Brian Gauck / For The Bulletin
Culvers Bobby Mote competes Friday night in bareback riding at the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas.
Group starting a new tour includes several cowboys from Central Oregon as court battle with PRCA continues
By Mark Morical / The Bulletin / @MarkMorical
Feb 11, 2016 at 05:30AM
Elite Rodeo Athletes Premier Tour
What: An eight-stop tour featuring some of the top cowboys and cowgirls in the country.
Where: The tour debuts at the Deschutes County Fair & Expo Center in Redmond with the High Desert Stampede.
When: March 25-26.
Contact: www.highdesertstampede.com or www.eraprorodeo.com .
Bobby Mote has spent more than 20 years as a professional rodeo cowboy. In that time, he says, he has seen only minimal positive change in his sport.
A four-time world bareback champion from Culver, Mote and many other of the top rodeo riders in the country want to improve their sport to benefit both the fans and the competitors. They believe the new Elite Rodeo Athletes organization and its Premier Tour — which makes its debut next month in Redmond — will help make rodeo more fan-friendly and help provide a more viable career to rodeo riders.
“Rodeo is an outstanding sport,” Mote says. “It is full of amazing athletes. People need to know these men and women. They need to appreciate their athleticism, and view rodeo not as county fair entertainment, but as a sport. Because anybody that can do the kinds of stuff that these guys and gals can do are very remarkable athletes.”
A recent ruling could prevent the contestants set to compete in the ERA — a group that includes some of the biggest stars in pro rodeo and several cowboys from Central Oregon — from competing in Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association events.
Last week, U.S. District Judge Barbara Lynn denied a preliminary injunction against the PRCA, the longtime main governing body of pro rodeo. In October, the PRCA enacted bylaws to deny anyone with ownership in the new ERA from becoming a PRCA member. Shareholders in the ERA include Mote and 2015 world bareback champion Steven Peebles, of Redmond. Team roper Charly Crawford, of Prineville, and bareback rider Austin Foss, of Terrebonne, are also shareholders in the ERA.
The ERA had filed a lawsuit seeking a preliminary injunction against the PRCA, alleging that the PRCA bylaws were anti-competitive.
The $4.6 million ERA Premier Tour — which includes 80 of the top rodeo athletes in the world and will be televised on Fox Sports 2 — debuts March 25-26 with the High Desert Stampede at the Deschutes County Fair & Expo Center in Redmond.
Central Oregon will be the first of eight stops on the tour, concluding with the ERA’s championship finals Nov. 9-13 at American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas.
Some cowboys are giving up their shares in the ERA so they can compete in both the ERA and the PRCA, according to Holly DeLaune, director of communications for ERA. Only 15 percent have chosen to do so, she added. The remaining 85 percent — including the four cowboys from Central Oregon, according to Mote — will compete only in ERA events and a few other rodeos not sanctioned by the PRCA.
“What’s going on in court is not going to affect the product of the ERA,” Mote says. “We’re moving forward. All the athletes are committed to it, regardless if they have ownership or not. They’re still 100 percent behind it. That level of competition and riding for big money … that’s what rodeo cowboys thrive on.”
Many of the cowboys who gave up their shareholdings in ERA have contractual obligations to sponsors that require them to attend PRCA events, DeLaune added.
“ERA respects very much the right for those guys to do what’s best for their careers and their families,” says Denis Fast, chairman of the High Desert Stampede. “The full intention of ERA was that they could compete in PRCA. So they’re allowing some of these guys to do that and still compete in the ERA rodeos. That was their intention all along. That’s why the ERA did not schedule any events in June, July or August, which is kind of the cowboys’ payday on the PRCA.”
Because Mote is not giving up his stake in the ERA, he will not be able to compete in PRCA events — including the Sisters Rodeo in June.
“I’ve been going to Sisters forever,” says the 39-year-old Mote. “It’s hard for me to not go to Sisters, but at the same time knowing that our product is going to be so good and the fans are gonna get to see what they haven’t got to see before, it’s worth the risk.”
Travel for rodeo competitors in the PRCA is demanding. To earn a spot in the top 15 of a rodeo event and qualify for the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas, a cowboy or cowgirl may have to participate in more than 100 rodeos in cities large and small all across North America.
The ERA was created in part to offer a sort of “all-star” circuit, requiring less travel, but with more prize money available.
“They’re looking at it as a tour where they don’t have to go to a hundred rodeos a year to have any possibility of making a living,” Fast says.
DeLaune says the ERA format allows contestants more flexibility and more free time, rather than requiring them to continuously travel from one rodeo to the next.
“Athletes would have a viable career and be able to participate in a format that allows them to spend more time with their families and to connect with fans in a way they previously have not been able to,” DeLaune notes.
Billed as all-star events, ERA rodeos will be different from PRCA rodeos in that ERA competition will include only top-tier contestants. Most PRCA rodeos typically feature a limited number of the sport’s true “stars” and include all comers.
The 2016 ERA roster includes four world champions from 2015.
“Competition at this level, when you’ve got the best against the best, that’s what we’re passionate about, is bringing the very best competition to every event under one roof to the fans, and giving them a reason to appreciate every event in rodeo,” Mote says.
The lawsuit is ongoing, but nothing is likely to change before the High Desert Stampede, according to DeLaune.
“For Redmond, it’s even cooler, because the ERA tour is going to be the only place where you can see all of the greatest names in rodeo in one place,” DeLaune says.
PRCA officials declined to comment for this story.
Other stops on the ERA tour include Nampa, Idaho; Salt Lake City; Albuquerque, New Mexico; Sheridan, Wyoming; St. Louis; Atlanta and New Orleans, leading up to the season-ending championships in Dallas.
— Reporter: 541-383-0318,