In May 2018, the World Champions Rodeo Alliance opened up shop with the unveiling of four $1-million rodeos, a revolutionary new qualification system, rodeo industry alliances and an innovative nomination system driven by the Virtual Rodeo Qualifier (VRQ) app. Formed in cooperation with the PBR, the WCRA’s growth initiatives, coupled with its qualification and ranking systems, drew initial curiosity and skepticism because, quite frankly, there’s been nothing else quite like it.
Fast forward two years and the concepts revealed at the WCRA/PBR Western Summit, held at the South Point Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, are shifting rodeo’s landscape, but not detracting from other more conventional associations.
“Our goal isn’t to create a whole bunch of events, but to allow the athletes to capitalize on the events they’re already attending,” said WCRA President Bobby Mote. “That’s where the VRQ comes in so handy.”
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With more than 8,700 registered users taking advantage of the nomination process via the VRQ app, Mote says that over 15,000 events are being nominated from all over North America and as far away as Australia, New Zealand and Canada. Mote feels that the WCRA’s core initiatives are working and that the organization finds itself “a little ahead of initial long-term projections.”
While they might not be producing lots of rodeos, the WCRA is bringing new money to the table—more than $6 million and counting since May of 2018. A total of seven events comprised WCRA’s 2020 event schedule with more than $5 million in prize money coming as of press time, each one part of a WCRA “segment.”
WCRA divides the calendar year into segments consisting, in most cases, of a Semi-finals and Major. Points accrue during each segment with a cutoff deadline specific to each segment. Athletes who nominate any event they are already attending can earn points in the WCRA rankings, which is how they qualify for a segment Semi-finals rodeo, where they hope to advance to a Major.
For instance, this spring the Lazy E Arena in Guthrie, Oklahoma, will host timed-event athletes ranked among the Segment 5 top 64, and rough stock athletes ranked among the top 24 for the WCRA $500,000 Semi-finals on May 12–16, 2020. This event culminates with Stampede at the E, a $1 million dollar Major on May 16 at Lazy E, where the top eight from the Semi-Finals and top ranked athlete from the WCRA rankings in each event will compete.
Mote says he and his team are constantly evaluating metrics and making adjustments, but their biggest challenge in 2020 remains explaining the concept behind the WCRA because it’s still foreign to some fans and athletes simply by virtue of being new and different.
WCRA Vice President Scott Davis echoed Mote, explaining that sometimes it’s hard for rodeo fans to grasp the concept of having no “world standings” or single “world finals” event. However, the beauty is that it seems to be giving cowboys and cowgirls flex-schedule options and the opportunity to earn into the big leagues that athletes have longed for.
“Say you’re a schoolteacher working until the summer months,” Davis said. “The segments take the calendar year out of the equation. The WCRA looks at how to benefit the athletes that still work for our model from a business standpoint. For instance, more than 70% of the $6 million we’ve paid out since launching has gone to athletes whom I believe don’t rodeo full time on a national scale.”
The Triple Crown
Further sweetening the pot in 2020 is the Triple Crown of Rodeo, which was announced by the WCRA the first of the year. The Triple Crown makes it possible for an athlete or collection of athletes who win four consecutive WCRA Majors to cash in on a $1 million bonus. The WCRA schedule as of press time includes three Majors where athletes can potentially qualify to win the Triple Crown million: the Royal City Round-up in Kansas City, Missouri, on Feb. 28; the aforementioned Stampede at the E on May 16, the Days of ’47 Cowboy Games & Rodeo in Salt Lake City, Utah, June 21–25, and the Puget Sound Showdown in Tacoma, Washington, on Aug. 28.
The Kansas City and Tacoma events will be paired with the 2020 PBR Unleash The Beast tour, with all 2020 WCRA Majors airing on CBS Television Network.
“The three rodeos CBS Sports brought to fans this past summer from Green Bay, Salt Lake City and Calgary, reached more than 3.1 million unique viewers, proving a strong market for major rodeos in mainstream media,” said PBR CEO Sean Gleason. “The WCRA Triple Crown of Rodeo is an exciting addition that will bring more drama, news value and fan buzz to major high-payout rodeos.”
Mote says that not only will the Triple Crown series expose rodeo to new fans via CBS, he also used the WCRA Winter Timed Event Semi-Finals in January as an example of how WCRA payouts are not top-loaded and are helping put big paychecks directly in the athletes’ pockets.
“We had over 380 entries with more than 850 runs competing in Guthrie and paid out more than $394,000 in three days,” Mote said. “There were 115 athletes that won checks, with the average check being for $3,427. Thirty percent of the people that showed up to Guthrie won checks. Steer wrestler Will Loomis was the high money winner with $11,497. That’s putting good money in the pockets of cowboys and cowgirls. An athlete can fall short of winning first or advancing, but still leave with a good check.”
