Squaring Up: PRCA Board Votes Down Equal Money for Team Ropers

This summer, the PRCA Board of Directors voted down a resolution that would have mandated that all rodeos add equal money to both the heading and heeling sides of the team roping.
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This summer, the PRCA Board of Directors voted down a resolution that would have mandated that all rodeos add equal money to both the heading and heeling sides of the team roping.

The PRCA’s Board of Directors voted down a proposal six to two on August 18, 2014, that would have made it mandatory for all PRCA rodeos to add equal money for both headers and heelers by the 2017 season, with some board members citing concerns about how doing so would adversely affect the ability of committees to pay contestants.

Credit: Trisha Miller Photo

Credit: Trisha Miller Photo

The full wording of the proposal is as follows:
“For the 2015 rodeo season, any rodeo that does not currently add equal money in the team roping must increase the base team roping purse amount by 30 percent. The increase will be calculated from the amount of added money in the team roping from the 2014 season. For the 2016 rodeo season, the team roping added money must then increase 30 percent from the year previous (2015). In the 2017 rodeo season, the team roping added money must equate to equal money for both the header and heeler to all other PRCA events. Any rodeo that does not currently add equal money in the team roping must do so by the year 2017.”

Team roping event director Garrett Tonozzi put forth the measure, while board members and contestant directors Bret Tonozzi and JP Wickett voted in favor of it. Stock contractor directors John Barnes, Hal Burns and Troy Weekley, contract personnel director Benje Bendele, and contestant directors Fred Boettcher and Heath Ford voted against the measure. Board chairman Keith Martin did not vote.

“There’s a lot of factors that go into the committees’ side of this decision,” Weekley said in an interview two days after the vote. “There’s only so much money committees have to take from, and they can either take it from the contestants or the contract personnel. The committees of the smaller rodeos, which I represent, called me not in favor of it.”

The PRCA declined the opportunity to comment on this issue. 

“I don’t know why they try to twist this,” Bret Tonozzi said. “They’re saying it will hurt the committees, but if you just split the money seven ways instead of six, it’s not going to hurt the committees at all. That would make it right.”

While many of the PRCA’s smaller committees do not add equal money at the circuit rodeos they produce, larger rodeos like the National Western Stock Show and Rodeo in Denver, Colo., the Fiesta de Los Vaqueros in Tucson, Ariz., the Greeley Stampede in Greeley, Colo., the Snake River Stampede in Nampa, Idaho, and the Caldwell Night Rodeo in Caldwell, Idaho, also do not add equal money in the team roping. 

“Our budget is met with the payout that we currently have,” explained Leon Vick, senior director of rodeo and horse show operations for Denver’s National Western. “We’ve explained this to the team ropers before: Each team roping run provides one value of entertainment to our fans, just like one calf roping run or one saddle bronc ride.”

The cowboys, of course, argue that they shouldn’t have to pay two sets of ProCom fees plus two sets of entry fees if in fact they’re only providing one entertainment value for fans.
“You have a header, and you have a heeler,” 2011 World Champion Header Turtle Powell said. “Everyone thinks we’re asking for double the money. But that’s not it. We’re each paying our insurance, we’re each paying ProCom fees and we’re each paying an even higher entry fee to try to make up for the fact that these places aren’t adding equal money. It would cost the PRCA a whole lot of money if we only paid half of those fees. The fact of the matter is that we pay equally but we aren’t being treated equally.”

Take the Greeley Stampede, for example. The committee adds $20,000 per event to everything but the team roping, with contestants paying $200-$400, depending on whether they make the short round. The committee adds $10,000 per side in the team roping, with header and heeler each shelling out $300 to rope at a chance at half the money. 

“For us, financially it would be tough (to add equal money),” said James Herman, rodeo chairman of the Greeley Stampede. “We would have to come up with another $20,000. What would probably happen is that we would have to take money from the other cowboys, and we don’t want to take money away from the events we have built up over the years. I’m concerned with our rodeo, of course, but the smaller rodeos in our area really don’t have the money to do that. And I’m worried about how it will affect those rodeos. It all comes down to finances.”

