There was just no way Denny Gentry could sit idly by and watch the team roping industry develop without him in the middle of it. The man indelibly left more than just his fingerprint on rodeo's most heavily-participated in amateur events when he founded the United States Team Roping Championships. He and his compatriots turned a jackpotting hobby into a multi-level industry. His goals were always to build huge payoffs with small entry fees; Specifically, the first one-, two- and three-million dollar ropings. After he stepped down and sold his interest in the USTRC he was supposedly headed for a life of participation rather than production. But anyone who really expected him to be just another name in the draw was fooling himself. Now he's back, rejuvenated, and with a new concept, vision and set of goals to chase.
The World Series of Team Roping-set for Dec. 2-3 (the first weekend of the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo) at the sparkling new South Coast Casino and Equestrian Center in Las Vegas-isn't a complicated set of formulas or qualification nuances. It's a hybrid between a qualification process and a direct entry format. With a benchmark of 250 teams, half of them could buy their way into the finals at a premium, while the other half could qualify with a nominal up-front entry fee.
Gentry had two primary goals while developing his latest foray into the team roping production business based on his prior experiences. The first is for an individual division to pay $400,000 with a reasonable entry fee-optimally $150. (According to Gentry, the largest team roping payout in the United States is the Reno Rodeo Invitational at $805,000 on a $5000 per team fee and number two on the overall list is the USTRC No. 10 Shoot-Out at $381,000, at $600 per team fee.) It's important to understand, though, that the RRI is a limited roping-both by a certain number of teams and the number of people that can afford it.
Which reveals one of the unique aspects of Gentry's idea. The vision of becoming the highest-paying championship roping requires some definition. There's little doubt Gentry could strong-arm a high roller invitational roping that pays over $1 million, but for many reasons that's not in his nor the industry's best interest.
"I don't believe we can call ourselves a championship roping if every roper in the United States does not have access to this roping," Gentry said. "Secondly, I don't think our second goal of having high payoffs in multiple divisions can be achieved with high roller entries only. There certainly are not enough high-dollar ropers to fill several ropings to capacity in one location at one time.
"It is our intention to produce two ropings that pay between $600,000 and $650,000 this year. Year two we add additional divisions and more money. Year three will be our target year when we attempt to produce a million dollar division each day for three days in a row."
Gentry's first answer to those who view his lofty goals as pipe dreams is rhetorical, "Have I ever let you down in the past?" The second is to put his money where his mouth is and for the inaugural event put up $300,000 of his own money to pay the average winners of the two divisions $150,000.
"I hope risking $300,000 of my own money will convey how serious I am about the success of this event," he said. "My guaranteed $300,000 has us nearly 1/4 of the way to our target goal already. If these ropings fill to capacity, 250 teams, they will pay between $600,000 and $700,000 each."
Most of the qualification ropings will have occurred all over the west by the time this magazine is printed, but with a handful remaining, the unique rules are worth examining.
For a $150 entry fee, ropers can compete in a four-steer average in two Triad divisions, the No. 10 and No. 11-both capped at No. 6 ropers.
"We didn't want to bite off more than we could chew the first year," Gentry said of the limited divisions. "Our plan is to put the ropings on that are in the strong middle of the scale, win the confidence of ropers by performing, give away a lot of money and prizes, then we will proceed next year to produce at least one more division. From there on it will simply be reading and reacting to the ropers."
Individual ropers will be allowed to enter twice at qualifiers with different partners, but no roper may qualify for a single division at the Finale more than once. Ropers who place twice at a qualification roping may take their winnings, and the unqualified partner may choose a replacement.
Five percent of the teams winning a qualification will be paid and given the option to advance to the World Series Finale. Qualification ropings will withhold 16.7% of the purse as prepaid entry fees for winning teams wishing to move forward to the Finale, or added money if they chose not to advance. For example, if a qualification roping has 100 teams, 5 percent (five teams) will advance to the Finale. These five teams will be given the Finale Option. They may keep their payoff in total, or if they express the desire to rope at the Finale they will be paid this payoff, less $500 per man for the Finale entry fee. If they keep the full payoff and they decline to participate in the World Series, withheld contributions made from this qualification will automatically become added money at the Finale.
However, teams must decide to enter or not enter the Finale when they request their winnings at the local qualification roping. In a "Deal or No Deal" format, any team that decides to decline entry to the Finale has forfeited all rights to that position. In a situation where one partner wants to attend the Finale and one does not, the declining partner may be paid in full. The partner wishing to attend the Finale will pay their fees and find a replacement partner willing to pay a $500 entry fee.
"It only takes 2500 teams to qualify 125 teams in a division," Gentry explained. "When you divvy that up between six or seven states that's only 300 to 400 teams per year per state in a single division. I think once the demand for our qualifiers increases it will take fewer qualifiers to qualify 125 teams. For instance, if we are only getting 60 to 80 qualifying teams this year, it takes us more ropings. But if we start getting 150 teams per qualifier, it will only take two or three qualifiers per state to get full."
What that means is that this might have been the easiest year to qualify. If this event gains popularity, it will become more and more difficult to qualify.
The other method of entering the World Series of Roping Finale is direct entry. The World Series is offering 125 of the 250 entries on an invitational basis for direct entry. At press time, entries were open for teams in either division for $1,500 per roper. These teams may enter only once in each division. This entry guarantees their position at the World Series Finale, however, these teams may enter qualifications in their area and if they succeed in winning advancement on a $150 dollar entry fee, their $1,500 will be returned in full. Entries will remain open until all 125 teams have been filled, first come first served.
One concern is that demand will increase for these positions and be harder and harder to come by, as well.
"The team ropers who are supporting the start up of the World Series are going to get a fair share of my loyalty," Gentry said. "I didn't keep track of that when I started the USTRC, but I realize now how important it is."
Once the field is set, the competition format at the World Series Finale in Las Vegas is fairly simple. The series finale will be a four-head average with three full go-rounds and a short round. All teams that catch three steers will advance to the short round. Teams that miss one steer will be entered in the three-head consolation. The fastest on any two head will advance to the three-head consolation short round.
As stated earlier, first in the average in each division has a guaranteed minimum payoff of $150,000. There will be a minimum of 20 paid average positions in the four-head average and a minimum of 15 paid positions in the three-head consolation.
In the three go-rounds, there will be four places paid. Any team drawing an average check for first through 15th in the four-head or first through 10th in three-head roping will not be eligible for go-round money.
For a complete set of rules, call (505) 898-1755.
But that's the basics of this new event. However, one question remains unanswered. Why would you bother, Denny? An outside observer might speculate that with his dynamic mind, renewed energy and industry contacts, it was only a matter of time. His answer:
"If you build something that creates new excitement and new goals for ropers, then I think it is beneficial for the sport. From my point of view as a roper, I go to lots of good ropings, but really don't believe that I get to go to enough great ropings. I am talking about those ropings that you just flat won't miss year after year. That is really the kind of roping I want to be involved with."