This past December, the WCRA announced its new Division Y, or DY, youth division. In the same way that adult rodeo athletes can nominate any event where they are already competing to count toward WCRA points, youth can now do the same and attempt to earn a spot at one of the $1 million Majors.
As stated in their December news release, DY will feature athletes ages 13 years old and up competing for a spot on the WCRA DY Leaderboard (age limit is determined by sanctioning bodies where DY athletes earn points). The top 24 youth athletes in each discipline, as of April 12, 2020, on the DY Leaderboard will advance to the May 14–15 Youth Stampede at The E event in Guthrie. This rodeo will host timed-event competitors in girls breakaway roping, steer wrestling, team roping, tie-down roping and barrel racing, with each athlete gunning for their piece of the $50,000 purse. The event format will be two rounds and an average. Athletes will not be required to pay an entry fee.
“We wanted to be smart and start slow with the youth to set it up as good as we possibly can for the kids and for the parents,” Mote said. “It’s important that these kids can stay in their lane, so to speak, and have a chance to win really good money while still competing as a youth, or go open and compete against the professionals if they’re ready. I feel like, with the kids, what we’ve seen in the past is they are forced to go compete in the professional ranks and they’re fed to the wolves in a sense, so DY gives the ones that maybe aren’t quite ready a chance to get seasoned and mature in a professional environment. They can opt to select youth or open when they nominate.”
DY athletes can nominate virtually any youth rodeo event with publicly verifiable results, however, a WCRA “Alliance” nomination, like National High School Rodeo Association events, makes competitors eligible for “Consolation Points.” A listing of DY Alliance events is posted at wcrarodeo.com.
The International Pro Rodeo Association has been a WCRA Premier Alliance Member since May 2018, and that partnership was further enhanced for 2020. Announced in December 2019 was the sanctioning of WCRA events by the IPRA. Monies earned at WCRA events will be able to count up to $10,000 of those earnings per year toward IPRA World Standings beginning in 2020. This move accomplishes one of WCRA’s guiding principles to align all levels of competition.
“With respect to the IPRA, they were there with us from the beginning as an alliance partner and have been the first sanctioning body to say, ‘Why don’t we count the money athletes are earning in the WCRA?’” Davis said. “By nominating IPRA events, athletes are saying, ‘Hey WCRA, why don’t you reward me within your platform for what I’m winning in the IPRA?’ So, we looked for a way that would ultimately benefit athletes and work from a business standpoint for WRCA.”
Davis says the WCRA aims to create an enhanced experience for fans and for those competing at WCRA-produced rodeos. He says that the trick to attracting more and better competitors is engineering the best athlete experience possible.
“Athlete feedback, in a sense, governs what we do,” Davis said. “So, we’re looking at how to give every person a chance to excel and hope they embrace it, do well, come back to the events and tell their buddies about the positive experience they had through the WCRA.”
Player feedback, particularly from the top-ranked ropers who are cashing significant paychecks, is very positive.
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“My experience with WCRA has been pretty amazing,” said Garrett Tonozzi, who topped the 2019 Windy City Roundup with partner Joe Mattern to bank $62,500 a man. “WCRA is just creating such an influx of money into roping—new money, new venues, and to earn your way to rope at a one-night, $1-million rodeo, it’s amazing.”
Tonozzi also appreciates the chance to nominate and earn points at rodeos where he’s already competing.
“I’d say, number one, you don’t have to drive 70,000 miles to get qualified to get to a Semis or a Major. Honestly, the price makes it a good investment to nominate because, when you compare it to all the money you already have invested in going, you might as well nominate. I look at it as a pretty cheap investment, really.”
When the stakes are as high as they are at WCRA Majors, Tonozzi says the rising tide seems to raise all ships, so to speak.
“Everybody’s more focused at an event like Kansas City, where there’s a chance to win $50,000; it’s always tougher in those situations because everybody comes very prepared.”
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Segment 4’s leading heeler Paden Bray strategically nominated rodeos weighted heavily in the WCRA point system to try and rank No. 1 and earn his way straight into Kansas City. Bray and Erich Rogers earned 500 points by nominating 2019 late-season rodeos in Kennewick, Washington, and San Juan Capistrano, California, to snag the top spot going into Kansas City, then came out on top there—for $50,000 each.
“Erich and I have had pretty good fortune with WCRA and with everywhere we’ve gone and nominated,” Bray said. “The WCRA system, in general, has been more than profitable for Erich and me. Last year, at the qualifier in Guthrie, we won second both days out of our pool and came out of there with about $7,500 a man. Then, at Green Bay, we won third and got out of there with $10,300 a man.”
Bray appreciates the opportunity to rope for great pay, as well as perks like the VRQ weekly bonus checks. For those who don’t know, the highest point earners in each division each week receive a cash bonus. Basically, a person can win double the amount of their nomination fee.
“I see it as the WCRA giving back,” said Bray, who plans to nominate big winter rodeos that are mainly double-headers and Division 1 WCRA events.