BEHIND THE CHUTES AND ELSEWHERE

WHAT IF?? . . . . . 

RODEO HAD BEEN REPORTED ON SPORTS PAGES FOR THE LAST 100 YEARS??

           Did you ever wonder what might have happened if things had been different in the past? If the sport of rodeo was covered on the Sports Pages of newspapers across this nation since the beginning of rodeo would the sport be further ahead than it is now? Would rodeo have mega-major sponsors supporting it, and more clamoring to be involved? Competitors making millions of dollars like football, basketball, baseball players and golfers? Would the bleachers be overflowing and ticket sellers would only be able to offer “standing room only” to spectators and fans?

A recent experience here in Austin, Texas, when the local newspaper failed to report the results of our two week rodeo for the ‘umpteenth’ year, got me thinking. Austin, the capitol of Texas, who voted to have Rodeo as the sport of Texas. But our local newspaper gives the results only occasionally during the two week event. Our rodeo is no small rodeo, ranking seventeenth in the PRCA offering a purse around a quarter of a million dollars to competing cowboys and cowgirls. All the best in each event come to the Austin rodeo. I communicated with the Sports Editor when I discovered the results were not appearing every day and he informed me that he has to cover the sports that are of most interest to his readers. Obviously rodeo is not ranked very high.

This problem is not just an Austin problem, nor is it a problem that has occurred during recent years. The lack of coverage on the sports page has been happening since the beginning of rodeo, over a hundred and some odd years ago. Rodeo has made many efforts to correct this problem, with very little results. In 1950 the Rodeo Cowboys Association (predecessor to the ProRodeo Cowboys Association) started working with newspapers to ‘put rodeo on the sports page’. In 1959 the Rodeo Information Foundation tried to improve and encourage the media by handing out media packets to educate and inform the media and rodeo committees. The PRCA now hands out a Committee Guide to all PRCA rodeo committees, which includes many things to aid a rodeo committee, including publicity information, according to PRCA’s Public Relations gal, Sherry Compton.

Today there are a few reporters in a few places across the country that report rodeo on a regular basis, such as Ed Knocke, who writes a rodeo column, in the sports pages of the Dallas Morning News; Brett Hoffman with the Fort Worth Star Telegram and Ron Agostini with the Modesto (California) Bee, and a few others. Generally the sports page is not where rodeo news is reported. The Entertainment section or Lifestyle page will occasionally do a special feature on rodeo. “It is treated more like the Shrine Circus than a sport,” said Jim Thompson of the Rapid City (South Dakota) Journal. Josh Peter, a sports reporter, now with Yahoo.com compared the sport of rodeo to hockey, which is reported on an occasional basis in most places across the country.

As I discuss with various reporters, PRCA members and various other rodeo-related folks these are the issues:

1. Historically, maybe rodeo didn’t know it was a sport. It just began as cowboys competing against one another in what they do best – roping and riding. It was called “a show” in the earliest days. Wild West shows, often connected with circuses, had many early day competitors that worked in wild west to hone their skills, while getting a paycheck, but their goal was to eventually become rodeo competitor. A ‘front man’, hired by the rodeo producer, often went in to a town a few weeks before the rodeo arrived and promoted the up-coming event in the beginning. Foghorn Clancy was one of the best.

The idea of a ‘front man’ or in the 21st century a ‘hired gun’ who is hired by the rodeo committee to send out press releases every night to the area newspapers, along with feature stories, and of course, the results of each performance. Note: a paid employee with one responsibility – publicity!

2. Many newspaper editors are not savvy about rodeo and consider it more as a novelty event. Most reporters, unless raised in a rodeo-related family are not knowledgeable of the rules of all seven events that make up rodeo. Today rodeos are uniform and their rules and judging is done pretty much the same from one rodeo to the next. A class in Rodeo 101 could easily educate a reporter better and understand each event.

I must add, however, that Ed Knocke, sportswriter at the Dallas Morning News, was encouraged by Dave Smith, the new Executive Sports Editor in 1980. Smith arrived at the Dallas Morning News from the Boston Globe, knowing nothing about rodeo However, Smith encouraged Knocke to write a column on rodeo, in addition to reporting the results of rodeos. Smith was inducted in to the ProRodeo Hall of Fame for his journalistic support of rodeo in 2004.

3. How well trained are rodeo committee volunteers? When approached by media people or anyone about rodeo do they have the ‘right’ answers? Are rodeo committee volunteers rodeo savvy, and if not, does someone on the board recognize this and try to educate them in the sport? Each rodeo committee has their own set of issues, with publicity being a very integral part, and most likely the determination as to whether they fill the seats for each rodeo performance or have half the stands empty.

A television crew with cameras and interviewer showed up ready to interview people for a piece on rodeo and were referred by the committee volunteer to the musical star who would perform that night. Aaaaaghhhh! Another horror story happened when a reporter got media credentials but the rodeo committee had no seat sin the stands for media people – this happened at a rodeo/stock show and was apparent that most of the media reporters were there for the stock show events, not the rodeo. .

4. Do rodeo fans let their local newspapers know they would like to see the results of rodeos held in their area, the following morning? There is only so much room on a sports page and in today’s world there are so many different sports being reported. Today most editors are available by e-mail, which is listed in the newspaper. Fans can let local papers know if they are not satisfied with the lack of rodeo coverage. Don’t expect it to get any better unless, as a reader of the newspaper and a fan, you let them know how you feel.

Historically shortly after rodeo began, the early part of the 1900s, the sports page covered baseball – Babe Ruth, and very little else. Football didn’t get to be so popular until television made it so. Basketball is a relatively new sport in popularity. One reporter told me that rodeo representatives never got him excited about rodeo. He didn’t get hooked until he was approached by the Professional Bull Riders organization. “They came on hard, made it interesting and ‘spoon-fed’ us information. Before I knew it I was not only covering it, I was a fan.”

5. How receptive are competitors to give interviews and help reporters understand their event? Cowboys and cowgirls have to realize that the more publicity generated for rodeo, the more rodeos will be held, the more money goes in their pockets, and everyone benefits. It just takes a little time to be interviewed or show up for a photo shoot. Interviews and publicity should be a part of every competitor’s job description.

I remember running out of the stands in to the maze of parked pickups and trailers to find one roper that I wanted to interview because he had done so well in that evenings performance. I found him just as he was ready to leave the grounds, headed for his next rodeo, which was miles away. He made it evident I was ‘slowing him down and he needed to be on the road’. However, my persistence and the few comments he gave me got his photo and remarks on the front page of the Rodeo Sports News the next issue. He can now boast being a World Champion. Bet he doesn’t hedge interviews now.

OK, so who is to blame? Is it rodeo, sports editors or reporters, rodeo committees, the fans or the competing cowboys and cowgirls themselves? Maybe everyone should sit back and ask themselves, “WHAT COULD I HAVE DONE TO BETTER THE SPORT OF RODEO, AND GET RODEO REPORTED ON THE SPORTS PAGE OF THE NEWSPAPER?” Start tomorrow, it’s never too late.

It is food for thought.


[I want to thank those people who talked with me about this query. I also want to thank them for all their efforts on behalf of rodeo. Ed Knocke, Jim Thompson, Josh Peter, Rhonda Stearns, Sherry Compton and all the competitors.]   

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