The annual PRCA press conference at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo is always an entertaining affair, and this year’s was no different.
Big changes are in store for the association in 2014, particularly when it comes to television. Flanked by board members and sponsors in the Wrangler NFR press room, PRCA Commissioner Karl Stressman announced that the organization’s new television partner is CBS Sports Network.
That means the Wrangler NFR live broadcasts will move to the network, along with the eight Wrangler Champions Challenge events and the PRCA’s championship rodeos in Puyallup, Wash., and Omaha, Neb. All totaled, the PRCA’s flagship events will have 46.5 hours of television coverage on the new network, and the agreement is a two-year deal.
“We are very, very excited about our partnership with them,” Stressman said. “We believe CBS Sports Network is a great fit for the PRCA, because it takes us to a mainstream sports network audience. It’s exciting for one of the fastest-growing sports in the world to partner with the fastest-growing sports network in the country.”
Great American Country has televised the Wrangler NFR and been the official TV partner of the PRCA since 2012, when 9 million people viewed the Finals’ telecasts. Stressman was complimentary talking about the network’s production of rodeo telecasts.
“We certainly appreciate our partnership with them,” he said of GAC.
CBS Sports Network is seen in roughly 60 million households and televises 350 live games and more than 2,200 hours of original programming every year. From college football and basketball to hockey and auto racing, the network televises a variety of sports. It can be found on channel 221 on DirecTV and 158 on Dish Network.
The Champions Challenge will feature 10 contestants per event in a competitive made-for-TV battle Stressman hopes will help create recognizable stars in the national sports landscape.
“The goal for television is to create a model that says, ‘You are going to see the same faces on TV every time you turn it on,’” Stressman said. “That’s the only way we can effectively grow the sport.”
Another new wrinkle for the 2014 season involves the drafting of athletes for sponsored teams. For the Champions Challenge events, the PRCA’s top sponsors will soon participate in a private draft, where they will select cowboys and cowgirls for their own “teams” and promote and support them throughout the season.
For instance, Wrangler might have Kaycee Feild and Jesse Wright, while Justin Boots might draft Will Lowe and Cody Wright, etc. Stressman said the plan is for 2014 to be the experiment, with a public draft held before the 2015 season.
The other big TV announcement was that the PRCA Xtreme Bulls Tour is moving to MAVTV in 2014. The network, which is carried in nearly 30 million households, will also televise the Ram National Circuit Finals Rodeo and the All-American Finals presented by Pendleton Whisky.
“We are thrilled to have this opportunity to partner with MAVTV and look forward to thee expanding possibilities it will bring,” Stressman said in the press release. “Since its creation in 2002, MAVTV has had a slant toward the extreme sports, making this a great fit with our bull riding tour and America’s original extreme sport of professional rodeo. Since being purchased by Lucas Oil, an international powerhouse in the lubricant and motorsports industry, the network has experienced rapid growth.”
Jason Patison, programming director for MAVTV, was quoted in the official press release.
“We are very pleased to welcome Xtreme Bulls to the MAVTV family,” Patison said. “The quality of their show production, combind with the excitement of the content will make a great addition to our action-packed lineup.”
Channel 214 on DirecTV and 248 on Dish Network, MAVTV will produce 60-minute broadcasts of the events for 10 hours of original programming and will repeat them once.
Jeff Chadwick, director of special events, rodeo and equine, Wrangler Specialty Apparel, announced the creation of the Wrangler Lifestyle Network at the press conference as well. The network is an online and mobile destination for fans interested in rodeo and Western lifestyle content that will feature interviews, video coverage, news articles, blogs, music and social media aspects.
Fans will be able to watch live rodeo streaming and get up-to-date results from rodeos and other events throughout the year by going to WranglerNetwork.com.
“The Wrangler Network creates the opportunity for us to partner with the PRCA to broadcast events directly to fans in ways that haven’t been possible in the past,” Chadwick said in the official press release. “We have made a significant investment to better the sport of rodeo by broadening the audience and increasing the exposure to an unprecedented level. We look forward to working with rodeo committees to reach more people with content from the lifestyle we live and love.”
Stressman also released a set of statistics about the overall health of the association. In 2013, the PRCA gained 39 new rodeos to push its total to 611 and total prize money to approximately $40 million, but contestant numbers were down slightly to 5,071 from 5,138. The first number pleases Stressman and the PRCA Board of Directors, while the second is concerning.
“That’s a big increase,” Stressman said of the rodeo numbers’ growth. “The contestants’ number is the number that’s a little bit concerning for us. It’s somewhat of a trend that we’ve seen at the PRCA the last 10 years and is always a concern of ours.
“We work very diligently to provide an opportunity for young people to come into our sport. It is a big job and we don’t have all the answers, but we are diligently working on them.”
Stressman said a Scarborough report revealed that PRCA rodeo attendance increased from 4.7 million in 2012 to 5.5 million this season. That number is 1.5 million higher than the 2011 total.
He was also pleased to report that the association is on solid financial footing and has put together a bullish budget plan for 2014.
“The PRCA had a very strong financial year last year (in 2013),” Stressman said. “We submitted a very, very aggressive budget for the PRCA in 2013, and we exceeded that budget.”
It remains to be seen how the TV changes will affect the sport, but I’ve been pleased with what I’ve seen from CBS Sports Network so far this year. Rodeo should be a good fit there.