James Watson is the man behind Watson Team Roping. But make no mistake, this popular Tioga, Texas-based operation is a family-run affair that also includes wife Brandi, son Ethan, 18, and daughter Bailey, 14. James and Brandi—who were the king and queen of their first-grade carnival and have dated since they were 14-year-old high school freshmen—have built a strong company culture of catering to their customers, which in their case is team ropers.
Q: When did the roping bug bite you?
A: I’ve lived and breathed roping since I was 8 years old. I’ve been around ropings my whole life.
Q: When and how did Watson Team Roping come about?
A: My hobby turned into a business 22 years ago. I’m 44 now, but by the time I got to be 22 I already knew I wanted to put on ropings. The very first jackpot I put on was with Frank Zermeno in Whitesboro, Texas. Frank had a nice indoor arena, and got tired of putting on ropings himself. He called me one night and said, “I have a proposition for you.” He gave me my start by offering his arena to me, and we started that next Friday night with 4 for $24—$12 a man—lower-numbered ropings. We were originally JW Productions, but changed our name to Watson Team Roping when we started working with the Ariat World Series of Team Roping in 2014.
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Q: How do you and Brandi divide responsibilities at your ropings?
A: We have a deal. She runs the office, and I handle everything outside the office. When we’re off putting on ropings, Ethan and Bailey hold down the fort at home. Rhyder Nelson helps make it all happen, too. He works here at the house, and runs the second arena for me at the ropings. Brandi and I couldn’t do it without those three.
Q: Headaches and sleepless nights come with the roping producer territory. What drives and motivates you to keep going back for more?
A: Putting on ropings has just always been a passion of mine. And treating people the way I’d want to be treated if I was the roper is how we do it—Brandi and I, our flaggers, office help and entire crew. I’m 110% about customer service. If we have 300 teams at a roping, I’ll sit at the stripping chute and thank all 300 teams for coming. I shake hands all day. I never want anybody at a roping to feel like they’re just a team number to us.
Q: Recreational ropers make up the majority of team ropers today, and are the core of your clientele, right?
A: Yes, and they’re a great group of people. People who rope as a hobby have worked all week, so are just so glad to get to be there. I provide a service by making a fun, fair place for them to come compete and play, and they’re so appreciative. It’s always good to work hard for people who appreciate it.
Q: How big are you into the steer end of the business?
A: We raise beef cattle, but we also run a lot of roping steers. I like to own steers, so I’m guaranteed to have good cattle. I’m kind of a control freak when it comes to the cattle, so I own 600 roping steers. Jeff Hilton from Olney, Texas, supplies the other half of my cattle, and he does an outstanding job with it.
Q: Which regions do you serve with your ropings?
A: Texas, Oklahoma and Louisiana. We started out with four ropings, and now put on 12 World Series ropings a year. The World Series of Team Roping is the top roping organization in the world, and that’s who we want to be involved with.
Q: Has your own roping had to take a backseat to producing ropings?
A: Yes. I very seldom go anywhere else to compete anymore. Watson Team Roping is my top priority.
Q: What’s the key to producing successful ropings?
A: Good cattle and a team of great folks running the production. Everyone has to be on the same page to keep a roping running smoothly, and I’m proud of the job my team does. I think I have the best flaggers there are—George Ishman, John Antu, Arlon Dobbs and Marcus Becerra—and they all rope. I believe every flagger should rope, and every roper should flag. If it’s a 50-50 call, the tie goes to the runner.
Q: How do you handle the inevitable complaints that come up?
A: We work hard to prevent problems, and I don’t like for anyone to leave mad. If you leave feeling cheated, I want it to be because you cheated yourself, not because of our production. I’m not going to argue much with anybody, but I am going to go out of my way to make things right.
Q: How have you seen the roping business evolve in your lifetime?
A: When we started 22 years ago, a big night was 100 teams. This May in Ardmore, Oklahoma, we had 2,700 teams. I never thought in my wildest dreams that I’d be able to put on ropings full time. I’m doing what I love, and I really appreciate that. Watson Team Roping wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for Denny and Connie Gentry giving me a chance, and John English believing in me since day one. My teams have grown every year. Team roping’s future looks bright to me.