Trevor Brazile and Sage Kimzey came within striking distance of two of the PRCA’s single-season earnings records at this year’s Wrangler National Finals Rodeo.
Next year, it will be a lot easier for them to get there.
With the new 10-year contract for the Finals kicking in and the purse swelling from $6.375 to $10 million, Wrangler NFR contestants will have the chance to make an obscene amount of money in 2015. Go-round first-place money will jump from $19,002 to $27,800, and the average champions’ payout will vault from $48,732 to somewhere between $76,000-$77,000, according to PRCA Commissioner Karl Stressman.
Not only will those big bumps put more money in contestants’ wallets, but I think they will effectively change the battles for world championships. Since the NFR moved to Las Vegas in 1985, only two people – Allen Bach in 1990 and Cody Hancock in 2000 – have gone from 15th place to a world title at the Thomas & Mack Center, but we may see two contestants do that in 2015 alone.
It won’t be unheard of for a tapped-off cowboy or cowgirl to pocket $250,000 or $300,000 at the Finals, and that is money that levels the playing field. Virtually no world standings lead coming into the 10-day finale will be safe.
“The biggest lead a guy can have coming in is about $50,000, but that will only be two go-rounds,” said Kimzey, who won a Wrangler NFR-best $174,466 this year. “You can kick everybody’s but all year long, but if you come out here and don’t have a good Finals, you’re not even going to be in the top 10. It’s really going to stress the importance of coming out here and having success in Vegas, but I think that’s cool.”
Luke Branquinho didn’t exactly agree with me when we spoke shortly after he won his fifth world championship, at least not for his event.
“I don’t think it’s going to be as big a deal in the steer wrestling, but it sure might in the other events,” said Branquinho, who banked $136,388 at this year’s Wrangler NFR. “I think the main thing now with the regular season is (to just) get to the NFR, but that’s how it is in the steer wrestling anyway. There are guys in the 15th hole that could have moved up and won the world in the steer wrestling.”
I do admit though that the way the money changes the game may not be epic in proportion, especially considering the Wrangler NFR average winners also won gold buckles this year in six of the seven events. I think the big change is the way it will open up the world title races to all 15 contestants and teams and set up a free-for-all in Las Vegas.
“It’s going to be about who wins the most money and the average, but it’s kind of gotten that way now,” three-time World Champion Team Roper Clay Tryan said. “A lead will mean less, but once it starts, it’ll still be the same percentages as it was before.”
It would be a stretch to claim the new Las Vegas money will marginalize the regular season, but it does create a scenario where cowboys and cowgirls don’t worry as much about whether they arrive at the Finals ranked first or 15th.
“It’s going to turn it into more of (a situation where) you just qualify for the Finals and the best guy on 10 head wins,” Kimzey said. “It’s going to put so much more emphasis on coming out here and being successful. It’s going to definitely change it and throw another kink in it.”
Whether that means contestants back off their travel schedules and go to fewer rodeos remains to be seen.
“If I had (the Wrangler NFR) made, I could see myself not going the extra mile to gain the advantage like I used to do, but who knows?” Tryan said. “We’re competitive guys, and if we’ve got the lead, we might (keep going) and try to get it done.”
Branquinho loves the increases, but wishes the payouts would have been extended past the sixth-place finishers in the rounds and average.
“We’re here to make a living and make money, and the only thing I wish they would have done is have the bottom holes in the go-rounds pay down to eight or 10,” he said. “We have the money, so let’s reward the cowboys who are making good runs on steers that aren’t that good.”
Even with the pay raises, Branquinho’s mentality for what he’ll do after nodding his head in the box will remain the same.
“I’m going to run at the barrier every night, try to win as much as I can and hopefully leave here with three times as much as I did this year,” he said.
Knowing Branquinho the way I do, he’ll probably do exactly that.