By Scott Breen, Sports 
Director, KTVQ-TV, Billings, MT

 BILLINGS, MONTANA –  The world’s top cowboys and cowgirls are forming their own rodeo association, and Montana’s three-time world champion Clay Tryan is one of the leaders.

Contestants say rodeo’s dusty trail has gotten too long and they’ve grown tired of traveling it on such a regular basis. In an aggressive move to alter the landscape, the world’s top professional cowboys and cowgirls are launching the Elite Rodeo Association. It is scheduled to take off next year with 15 tour events.

“The regular season of rodeo is terrible,” said Tryan.  “It costs so much money to make money. All your heavy money is made at the NFR, and I know it’s been that way forever, but to me it just doesn’t make sense.”

Tryan, Trevor Brazile and Kaycee Feild just scratch the surface of powerhouse cowboys and cowgirls blazing the new trail.

The Elite Rodeo Association is owned by the sport’s top 55 athletes, and 42 of those are world champs.

Contestants have made it clear they’ve been frustrated for some time with the PRCA, feeling like they’ve been left out of decision-making on how their sport is run. Several still don’t believe the PRCA is interested in their input.

Still, Tryan claims the decision to branch off isn’t due to a conflict with the organization.

“It’s not over a beef with the PRCA,” said Tryan.  “We’re just excited about fresh options.”

Said 21-­time world champion Trevor Brazile, who’s also an ERA board member: “Enhancing the sport of professional rodeo and building something greater for the future generations of rodeo cowboys and cowgirls is the goal.”

“Tuff Cooper is going to be there, Trevor Brazile, Cody Ohl, Kaycee Feild, you name it,” said Tryan,  “It is every best guy you’ve ever heard of.”

CEO and President Tony Garritano said on erarodeo.com: “We believe that rodeo needed an elite tour comprised of only the world’s best rodeo competitors and livestock. Due to its business model, the ERA is the only rodeo organization that can truly guarantee appearances of the top talent in professional rodeo. Being owned by the contestants, they are guaranteeing themselves.”

Contestants want to pattern the ERA somewhat after the lucrative Pro Bull Riders Tour, with less travel and more money.

“I don’t see myself going to 75 events and being gone nine straight months when I’m 42, you know what I mean?” said Tryan.

Tryan said the new tour is equally designed to benefit fans, who, under the current system, often don’t know which cowboys they’ll see at a given rodeo event. Now they’ll know who they’re paying to see.

“Sometimes what we do doesn’t make sense,” Tryan said, referring to PRCA rodeos.  “I mean, we’re in slack and no one ever sees us go. We might have won the rodeo and no one ever seen it... ‘Oh, that guy roped at 8 o’clock in the morning.’  I think it’s designed bad. I think we can make the sport the way it needs to be, and the changes that need to be, and that can only be done with what we’re trying to do.”

While transitioning, new tour members certainly aren’t deserting the PRCA.  In fact, most are gunning for money this week at PRCA rodeos.

According to erarodeo.com, next year the tour will produce a regular season of 15 events to be broadcast on national television. When asked if Montana was on the list, Tryan said he was purposely vague in discussing possible tour stops because not all the pieces are in place.

Ultimately, the season will culminate in a five-­day world championship event. 

While current ownership includes existing top competitors, the progressive model allows for aspiring elite rodeo athletes to participate and earn ownership in the ERA. It is governed by a seven-­member board that will consist of three rough stock representatives, three timed event representatives and one administrative official. Eligibility to compete will be determined by the ERA qualification system.

The ERA plans to work with existing rodeo venues and sports arenas across North America.

Current ownership includes existing top competitors, but a progressive model allows for aspiring elite rodeo athletes to participate and earn ownership in the ERA.

Tryan said that throughout months of closed-door meetings, he has been blown away by the wealth of knowledge and ideas regarding the ERA’s master plan. The reigning world team roping champion said he’s heavily in favor of bridging the gap between rodeo fans and athletes.

“You know we’ve got fans everywhere, but they don’t know where to get a hold of me to find out when I’m up at the rodeo,” Tryan said. “And this way you’ll know, I’m up.  I’m there every night an ERA event is going on.”