CHEYENNE — Some of the country’s top tie-down ropers and steer wrestlers are boycotting this year’s Cheyenne Frontier Days Rodeo amid changes they say will result in less financial gain and more wear on athletes.
In a Tuesday Facebook post, Gering, Nebraska, tie-down roper Riley Pruitt said the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association’s top 50 tie-down ropers and a number of steer wrestlers will not participate in this year’s event.
“The calf ropers, along with the steer wrestlers, are tired of having no say in how we get to make our living,” he said in the statement. “We have finally decided to stick together & not enter Cheyenne in hopes that the committee, stock producer & RFD would realize that without the contestants they do not have a show.”
The boycott is in response to news that CFD will adopt a tournament-style rodeo this year, drastically changing the show’s landscape.
This means cowboys in timed events, such as steer roping, steer wrestling, tie-down roping and team roping, will now have to participate in slack rounds to qualify for regular rodeo performances. The top 40 in each round will qualify for regular performances, and athletes will win money during both slack rounds.
Before the changes, all PRCA-sanctioned events featured two go-rounds. The riders with the top scores and times in those go-rounds would then qualify for the finals.
The tournament format also means each athlete starts from scratch in terms of money and score when the finals begin.
Now, athletes say, Cheyenne isn’t worth it.
“Honestly, it comes down to numbers,” said tie-down roper Monty Lewis. “The slack drags you out all week, and there’s just not enough reward to justify it. The long (arena) setup is hard on a horse, and it’s bad enough you have to make three runs there, but now they want to make it five. I guess it’s just not as good of a rodeo as it used to be compared to other things.”
Although more money is on the table this year, those protesting the changes say it’ll be watered down with the additional rides. The grand-prize purse during past rodeos was near $1 million. Now, the cash purse sits at $1 million, while the total prize purse hovers around $1.3 million, CFD Executive Director Tom Hirsig told WyoSports’ Robert Gagliardi in May.
But Lewis said there are a number of coinciding rodeos that have higher prizes than the “Daddy of ‘em All.”
“You’re breaking it down five ways instead of three,” he said. “You just can’t win as much money as you used to, and we’re putting up the same amount.”
Because of CFD’s first-year television contract with RFD/Cowboy Channel, each event’s purse increased by $15,000 from $50,000 to $65,000.
“San Antonio had $192,000 this year and no entry fees,” Lewis said. “Houston had $218,000 and no entry fees. Cheyenne adds $50,000, our 150 guys would have put up $60,000 in fees, and RFD kicked in $15,000. That doesn’t make any sense. Houston and San Antonio put their tournament in and made it worth our while. Cheyenne’s put the tournament in but hasn’t spent a nickel to make it good for the cowboys.”
Tie-down roper Shane Hanchey, who won CFD last summer and captured a world championship in 2013, will not compete in Cheyenne next month, either.
“It’s a hectic schedule,” said Hanchey, who is ranked fourth in the PRCA RAM world standings. “Especially to drive back and forth up to three times to run at less money. The format being changed really split up the added money.”
CFD Rodeo Committee Chairman Chad Mathews said the format change had little to do with scoring a TV deal, adding CFD wants to make rodeo more accessible to a general audience.
“The deal just happened to coincide with a time when we were looking to make a change,” he said. “We’ve looked at the market research, and the majority of our fans are novice rodeo fans. The tournament format is easy for everyone to understand; if you win, you move on. This was an opportunity for the majority of our fans to understand rodeo.”
Mathews said the organization knew there might be some pushback following changes to a longstanding tradition, but didn’t expect an outright boycott. Still, he doesn’t think it will hurt CFD’s credibility.
“We still have plenty of cowboys to move forward,” he said. “They have to make decisions based on what’s best for them, and we certainly respect their decision. More cowboys will have a check in their pocket when they leave Cheyenne than they have in the past.”
He couldn’t recall a similar boycott in recent history.
CFD General Committee Chairman Jimmy Dean Siler said he believes the changes will keep Cheyenne relevant to modern rodeo fans.
“I’m pretty excited about it,” he said. “I think it’s going to help take rodeo into the future.”