New setups for big rodeos
As times change, so too does rodeo.
Two of the biggest rodeos in the winter have changed or added to their formats to make it easier for cowboys and cowgirls, staff, and the fans.
Twelve years ago, the San Antonio Stock Show changed its format, going towards a tournament-style competition, and this year, the Ft. Worth, Texas Rodeo also changed its format.
Ft. Worth, which ran January 24 through February 8, invited the top 42 contestants in each event in the PRCA world standings (with the top 42 in the WPRA barrel racing and the top 56 breakaway ropers) and the first place winners in each event at the PRCA’s fourteen circuit finals.
Those 56 contestants competed in seven brackets, with each cowboy (and barrel racer and breakaway roper), competing twice, in consecutive performances.
From those seven brackets, first and second place in each event advanced to one of two semi-finals on Feb. 6 and7. Those cowboys and cowgirls who placed third in their events moved on to the wild card round, held Feb. 5.
From the two semi-finals, four winners in each event advanced to the finals, which were held February 8. No scores or times were carried forward from the wild card or semi-finals rounds; finals contestants started fresh.
Ft. Worth also had a pool of non-qualifiers, those who finished in fourth to eighth places in the brackets. From that pool, the highest money earners went on to the wild card round. The top two contestants from the wildcard round advanced to the semifinals.
The change in competition rules was done for a variety of reasons, said Matt Brockman, communications manager for the Ft. Worth Stock Show and Rodeo.
“It resonated well with the casual rodeo fan,” he said. “If you’re a casual rodeo fan, you can see who is advancing or not, and you can see how things are unfolding.”
Ft. Worth used to be 29 performances over seventeen days, with three performances on Saturdays, which made for long days for rodeo personnel and the rodeo committee. “It was very grueling on the staff, the stock contractors, and everybody else,” he said. This year, Ft. Worth was eighteen performances.
A change in venue made for an opportune time to change the format.
The new Dickies Arena was completed in November of last year. The arena seats 9,400 for rodeo instead of the rodeo’s former home, the Will Rogers Coliseum, which seated 5,700. With more seating per performance, the rodeo could shorten its time frame and still seat all of its fans.
And the bracket style is easier to understand, Brockman said. “We like to refer to it as a tournament-style, fan friendly format. It was easy to follow.”
Money doesn’t hurt, either, when it comes to bringing in contestants. Ft. Worth increased their purse by $300,000, bringing the entire rodeo payout this year to almost $1.2 million, Brockman said. “We paid more money out, and that makes (contestants) happy, as it should.” The format change also made scheduling easier for contestants, as they knew if they didn’t finish first, second or third in their bracket, that they weren’t coming back to compete in the semi-finals. “When their bracket was over, they knew if they were going on or not,” he said.
The new facility provided some wonderful amenities for contestants, Brockman said. The contestant hospitality area featured a playroom for kids; locker rooms were provided for all contestants, and after the performance, competitors could play back their ride or run on a large TV monitor from six different camera angles. It could be downloaded onto their phones or saved on a flash drive. Workout and weight rooms were also made available for them.
For world champion team roper Clay Smith, the new format in Ft. Worth is taking a bit to get used to.
“It’s completely different,” he said. The 2018-2019 world champion headed for Jade Corkill, and the team won third place in both rounds of their bracket, but two teams that only placed once made it into the semifinals. “So the average does not take precedence over a fast time.”
But that’s the case not only in Ft. Worth and San Antonio, but at other rodeos, too, Smith noted. Rodeo committees “want (competition) to be heads-up matches, where it’s one head. Denver is that way, San Antonio is that way, Houston is that way, where the fastest time wins. They’re not rewarding the guys who are consistent, and that’s where I would like to think the better guys shine.”
What steers a cowboy draws also makes a difference, Smith said, on whether he has a chance to make a good run. “The draw comes into play a little more, in that aspect,” Smith said, noting that the steers at Ft. Worth and San Antonio were good.
The payout is influential in a contestant’s decision of where to rodeo, he said. “I go to where it pays the most. The money has been great, and the TV for this stuff has been outstanding. That’s what has made it good and that’s what will help to grow our sport. I’m not complaining (about the format change). It’s just taking a little bit of getting used to for me.”
Smith and Corkill finished as reserve champion at Ft. Worth. Champions were Clay Ullery and Jake Edwards.
San Antonio did not have a major change in format this year, as they began the bracket format in 2008.
However, they did make a unique addition to their rodeo.
This year, they added a Wildcard performance. Because, like Ft. Worth, they are invitational only, the Wildcard performance allowed contestants not invited to have the chance to compete in San Antonio.
The top forty-five cowboys in the 2019 world standings and the top five in the 2020 world standings are invited to compete in San Antonio.
In the timed events, cowboys compete in qualifying events (February 10-16), in two go-rounds (one round for the barrel racing.)
From those qualifiers, the top ten in each event advance to the wild card performance, to be held Feb. 21 at AT&T Center.
For the invited contestants, San Antonio hosts five brackets with competitors competing in three rounds, in three performances consecutively. The top four winners from each bracket advance to the semifinals, and the top five from each of the two semifinals go on to the finals.
In the roughstock, the wildcard competitors are those who competed in the semifinals but did not advance to the finals.
The goal of the wildcard round is to open San Antonio to more and local contestants, said Darci Owens, Rodeo Officer with the San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo. “In Texas, a lot of ropers and barrel racers are ready and waiting for their shot to get into San Antonio. We tried to extend our reach.”
The tournament-style format is becoming more popular, Owens said. It originated with the Calgary Stampede and in addition to San Antonio, Rodeo Houston has used it for several years.
The tournament-style works better in the winter than the summer, she said. In the winter, there are fewer rodeos, which makes for fewer scheduling conflicts. Cheyenne Frontier Days switched to a tournament style last summer, which caused travel conflicts with cowboys. But if the money is there, they will compete. “With enough added money, that’s where the contestants will go. They will follow the money,” Owens said.
Because San Antonio is the seventh largest city in the nation, rodeo attendees are more likely to be urban. The rodeo doesn’t focus on the format. “Honestly, it’s not something we oversell,” Owens said. “I don’t know that an urban audience truly follows the bracket system. We focus on the here and now and entertain people throughout the rodeo.
“We put on a show.”
The Ft. Worth Rodeo wrapped up on February 8. The San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo will end Feb. 22.