When word got out that the Elite Rodeo Association had not scheduled any rodeos for 2017, many assumed this meant the nascent organization of top professional cowboys was going under. However, famed bareback rider Bobby Mote, one of the founders of the ERA and its interim president, says that news of the ERA's demise is decidedly premature.
"We had some issues and we're taking some time to work them out. That doesn't mean it's over just because we made some wrong turns,” Mote says.
The ERA, a for-profit, cowboy-owned, cowboy-operated outfit in which the top professional cowboys would be competing with each other at each stop in a national tour leading up to a world championship, has been a gamble from the start.
Even though the professional cowboys who created the entity have insisted from the beginning that they are not competing with the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association, that's not how the PRCA, a mammoth not-for-profit entity that regulates and sanctions most of the rodeos in the United States each year, took it, as we recounted in our March cover story, "A Hard Ride."
When the ERA was first announced in fall 2014, the PRCA hit back by banning all owners and officers — anyone with a financial stake in the ERA — from being members of the PRCA. The ERA tried to fight this, since it effectively blocked the cowboys from competing in most of the rodeos held in the United States, but the group ended up dropping the lawsuit early last year, opting to focus on getting the ERA off the ground instead.
There were some bumps in the road. Over the course of 2016, ERA canceled some rodeos and scaled back the size of the world championship rodeo it held in Dallas. And by the end of the year it was clear that a number of the pro cowboys who had joined the ERA were heading back to the ranks of the PRCA for 2017.
The ERA is privately held, so the group's financial records are not public. But by last fall when the PRCA 2016-2017 season started up, about 40 of the 80 professional cowboys who'd been riding with the ERA were back in the lists at PRCA. That includes 23-time world champion Trevor Brazile, one of the guys who helped set up the ERA.
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The ERA also had some changes in management. Tony Garritano, Brazile’s longtime agent, was the ERA president, but he parted ways with the company last summer. Mote has been the ERA interim president since then.
All of this, paired with the fact that the ERA has not scheduled any rodeos for a 2017 tour — let alone a world championship — makes the situation look pretty bleak for the ERA. But Mote says the group has left the schedule empty for 2017 so that members can work out some of the issues they had during the first tour last year.
“We learned a lot last year, and we would be sadly remiss if we just kept on doing what we were doing even though in some ways it wasn't working right,” Mote says. “We paid our bills, everybody got to go out and compete. The product is really good. There were just some structural issues about the business that were never going to get better unless we stopped and redid some things. That was the only way to do it, so that's what we're doing.”
While they're working out the kinks, Mote says taking a breather lets the professional cowboys who need to be on the PRCA circuit make a living. "The guys can all go rodeo and do what they need to do and this way we're not holding anybody up," Mote says. "I think taking a year and working things out is the smartest thing we can do."