Commitments to the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA) circuits and smaller rodeos were among topics PRCA Board Chairman Keith Martin discussed by at the PRCA press conference held during the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas.
Martin noted that stability within the PRCA allows for the organization’s ability to enhance benefits to its members.
“Standing up here last year was quite different than standing up this year,” Martin said. “This year has frankly been wonderful.”
Problems in 2007 included a lawsuit by the Women’s Pro Rodeo Association in response to the PRCA’s 2006 decision to create Women’s Professional Barrel Racing as a subsidiary, and PRCA Commissioner Troy Ellerman stepping down after a criminal conviction for leaking grand jury information in the BALCO steroids case for which Ellerman had been a defense lawyer. The verdict in favor of the WPRA took place shortly before the 2007 press conference, and a settlement was reached in January 2008.
In September 2008, PRCA hired Karl Stressman, former director of event marketing for Wrangler, as its new chief executive officer.
“We’ve got the foundation of the association built up,” Martin said. “We have a real cohesive board. We don’t always agree, but in the end I believe we came together. And we came together as an association.”
Martin noted that the contestants, stock contractors, contract personnel and rodeo committees contributed to the unity.
“Every aspect of our association helped us get there,” he said.
PRCA’s ultimate goal is to put money into the hands of its members.
“We were able to do that,” Martin said. “We strengthened our circuit system, which we’ve all said is the backbone of our organization.”
PRCA has 12 regional circuits, each of which holds a circuit finals. The year-end circuit champions and circuit finals average winners advance to the Dodge National Circuit Finals Rodeo in Pocatello, Idaho. Martin noted that the PRCA was able to put $500,000 into its circuits in 2008.
Martin added that PRCA was able to put another $300,000 into judging.
The association’s Heartland Series, started last year, is intended to help grass-roots small rodeos. A rodeo with added money of no more than $30,000 may join the Heartland Series tour for a fee of $500, to be used as a component of the total purse at the Heartland Series championship in Waco, Texas. PRCA contributed $150,000 to the prize money, and the Heart O’Texas rodeo committee matched that amount. Contestant entry fees at the championship brought the total purse to $482,500.
“We felt like it was very successful for the first year,” Martin said.
Martin noted that the smaller rodeos often don’t receive the national attention of the larger-purse rodeos, but that larger rodeos such as Denver, San Antonio, Houston, and Cheyenne are dependent on talent and interest being developed elsewhere.
“If you don’t have the grass roots, those aren’t going to exist,” he said.
The future of the PRCA also depends on youth, high school and college rodeos.
“If we don’t start supporting our youth programs and our youth rodeos, we’ll die on the vine,” Martin said.
Martin added that younger committee members throughout the association are essential to PRCA’s future.
PRCA’s objectives also include strengthening member services and strengthening its animal welfare activities. Martin noted that the association will be more proactive on animal welfare issues.
“We put more money not into defending our position but taking an offensive role,” he said. “It’s not about defending it. It’s about making sure we’re doing the right thing.”
Martin also acknowledged the members of the media covering the press conference.
“I do think the press was very good to us,” he said. “You understand what we do, and for that I’m eternally grateful.”
PRCA Senior Public Relations Coordinator Jim Bainbridge received more than 200 requests for National Finals Rodeo press credentials from the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Switzerland, Italy and China.
PRCA, which adopted its current name in 1975, began as the Cowboy Turtles Association in 1936. Martin noted that what is now the PRCA has survived war and economic downturns in the past.
“Rodeo is going to survive,” he said.