When contestants rode into the Thomas and Mack Center 30 years ago for the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, not one of them had a sponsor logo on a shirt. The rodeo didn’t have a title sponsor or a presenting sponsor.
As the success and visibility of rodeo has grown, so have the opportunities for sponsors, from national corporate partners, to sponsors for rodeo committees and supporters of individual contestants. Those sponsors help in a variety of ways, not the least of them with financial contributions. For the contestants, that can make the difference in their ability to get up and down the road.
There are a few contestants here that remember what it was like before sponsorship opportunities were available for them. Some of them are waiting for a sponsor to come knocking on the door that has a product or service that would benefit from the added exposure. The truly motivated cowboy or cowgirl will go the extra mile and seek out sponsorship opportunities. Those opportunities are not always easy to find and even harder to sell.
When the PRCA patch program started over 20 years ago, it provided contestants a new opportunity to market themselves by wearing sponsor patches on their clothing. For the past 10 years, one of those sponsors that used that opportunity to the fullest has been Wyoming Travel and Tourism.
There are four Wyoming residents performing at each performance of this year’s NFR. Bull fighter Dusty Tuckness comes from Meteetsee. Seth Hardwick makes his home in Laramie and is making his first appearance in the bareback riding. Wheatland’s Seth Brockman is competing in the steer wrestling for the third time. Cassidy Kruse made her home town of Gillette very proud when she and her horse J.J. won the first round in her first appearance in the WPRA barrel race.
The sponsorship goes beyond wearing big red Wyoming patches with the famed bucking horse on their clothing, it means representing their home state as they travel across the country and promoting the virtues of the Western Lifestyle in and out of the arena. After all Wyoming is the “Cowboy State,” and “Like no Place on Earth.” The state’s sport is rodeo and they have a registered trademark of a cowboy on a bucking horse.
Being sponsored by the state of Wyoming means being part of a family and that whole family turns out for the NFR to cheer on their rodeo contestants, stock contractors and bullfighter. This year celebrates 10 years of providing support to these entities, and for nine of those years, they have all gotten together for a Friday morning breakfast.
The breakfast, like the program has grown with over 300 people attending this year. Not only is Team Wyoming represented, all of the state’s committees that host PRCA and WPRA events are recognized. Wyoming vendors participating in the various trade shows during the NFR are also invited. Dignitaries include state legislators, senators and representatives. A highlight of the event is having the governor on hand for comments.
This year, Governor Matt Mead not only attended, he brought Governor Brian Sandoval from Nevada and Governor Butch Otter of Idaho with him. Governor Mead’s wife Carol also took part in the festivities. Governor Mead is chairman of the Western Governors Association which tries very hard to hold their winter meetings in Las Vegas during the NFR.
“Rodeo is not unique to the west, but it is symbolic of the west,” Governor Mead said as he addressed the breakfast attendees. “We champion and recognize the effort that contestants put in. It makes us think about courage and we can celebrate that courage. Rodeo is an opportunity for education, to show the partnership and bond between animal and man.
“Team Wyoming represents what it means to be a cowboy or cowgirl outside of the arena. We are equally proud of that. We are proud to say we support you and that you are an inspiration to us all. We will continue to be the Cowboy State,” he added.
Tourism is big business in the state bringing in $3.3 billion annually. It also creates 31,000 jobs. In many states that might not be significant, but in Wyoming, that is half of the population of their biggest town, Cheyenne who has just over 62,000 residents.
Many of those tourists get to take in a rodeo somewhere in the state as they travel to see the many outdoor attractions that the state has to offer. Those attractions also make it a great place to live for the rodeo contestants.
“I love to fish and hunt and be outdoors,” Hardwick said. “My family moved from Montana to Idaho, then Wyoming and Colorado. When they went south my brother and I stayed behind. I love the state and what they do for rodeo and cowboys.”
Other states have tried to put together similar programs for rodeo sponsorship, but no one has been as successful as Wyoming. Last year they added a program for college rodeo and are supporting athletes competing in the Central Rocky Mountain Region of the National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association for Wyoming schools. They also support the College National Finals Rodeo and the National High School Finals Rodeos which are hosted in their state.
“I love being on team Wyoming,” Kruse said. “They’ve been amazing. It’s an honor to represent Wyoming and the Cowboy State.”
For 10 days every December, all of the people that make this sponsorship program work leave Wyoming behind and come to Las Vegas to support their NFR qualifiers and celebrate everything that is Wyoming in Nevada.