Garrett Tonozzi added that he told the board that if they voted yes, there would be a “hardship clause” to the rule, which would have allowed small rodeo committees with limited funding to petition the board to exempt them from that rule. 

But, some small rodeos have chosen to add equal money over the years. The Earl Anderson Memorial Rodeo in Grover, Colo., held each June, had a team roper as a committee member who lobbied the rest of the group to come up with $1,000 per side in the team roping to match the other events, according to committee member Jeff Wahlert. 

“We’re a small rodeo, but some fellows stepped up to track down the added sponsorship,” Wahlert said. “We have some extra money from the oil industry around here, and that’s how we were able to get it done. Our rodeo is a real tradition here, and we don’t draw in the urban crowd. We still run a tight budget, and we get the same amount of teams as when we didn’t add equal money. I don’t know if it’s worth it or not, but I guess any time you can put more money in the cowboys pockets, it’s a good thing.”

Steer wrestlers and tie-down ropers supported the measure, Tonozzi added. 

Bendele, who represents the contract acts, declined to comment over the phone; he directed us to a post he made on a Facebook discussion of the matter. In that post, he cites concerns that some committees would choose to become amateur rodeos or open rodeos rather than add equal money in the team roping. He reasons that each rodeo choosing to do so would cost 10-12 contract personnel jobs. 

“I want and care that you guys are happy, but I am not the king of happiness,” Bendele wrote. “I want you to have equal money and you do deserve it and should have it at all PRCA events but not at the cost of losing jobs.”

Wickett, who made the Finals in 1998 in the team roping, argues that had equal money not been instated at the NFR that year, he still wouldn’t have broken even. 

“We have a World Champion Header and a World Champion Heeler. Head horses cost a lot. Heel horses cost a lot. Team roping in general costs a whole lot. I would like to see us come out of the dark ages,” Wickett said.

Two-time World Champion Heeler Patrick Smith elaborated on the cost of team roping.
“It’s not one event. It’s two separate events, with two entry fees, two separate rigs and two separate families on the road. We’ve got two mortgages to pay,” Smith said.

Nineteen-time All-Around World Champion Trevor Brazile also didn’t mince words on the subject. 

“This is ridiculous,” Brazile said. “As long as these committee members represent roughstock riders, this will never change. If just one of the roughstock representatives would have chosen not to vote instead of voting no, this issue would have gone into arbitration and a judge would have decided on the issue for us. But I don’t see the roughstock guys voting for equal money for us, because it could affect their payout, even if it’s just by $17.”

Had Heath Ford or Fred Boettcher declined to vote on the matter, the issue would have been sent to arbitration and put in front of a judge to decide. Neither could be reached for comment on their vote. 

Not all roughstock riders are against the equal money, though, four-time Bareback Riding World Champion Bobby Mote pointed out. 

“A lot of what’s going around is misinformation,” Mote, who also heads from time to time, said. “If a rodeo were to take the money out of other events and add equal money in the team roping, it would make very little difference in the payouts. And I hear some guys refer to it as adding ‘double money.’ But team roping headers and team roping heelers pay extra entry fees to try to make up for not having equal money, and it’s two separate events. Such a large percentage of the membership is team ropers, and they want this. This is a membership organization, and they’re going against a majority of their members.”

Brazile and Smith also both point out that team ropers make up a large percentage of the PRCA’s membership, and if team ropers were to choose not to buy their cards, the association as a whole would suffer. Earlier this year, the PRCA told Spin To Win Rodeo that 67.5 percent of dues-paying members list team roping as one of their events. 

“They’ve discussed the committees having issues with sponsorship, but I feel like they can make the adjustment. They made this same argument when we were trying to get team roping made a mandatory event, and we made it through that fine,” Wickett added. “I’m going to continue to be an advocate for equal money in the team roping. I want my kids to rope.”

Garrett Tonozzi has been working to bring the measure in front of the board for the three years he’s served as the contestant director for the team roping, and he said he’s in it for the long haul in continuing the fight. He’ll have two more years to rally support before he can bring the measure back in front of the board.