Early in 2005, board member Troy Ellerman stepped in as interim commissioner. Later, the interim tag was removed and he was charged by the board to turn the organization's financial situation around.
To right the ship, he reduced the staff at the Colorado Springs offices by 40 people, reduced the number of telecasts, sold the licensing and media rights of the Wrangler ProRodeo Tours and Finales to ProRodeo Tour LLC and sold the licensing and media rights of the Dodge Xtreme Bulls Tour to Winnercomm Sports.
Not only that, Ellerman terminated a long-standing sanctioning agreement with the Canadian Professional Rodeo Association in August of 2005 because-according to a PRCA press release-"Under the terms of the existing agreement, the PRCA was not receiving any financial compensation from CPRA events." Later, in January of 2006, the two associations reached a three-year agreement for CPRA rodeos to be co-sanctioned again.
The PRCA also signed a deal with Las Vegas Events to keep the Wrangler NFR in Las Vegas through 2014.
PRCA Gold Card members, previously given that status for free, were now being charged membership fees.
The efforts worked and by the end of 2005, Ellerman announced at his annual state of the PRCA address that the organization was back in the black.
In the midst of these money-saving changes, the WPRA issue arose.
WPRA In the Spotlight
Like the CPRA situation, insiders told SWR that the PRCA felt the WPRA wasn't carrying its weight financially. In 2005, the PRCA began charging WPRA members an additional $2 each time they entered a rodeo through the PRCA's Central Entry System, or PROCOM.
Since 1948, the WPRA has sanctioned barrel racing and worked closely with the PRCA-however it always negotiated its own deals with rodeo committees to host the barrel racing.
"They were PRCA rodeos, but the PRCA told us we could not approve barrel races with any other associations because it wasn't fair to the cowboys," said Davis. "That's why we only approved with the PRCA, but we went to those committees directly for the barrel race."
Over the years, the WPRA had also shared confidential member records with the PRCA for the purposes of entry and record keeping.
As part of the plan for financial turnaround, the PRCA first proposed increasing WPRA members dues.
"Basically, PRCA kept trying to raise the fees on the barrel racers and they couldn't show us why," Davis said. "They kept saying, 'You owe us money' and we kept saying, 'If we owe you money, we need to pay you, but show us what you make off of us and show us what we cost you and let's get to the bottom of this.'"
Throughout the summer of 2006, the PRCA and WPRA were in communication regarding the dues increase, but negotiations stalled.
"It was purely financial," said Nichols, who testified on behalf of the plaintiffs. "The PRCA got to looking at it and said, O.K., the WPRA pays us $300,000- $350,000. They've got two thousand members. If we could charge them $500 each to join our association, that's a million dollars to the coffers of the PRCA in annual membership."
Further, having barrel racers become members of the PRCA rather than the WPRA would help the PRCA's insurance risk exposure. The organization offers medical insurance for every member for an accident that might occur at a PRCA-sanctioned event, but obviously there aren't as many claims in barrel racing as there are in the other rodeo events.
"There's probably $400,000 toward insurance which won't increase the premiums because there aren't many claims in the barrel racing. The PRCA thought they could put $400,000 toward the insurance deal and that would help them there. On top of that, there's another $600,000 to the membership of the PRCA. So all of a sudden it became $1 million in extra income a year to the PRCA.
I honestly believe that that is the main reason they kept pushing that thing through."