Pikes Peak or Bust Rodeo moves forward after its long relationship ends with the local-based Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association.
Pikes Peak or Bust Rodeo moves forward after its long relationship ends with the local-based Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association.
Pikes Peak or Bust Rodeo moves forward after its long relationship ends with the local-based Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association.
Pikes Peak or Bust Rodeo moves forward after its long relationship ends with the local-based Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association.

One year away from a historic anniversary, the Pikes Peak or Bust Rodeo parted ways with the Springs-based Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association late last month, leading to each organization providing separate explanations for the fracture.

As a result, the 2014 Pikes Peak or Bust Rodeo will be the first in its 74-year history not to be sanctioned by the PRCA or its direct predecessors.

Rodeo president Gary Markle said the local board chose not to seek sanction in 2014 in order to pursue an “open format” that he said is growing popular in the national sporting arena, while PRCA Commissioner Karl Stressman pinned the departure on a failed settlement over issues pertaining to a sponsorship policy dispute.

“It was not necessarily a surprise, but certainly the PRCA doesn’t want to lose any good rodeos,” Stressman said. “We certainly don’t like it this way.”

Markle and Stressman indicated that both sides of the story are true, but they have differing views of what led to the split.

Despite the division after what Stressman called a “longstanding relationship,” Markle said that the two equine entities remain on good terms. Stressman said that although PRCA has sustained growth for the past five years — sanctioning 619 events for 2014 — he bemoans the local rodeo’s decision.

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“Times change, and things change,” Stressman said. “But I am disappointed that we would lose any rodeo.”

Sponsorship saga

Troubles between the two bodies began with a dispute concerning PRCA’s sponsorship policy, sparked during last year’s Pikes Peak or Bust. That dispute eventually led to the local rodeo’s one-year suspension from PRCA sanctioning and privileges, according to Stressman.

“Despite prior recommendations from the PRCA to comply with their Sanctioning Agreement, this year PPoB chose to ignore its PRCA Sanctioning Agreement by not honoring exclusive national sponsorship agreements in place with the PRCA,” the Association said in a Nov. 1 news release. “Over the past two months, the PRCA has worked diligently with PPoB representatives to resolve their suspension and has attempted to reach a resolution that will allow for PRCA sanctioning of the PPoB in future years.”

Stressman didn’t go into detail about the incident, but said that it involved conflicting sponsors and their designated locations at the Norris-Penrose Event Center at 1045 Lower Gold Camp Road, which is home to the annual event.

Wrangler, the national Western wear company, serves as PRCA’s national sponsor and is the title sponsor for the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo each December. Colorado-based Cinch, another Western clothing outfitter, had become associated with Pikes Peak or Bust (and will be its primary sponsor starting in 2014). Cinch’s presence at the local rodeo in July led directly to the dispute.

“It was a violation of our sponsorship agreement and that’s what it came down to,” Stressman said about the snafu. “We don’t make the rules, we just enforce them,”

Although the PRCA — headquartered in the Springs since 1979 — implies that the dispute was borne out of a lack of understanding sponsorship rights, Markle said that “there was just some confusion between the agreement with the facility and the agreement with the PRCA.

“There was no intent to harm anybody or disrespect the PRCA,” he said. “We tried to get things resolved and wanted them to be resolved … but that would not have changed our decision.”

Stressman said that the PRCA worked hard to negotiate with the local rodeo to develop a “workable solution” to the problem that would serve to further both parties’ interest, but no such solution presented itself.

Markle suggests that, in the end, no solution would have done the trick.

“We don’t believe at all that we were hesitant to work with them — we worked with the PRCA in every aspect,” Markle said. “This decision really had nothing to do with the sanctioning or anything to do with the PRCA.”

Fledgling format

In announcing the decision, Markle said the split was to pursue an “open format” that would provide for a more flexible handling of sponsorship and financial matters, as well as scheduling competitors.

He said this format has been adopted by rodeos in other cities and will allow for a faster and more exciting event that will appeal to the eclectic regional audience. He added that after looking at things “from all angles,” the Rodeo Board decided the transition made financial sense for both its charity recipients and the cowboys/cowgirls themselves.

“The rodeo’s profits go back to military charities that they use to support active duty military and their families,” Markle said. “In this format, we can increase our profits and thus our support of military charities … and pay a bigger purse to the cowboys and cowgirls … by attracting different sponsors than in the past.”

It will allow the rodeo essentially to govern itself more freely and to develop its own methodologies, awarding contestants in a more timely manner and attracting more sponsors, according to Markle.

Although the rodeo already has attracted and signed Cinch Jeans and Shirts as next year’s title sponsor, Markle said local officials are still in the sponsor confirmation process and other details remain in the works. However, he views the change as one that will attract more attention, bring more talent and raise more money.

“We really believe this is a fine product that we are producing for the fans,” Markle said. “I don’t want anyone to think we won’t have the top cowboys and cowgirls and that we won’t have great events.”

But Stressman shared his doubts, saying that there may be a snag in that plan. He said that the new format will keep the event from counting toward qualification for the National Finals Rodeo each December in Las Vegas.

“I don’t think that bodes well for anyone,” he said.