(Lennie Mahler | The Salt Lake Tribune) Kaycee Feild, of Spanish Fork, scores a 71 in the bareback bronc riding event in the Days of '47 Rodeo at EnergySolutions Arena, Saturday, July 25, 2015.
By STEVE LUHM | The Salt Lake Tribune
First Published Jul 18 2016 12:06PM • Last Updated Jul 18 2016 10:10 pm
Amid a rift in the sport, Days of ’47 switches sanctioning body from PRCA to Elite Rodeo Athletes to procure the “best possible contestant list.”
When the Days of '47 Rodeo opens Tuesday night at Vivint Smart Home Arena, the crowds, competition, livestock and festive atmosphere will look and feel like previous versions.
But the Days of '47 has changed.
Starting this year, the traditional Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association has been replaced as the sanctioning body for the Days of '47 and a handful of other events around the country by a group called Elite Rodeo Athletes.
Some of the biggest names in the sport, including ex-world champions Kaycee Feild and Wesley Silcox from Utah, formed the ERA. Their purpose: compete for more money while cutting back on the grueling travel schedule.
The Days of '47 is the fifth stop on the ERA's inaugural regular-season tour. Three more rodeos will follow before the Elite Rodeo Athletes' 2016 championship event Nov. 9-13 in Dallas.
Oddly, the Days of '47 had enjoyed a renaissance in recent years under the PRCA umbrella. Prize money more than doubled and participation was at an all-time high. Moving it from Maverik Center in West Valley City to downtown Salt Lake, plus putting a new management team in place, helped make it one of the top 10 rodeos in the country.
So why did the Days of '47 organizers seemingly gamble and switch their allegiance from the established PRCA to the fledgling ERA?
"We wanted to provide the Salt Lake audience with the best possible contestant list we could," rodeo CEO Dan Shaw said. "So we felt it was in our best interest to align with the Elite Rodeo [Athletes] association."
The new Days of '47 runs through Saturday night.
According to Shaw, the participants will compete for about $400,000 in prize money, making it the richest rodeo in the state. The format includes three rounds of open qualifying before two nights of the main event, when the biggest stars on the circuit will compete for a total purse of $200,000.
"We're very optimistic," Shaw said. "… We feel like the Days of '47 will probably be the best rodeo in the state because of the competition. The best cowboys will be here."
The foundation-rattling rift between the PRCA and ERA that resulted in the changes at the Days of '47 began last fall, when a handful of the sport's best-known athletes announced plans to start their own tour.
The motivation was logical: cut down on a grueling travel grind, operate some high-paying rodeos in the best markets and continue to compete in the PRCA events when their schedules allowed.
Those in the ERA considered it a win-win for everybody, but the PRCA balked.
The organization reacted to the ERA's plan by changing its bylaws. It prohibited anyone with a financial interest in a competing rodeo association from buying a PRCA membership card, which is required to compete.
The ERA retaliated by filing a class-action antitrust lawsuit in United States District Court.
The divide created between the two groups was understandable but unmistakable.
In a declaration filed with the court, veteran steer wrestler and PCRA member K.C. Jones wrote:
"They are not seeking to improve the lives of cowboys competing on the circuit. They are attempting to take money away from them by creating a competing organization that will drive the money in the industry to certain anointed 'stars' [themselves] while reserving the right to participate in the PRCA events with the biggest purses. They — and only they — would avoid the cost, time and physical toil associated with traveling around the country and competing on the rodeo circuit."
Last spring, a district court judge ruled the PRCA could enforce its new bylaws. The lawsuit was eventually dropped and both groups headed off into a new world of pro rodeo.
"It's disappointing that they would rather just alienate some of the top athletes from the sport rather than come together and work out something that's better for everybody," four-time world bareback champion Bobby Mote told the New York Times.
In the same story, Feild said, "I want to prolong my rodeo career as long as I can. The way the PRCA is structured, I have to go to 60 to 70 rodeos to make a living — and not a great living. With ERA, I can cut that in half."