REDMOND — In the days before the Elite Rodeo Athletes Premier Tour makes its debut at the Deschutes County Fair & Expo Center, trucks are dropping off bucking chutes, stock contractors are delivering bulls and calves, and organizers are clocking 17-hour days as they oversee ticket sales and attend television production meetings.
And for once, Bobby Mote is on hand to see it all take shape.
For decades, Mote, a four-time Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association bareback riding champion from Culver, and his fellow rodeo cowboys and cowgirls have maintained a punishing schedule, skipping across the country to compete, often in multiple rodeos per week. But the Elite Rodeo Athletes league, which opens its inaugural season at the fairgrounds’ Bank of the Cascades Center on Friday and Saturday nights, will include just eight stops before the five-day final in Dallas, Texas, in November, giving the contestants more time to rest and promote their sport.
“I went by the arena yesterday, and I saw our specially designed arena with our graphics, and it started to hit home that this is about to happen,” Mote said on Wednesday.
“For 40 years, rodeo cowboys have talked about how great it would be if we could structure things along the lines of what we’re doing (with the ERA), and no one’s done it. It’s just like the old adage, if you want something done right, you have to do it yourself.”
The PRCA, the longtime governing body of pro rodeo, will not permit ERA members to compete in PRCA-sanctioned events, which include Oregon events such as the Sisters Rodeo, the Pendleton Round-Up and the St. Paul Rodeo among hundreds of others. But tie-down roper Stran Smith said the new circuit offers quality over quantity.
“This allows us to be at our peak — the guys in the rough stock get to be healthier, and we put less miles on our horses in the timed events,” Smith said. “It allows us to come two or three days before, meet the fans, promote our event, take time and do what we’ve always wanted to do. The way it used to be, we’d roll in the morning of the slack (round), and as soon as you roped or rode you’re back in the truck and on to the next one.”
The sheer number of PRCA events held across North America on any given weekend has meant that top competitors do not necessarily attend the same rodeos before the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas, a situation that the ERA hopes to remedy.
“Nobody has gotten to see this before, even us,” Smith said. “I’m selfishly excited, because not only am I a competitor, I’m a fan. I’m excited to see Bobby (Mote) ride a horse. I don’t get to see Bobby against Kaycee Feild that often.”
Judging by ticket sales, fans are plenty excited, too.
“A lot of the tickets are being bought from outside Central Oregon,” said Denis Fast, chairman of the High Desert Stampede, which is putting on the local ERA event. Fast noted that tickets for the rodeo have been bought online in Hawaii, Alaska and Great Britain. “And we get a lot of walk-ups the day of, especially in Central Oregon.”
Mote said he sees the ERA Tour growing to include 20 stops in coming years, but provided this weekend’s event goes well he would like Redmond to remain the kickoff spot.
“Our intent is to see Redmond become similar to Talladega in NASCAR,” said ERA chief operating officer Tommy Joe Lucia. “Even if we go play Madison Square Garden in New York City, it’s always nice to go home. So our intent is to make Redmond a permanent tour stop.”
Mote said he fully believes that the ERA’s concentrated schedule, with stops in major markets such as New Orleans, Atlanta and St. Louis — and weekly appearances on Fox Sports 2 on Wednesday nights — will help bring rodeo to a mainstream audience.
“I’ve been to meetings in New York City with television executives and marketing groups, and they said, this is no novel idea — you’re getting the best against the best in an arena the fans can follow,” Mote said. “They’re like, ‘Why haven’t you done this before?’
“We’re late to the party, but we’re here.”
—Reporter: 541-383-0305, firstname.lastname@example.org
If you go
Tickets for Friday’s and Saturday’s performances at the Bank of the Cascades Center are available for $20 to $100, depending on seat location. Tickets can be purchased online at www.highdesertstampede.comuntil noon today. Tickets are also available at the box office at the Deschutes Fair & Expo Center beginning at noon today, Friday and Saturday. General admission tickets are free for children 5 and under.
The rodeo performance begins at 7:30 p.m. on both Friday and Saturday. Doors open at 5 p.m., and contestants will be available for autographs between 6 and 7 p.m.