ERA dismisses lawsuit against PRCA
Digital & Sections Editor
The uncertainty surrounding some of rodeo’s top athletes is, for the moment, settled. But not how they’d hoped.
Tuesday, Feb. 23, the Elite Rodeo Association, Trevor Brazile, Bobby Mote and Ryan Motes dismissed without prejudice their pending antitrust lawsuit against the PRCA.
Mote, a world champion bareback rider and ERA owner and contestant, said the decision was based on the judge’s 22-page opinion, and a review of what their goals as an association are. The court had authorized the lawsuit to proceed. “But we’re going to go into a trial trying to reverse the opinion she already made,” Mote said. “The process could take up to two years. Two years from now, the picture could be a lot different for the ERA and the guys. As much as it takes away from our attention on producing our events and creating the best products for the fans, it wasn’t worth pursuing.”
Dismissing the case without prejudice allows them to bring the same suit to trial in the future. “If they enact new bylaws or new anti-competitive behavior there’s nothing that stops us from taking action,” Mote said.
The dismissal of the lawsuit allows the PRCA’s bylaws, effective Oct. 1 for the 2016 rodeo season, to stay in effect. The portion of the bylaws that applies to competitors says, “…any person applying for PRCA membership who is an officer, board member, employee or has an ownership or financial interest of any form in a Conflicting Rodeo Association shall not be issued a membership, permit or renewal of membership with the PRCA.”
The bylaws also affect rodeo committees, saying, “…any rodeo committee and/or contracting party involved in producing a PRCA-sanctioned event agrees not to schedule, produce, promote or participate in a Competing Rodeo Event seventy-two hours before, during or seventy-two hours after a PRCA-sanctioned event. The PRCA shall have the right to approve specific events that are in conflict with this Bylaw should the PRCA deem any such event to be in the interest of its members and the promotion of professional rodeo sports in general.”
Competing Rodeo Events are defined as events not sanctioned by the PRCA in which contestants compete in two or more of the following events: bareback riding, saddle bronc riding, bull riding, tie-down roping, steer wrestling, and team roping.
“The whole litigation, all that revolved around was ownership,” Mote said.
“The ERA has always been meant to be additional opportunities for the athletes. We didn’t draw a line and say us or them, they did. The PRCA wanted to stop the competition. They want the contestants subject to whatever they say because there are no other options. They saw the ownership as a loophole and a way to stop us. They thought the only reason cowboys were committed was because of ownership. They’re no less committed to the ERA with or without ownership.”
The ERA is owned by the athletes, although some athletes compete without being owners. That allows them to continue in the PRCA circuit, without giving up the right to compete in ERA rodeos. Most of the athletes on the ERA roster are the names fans expect to see at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo every December, though many will be conspicuously absent this year.
But Wrangler is one name fans won’t see at ERA rodeos, on banners or on the cowboys’ shirt collars. According to Mote, Wrangler cut their contracts with all the ERA cowboys in an effort to leverage them into leaving the ERA and sticking with the PRCA. Some of the other established sponsors in rodeo did the same. In most cases, it didn’t work.
“They’re committed to it [ERA]. They believe it’s necessary, they believe in the direction it’s going. You can’t judge whether someone is committed to the ERA by whether they’re in a PRCA rodeo. The litigation was an effort to get them to where they could do both,” Mote said.
Some ERA cowboys had competed in PRCA rodeos prior to the court’s Feb. 2 decision saying the PRCA could keep ERA cowboys out of their rodeos. “Per agreement with the ERA, all ERA contestant prize money won was held in escrow. This escrowed prize money was distributed to PRCA members next in placing at impacted rodeos after the Court denied the ERA’s motion for preliminary injunction,” the PRCA said.
As for the future of contestants who are still ERA owners, like Mote, their plans for the year have changed a little. “I know where I’m going for the first time in my career. I’ve already started talking to my sponsors, explaining where I’m going to be, when I’m going to be on TV. I’d planned on rodeoing [in the PRCA] also, but that’s off the table. I can tell sponsors 20 telecasts I’ll be on now. My whole career I’ve never been able to say that.”
Brad Johnson, a PRCA steer wrestler from Reva, South Dakota, said he doesn’t have any strong opinions on the ERA, but that having some of the top names in the sports not competing may open some doors for other competitors. “For the most part it just kind of lets the newer crowd, or the next ones, have a chance to have a piece of it [the prize money]. If those guys want to go do their own thing, that’s their deal,” he said. “It’s not like the PRCA won’t survive without them.”
He said the ERA could be a great thing for rodeo, but wishes they’d gone about creating the organization a little differently and been more open about it from the beginning. “The key thing is nobody will talk about it, give you any answers if you have questions. I don’t understand why they’re all so tight-lipped about it. It’s hard to be on board with it when nobody will talk about it.”
“I can see where a lot of them are coming from, as far as more money and less travel. It may still be a good deal and I wish them the best of luck.”
Johnson said he’s competed against many of the ERA athletes and considers them friends. Their standing in the PRCA isn’t going to change that. “It’s just a difference of opinion.”
The PRCA was limited in their response, but they said there is no problem with the ERA members who are not owners competing in the PRCA, “So long as they are in compliance with all bylaws and there is no confusion as to whether they are ERA owners or merely non-owner contestants.”
The first ERA event will be March 25-16 in Redmond, Oregon. It will be televised April 6 and 13 on FOX Sports 2.
“We’re moving forward. Quite frankly, I’m glad to have it behind me so I can focus on what our next task is, putting on great events,” Mote said.
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