people in Osceola County came back to us after the deal was solidified and said, ‘Hey, we really would like to have a championship event. What can we do?’
“Lo and behold, it didn’t take 60 days and they had agreed to terms on that. That event will pay in excess of a million dollars in cash and prizes, and they have been wonderful partners for us.
Rather than sulking and walking away feeling they hadn’t won the prize, they stepped up to the plate and said, ‘We’d really like to be partners.’ ”
Stressman feels the Wrangler NFR and RNCFR provide the association with a strong 1-2 punch. “We now feel like the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association has two of the finest tourism-driven areas in the country to have championship events,” he said. “That will be an exceptional event down there.”
He said the PRCA’s Champions Challenge, which will consist of nine major events, is crucial for the growth of the association.
“That is a made-for-television product with the top guys in the world against the top stock in the world, and it’s driven by sponsor money and not membership money,” Stressman said. “It is believed to be, by the Board of Directors and this administration, the future of television for rodeo. To grow our sport, we need new fans, and to do that, we have to create stars.
“If we don’t do that, television is a waste of money.”
Stressman reminded media in attendance of the Professional Bull Riders’ announcement from October about the PRCA and PBR joining forces to launch an informational website designed to draw more competitors to the associations. The site will be launched in the first quarter of 2015 and will be an avenue for potential pro cowboys to get more information about the sports’ top two organizations.
“I think it’s our job as the largest rodeo association in the world to at least create an opportunity for people to get information they need,” he said. “I think it’s a great opportunity for us to at least be out there and communicating with other associations that have similar needs as we do.”
Stressman said the association is in final negotiations to renew the All-American ProRodeo Series — a circuit for “weekend warriors” that make up roughly 80 percent of the total PRCA membership — for another two years. Another positive byproduct of the Las Vegas contract renewal, Stressman said, is an additional $100,000 for the PRCA circuit system, which also consists mostly of contestants who don’t compete full-time.
He also was proud to say the PRCA’s independent auditing firm reported that 88 percent of the money the association took in was used directly for membership programs.
In addition, the PRCA’s Xtreme Bulls Tour will be back in 2015, albeit with nine Division I events instead of 10. Rather than appearing on television, the Tour will switch to an Internet-based broadcast on the Wrangler Network.
Neal Reid is a Colorado Springs, Colo.-based freelance writer who spent five years as editor of the ProRodeo Sports News. He has written for Western Horseman, American Cowboy, The Ketchpen, USA Today, Newsday, MLB.com, ESPN.com, ESPNW.com, the Colorado Springs Gazette and Denver Post, among others. Reid, a member of the Rodeo Historical Society, covered the 2014 Olympic Winter Games and Paralympic Winter Games in Russia for the Olympic and Paralympic News Service. He is a veteran of 10 NFRs. Follow @NealReid21 on Twitter.