By Phillip Kitts
Well, the 2018 rodeo season has reached the next phase, and with this next phase there will not be much influence on the world standings, but there are big changes in competitors’ pocketbooks.
As we have talked about previously, the winter months bring a slower time for rodeo. In years past January, February and March are months where a lot of competitors focus on healing up from injuries, enjoying down time with family, and planning out their assault on the highways of America.
Over the last few decades the rodeo industry has capitalized on large indoor venues that have the capabilities of hosting large scale rodeos while keeping fans and competitors away from the bitter temperatures and unforgiving weather. This move has birthed some of the biggest rodeos in the business. Places like Fort Worth and San Antonio, Texas, have developed multiple round rodeos that pay out enough money that a winning cowboy can set the conditions for his season and a bid to the Wrangler National Finals at the end of the year.
With great things there are always challenges. Over the last several years some rather large organizations have recognized the value in hosting large indoor rodeos during these winter months. Some of these rodeos such as Rodeo Houston and RFDTV The American have adopted new formats that many say is more exciting for fans.
Because these new formats fall outside of many sanctioning bodies’ rules, these rodeos are essentially non-sanctioned and fall into the category of an open rodeo. In some cases, individual events such as barrel racing may have a sanctioning body, but this only applies to that individual event.
On the last weekend on February a prime example of this took place in Arlington, Texas. The rural television stations RFDTV has spared no expense when it comes to putting together the world’s richest one-day rodeo. The format for RFDTV The American is an in-depth process that has become an exciting fan experience and an equally challenging process for competitors.
Each year RFDTV and rodeo officials use a specific format to choose 10 invitees who automatically make it to the one-day performance.
Throughout the year several venues hold qualifying events for The American. All these events are based around the timed event end of the arena and assist with keeping the qualifying process at manageable numbers of competitors. Then one week prior to the official Sunday performance of The American, Cowtown Coliseum becomes a Mecca for rodeo fans and competitors.
Competitors pull together large amounts of money as entry fees to go to Fort Worth and take their shot at winning a spot in the Sunday performance.
During this qualifying process, competitors endure runs through a slack (Slack is a run that is not during a performance, but the time or score counts the same as if run during the performance). Slack is used to host the overflow competitors when there are not enough places to have them compete during the performance. Once the results from slack have been assessed, then if the competitor is fast enough or scores high enough then they will move on to the next phase and compete in the qualifier performance. Through the performances, the numbers of competitors is worked down to the five lucky who will get the opportunity to compete on the big stage.
Where this gets interesting is this massive one-day performance is held in AT&T stadium, the huge facility that hosts the famous Dallas Cowboys football team and is transformed into a two arena layout. Second competitors who come up through the qualifying process and are not an invitee have the chance to win $1 million. Yes, you read that right, $1 million for a competitor who works his or her way through the qualifying system and wins their event. The answer to the question what about the invitees, well if they win the event they still pocket $100,000, which a pretty nice pocket of change.
The small down fall to The American is because it is considered an invitational or open rodeo, the total amount of winnings does not go toward any year-end winnings and will not help competitors toward a position in the Wrangler National Finals.
Most competitors who manage to win money at this event dedicate the funds to getting up and down the road the rest of the year.
The 2018 American proved to be a huge event with an enormous high energy crowd. Each discipline brought anywhere from 15 to 20 competitors into the long round in which the top four in each event were brought back for the shoot-out round and a chance at all the money.
In a shootout round all previous scores or times are wiped away. Each competitor gets one chance to put up the best score or time possible. In the end, the winner comes from this one-shot opportunity.
Once the dust settled, three competitors managed to work their way through the qualifying rounds and capitalized on the $1 million. Kaycee Feild of Utah dominated the bareback riding and closed out his night by covering the bareback horse of the year, Virgil, to claim his share of the million dollars. In the other bucking horse discipline, Cort Scheer of Nebraska brought his A-game to the short round, which helped him claim his share of the big pot of cash. Lastly, Matt Reeves of Pampa, Texas, put up a smoking run in steer wrestling to close out the three-way tie for the big checks.
Even though the other events did not result in such high payouts, the energy and excitement was just as high. In barrel racing, Taci Bettis of Round Rock, Texas, topped the group and walked away with a handy $100,000 check. Tie down roper Marty Yates of Stephenville, Texas, brought in the big haul by closing out his short round run in under seven seconds. Kaleb Driggers and Junior Noguiera claimed the prize in team roping with a very impressive 4.57 second shoot-out run, and finally the very familiar bull riding name of Jess Lockwood claimed the prize in bull riding with a 90.5 to close out the night.
Between big crowds and big rodeo names, the 2018 American Rodeo once again showed why it is the world’s richest one-day rodeo.
Win or lose, competitors brought every ounce of effort they had with the hopes of claiming their stake at the big payout. Fans were treated to the thrill of fast times, big scores and high energy. All this happened in the one of the biggest and most historic venues in rodeo.