By the time I press publish on this blog post, you've probably already read a myriad of opinions blasted all over Facebook and Twitter regarding the opinion by the Hon. Barbara M. G. Lynn, United States District Judge of the Northern District of Texas.
In her opinion released yesterday, she denied both the plaintiff's (the ERA's) motion for a preliminary injunction to allow ERA shareholders to compete in ProRodeo while the lawsuit is being settled, as well as the defendant's (the PRCA's) motion to dismiss the case.
Judge Lynn released a 22-page opinion on the matter. In it, she found:
"The Court concludes that Plaintiffs have not made a clear showing that they will suffer irreparable harm absent a preliminary injunction, nor that they are likely to succeed on the merits their claims. However, Plaintiffs have pled sufficient facts to raise their prospects for relief above a speculative level."
The judge's opinion took issue with the ERA claim that the PRCA's bylaws will cause irreparable harm to the cowboy's careers. She wrote:
"The Court concludes that Plaintiffs have not presented sufficient evidence to support their positions. The evidence shows that ERA members are projected to be able to earn as much through ERA rodeos as they previously earned through the PRCA. For example, Plaintiffs presented evidence regarding Bobby Mote’s net earnings. He testified that his net earnings in 2015 were $30,000: approximately $100,000 earned at forty-eight regular season rodeos, and $40,000 at the NFR, offset by $110,000 in costs for medical expenses, travel, entry fees, and the like.26 For the ERA’s 2016 regular season events, the evidence was that a very successful ERA competitor could earn approximately $80,000 at regular season ERA events,27 and an additional $3 million will be awarded at the World Championship.28 The ERA’s business model also minimizes the athletes’ expenses, by eliminating entry fees which can exceed $20,000 per year,29 and reducing the number of rodeos ERA competitors attend, thus reducing travel costs which can exceed $50,000 per year. 30 An ERA member could thus potentially accrue gross earnings of $80,000 in eight trips, instead of $100,000 in forty-eight.
"Further, the ERA did not prove that its owners would be excluded or impeded from lucrative “open rodeos,” which are not sanctioned by any sanctioning body, most significantly RodeoHouston, Calgary Stampede, and The American. RodeoHouston awarded approximately $2 million in prizes in 2012, and The American has announced plans to award a purse worth $3 million in 2016. Currently, participation in those rodeos is largely based on performance in the PRCA, but ERA owners participated in PRCA rodeos in 2015, and thus, to the extent invitations to open rodeos are based on the previous year’s NFR results, it appears ERA owners’ eligibility for this year is already determined. (If that assumption of the Court is incorrect, it is due to Plaintiffs’ failure to prove otherwise.) Further, Plaintiffs made no showing that, in the future, if the top rodeo athletes do not participate in the PRCA, open rodeos will likely continue to invite participants based only on PRCA standings."
The judge also found that:
"Plaintiffs have not made a clear showing that the PRCA has the power to exclude competition or that other barriers to entry to the relevant market exist. Instead, the initial success the ERA has experienced so far, despite the PRCA’s obvious hostility, indicates that the PRCA does not have the ability to exclude competitors from the market: Plaintiffs have recruited eighty of the top contestants in the sport as its owners and competitors, and secured contracts with the City of Dallas, a high-profile performance venue, and a major television network."
Judge Lynn did not rule out that the ERA could have a case, saying that the "Plaintiffs have sufficiently and plausibly pled the existence of monopoly power."
Essentially, this court battle is far from over. There are far more unknowns now, particularly with regard to logistics. Will non-ERA cowboys be drawn out of rodeos with their ERA partners, or will they be allowed to replace their money? (Aaron Tsinigine, for example, whose partner Ryan Motes may not be allowed to compete at San Angelo and San Antonio, where they've already entered.) And how will payouts for current rodeos be affected? (Think Rapid City, led by ERA's Kaleb Driggers and Junior Nogueira, with Tsinigine and Motes winning second? Will Tsinigine get to win that second-place money? Or will he bump to first alone? Or not get paid at all for entering with an ineligible partner?)
For our part, we've asked these logistics questions of the PRCA, but a PRCA spokesman said they won't comment on those logistics until everything has been properly handled internally. In a statement released this morning, though, the PRCA did say that "The PRCA Bylaws at issue will be immediately enforced."
As for the ERA cowboys, team ropers Trevor Brazile and Ryan Motes both reiterated their commitment to the ERA tour this morning.
"We are still 100-percent having our whole season," Motes said. "That's for sure."
Brazile echoed his sentiment.
"The season is going to happen," Brazile said. The ERA tour is set to begin in Redmond, Ore., March 25-26.
In theory, the option is still on the table for ERA athletes to waive their ownership rights and compete in both associations, assuming they are not board members. (Brazile, Motes, Bobby Mote, Martin Lucero, Bradley Harter and Wes Stevenson are current board members, along with CEO and president Tony Garritano.)