With more and more rodeos adding breakaway roping to their lineups in 2021, advocates for the sport are beginning to push for equal payout. While almost everyone involved acknowledges that coming up with this extra money at rodeos across the country will take some patience and a concerted effort by the breakaway ropers, the WPRA, sponsors and committees, we sat down with Cheyenne Frontier Days CEO Tom Hirsig to discuss how his committee came up with an extra $67,000 to bring the breakaway payout up to par with every other professional event at Cheyenne.
Kelly Lynch: What was the reason you added breakaway in the first place in 2019?
Tom Hirsig: Well, I think we saw some popularity in the breakaway roping that, you know, was kind of hitting the national scene with The American, and it was being very well received. You know one of the things that we try to do at Frontier Days is we feel feel like we deal with more women and more children and youth in rodeo. So I think it was just a natural fit with the breakaway roping kind of coming on the scene.
Kelly Lynch: I think it’s so cool that you guys added that and similar to what you said, it attract a larger audience. So, what’s the process?
Tom Hirsig: Well it does attract a larger audience because it is so easy to understand. You know people can see one run and they figure it out. We have very few rodeo events that are like that. There are penalties, there’s illegal stuff. But there's not much. Breakaway's pretty simple, and people want to come places and be entertained and not have to really try to understand everything. It was tremendously received here by not only the new fan that comes—which is 85% of our customers, not a true rodeo fan of Frontier Days which surprises a lot of people—but some of the old guys that really didn’t say much ahead of time, afterwards said “I was a little hesitant. I wasn’t sure that the breakaway would be good,” and they said, "After I watched it, I never missed it, the whole time it was going on." So, it does, it does attract a lot of different people.
Kelly Lynch: That’s so cool. So, who ultimately was responsible for making that decision to add breakaway roping to your rodeo?
Tom Hirsig: Oh I don’t know, it’s a group decision here.
Kelly Lynch: Okay so is it just the committee members that all decide on that, and see if it’s a good fit?
Tom Hirsig: Yeah it’s just the group from the staff from to the general committees. You know we talk about adding on a new event it’s you know kind of a decision between the staff and general committee, and it met with little to no resistance.
Kelly Lynch: I think it is so cool that you guys created equal payout for the breakaway ropers, so what led to that change of the added money going from the $10,000 to the $67,000?
Tom Hirsig: Why not?
Kelly Lynch: That’s fair enough, it’s as simple as that.
Tom Hirsig: I mean that’s the real question, why wouldn’t you? Why do you think that those girls don’t work as hard as anybody else to get to the level that they’re at? I mean why not? I mean it’s a popular event. I’ve got a daughter that ropes, and you know, it use to be that if you were a girl roper pretty much when college is over, there wasn’t a lot for you to go to. So, I mean why wouldn’t we bring them to the same level as everybody else? They earned it, they’re in demand, I think that’s more of the question, why not?
Kelly Lynch: Yeah that’s a very fair answer. So where does the extra funding come from to support that equal payout? Is it just from sponsors or do you just add the fees?
Tom Hirsig: All of the above, I mean it comes from your whole rodeo. From ticket sales to sponsors to beer sales to concession sales to parking to, you know, it’s just managing your business. The ladies pay a pretty good entry fee to get into Cheyenne Frontier Days and their event is pretty easy to get stock for, versus like steers and stuff, so yeah it just comes from your whole bottom line. The biggest driver we have at Cheyenne Frontier Days is our concerts. They kind of help carry a lot of stuff we get to do in rodeo.
Kelly Lynch: Wow, that’s very interesting for sure. So how many breakaway ropers do you expect to be competing at Cheyenne Frontier Days?
Tom Hirsig: 200, that’s our max.
Kelly Lynch: So it’s not going to be the same deal like last year where you had a whole rush of girls so you added a bit more?
Tom Hirsig: No because it’s all being done through the PRCA now, they take all the entries. Our software system was not ready for 900 girls to be online getting ready to enter so.
Kelly Lynch: So with that entry, do you think we can expect to see some of the great breakaway roping legends such as like Jackie Crawford and your 2019 Cheyenne Frontier Days champion Jordan Jo Fabrizo?
Tom Hirsig: I don’t think you could keep them away.
Kelly Lynch: Fair enough! I’m sure it’s quite an honor to be able to rope at Cheyenne.
Tom Hirsig: Well yeah it is. I mean it’s really a great honor to rope at Cheyenne and you know I think you know I think rodeo’s really evolved more into a family sport and I think a lot of the team ropers have wives that breakaway or you know that maybe aren’t barrel racers and you know I think the more that we can keep the families involved, the stronger our sport gets.
Kelly Lynch: Yeah absolutely because kind of to the point you made earlier, your audience is a lot of females so I mean adding an additional event for all the females, I mean I’m sure it’s received very well.
Tom Hirsig: It is and you know the kids like it because it’s fun. Its fast, it’s fun. You know our event, I’ll tell you with girls with that long score, it goes fast. Everybody kind of thinks that having a short score and a 1.8 on breakaway roping is faster, but it’s not. And I’ve tried to express this to other committees and even the girls themselves that when you have to see a calf, when you have to go right with one or right when the gates open, your horse has to be perfect. He cannot have his head turned at all, the calf can’t, he’s got to be perfect, everything’s got to be perfect. So those girls, they have to sit in there and wait till everything is perfect. If you come watch our roping, you know when its 20 foot, you’ve got to see them out there past the end of the gate, it doesn’t really matter how the calf’s standing. We don’t have pushers, the calf can come from the back. Ours goes faster than anybody’s with that long score and I hope that you know some other rodeos will start trying that a little more because it does make your event go faster.
Kelly Lynch: I bet, for sure. It’s interesting all the little factors you have to take into consideration when you’re roping in such a large arena such as Cheyenne.
Tom Hirsig: Yeah it was impressive last year. Those girls we took, it was random. Whoever got on the phone first with their credit card got to be in. You know I could tell ya, I was a little nervous. I thought boy we’re going to have some girls that maybe shouldn’t be here with that long score and things going all over the place, and I didn’t really know what to expect. But I’ll tell ya, there was maybe a handful of girls that probably shouldn’t have been entered here but out of the 250, 235 of them, they dang sure deserved to be here, they can rope and ride.
Kelly Lynch: So going off of that, so what do you think having breakaway roping at Cheyenne Frontier Days is doing for the overall future of breakaway roping and the younger girls that want to get more involved?
Tom Hirsig: Well I hope that we are kind of setting a path for other rodeos to say maybe this is our future and maybe we should put some effort into this. I think as you look through the listings of the PRCA there’s a lot of ProRodeos that have breakaway roping now. We’re fortunate at Cheyenne because we do, like I say have those concerts that really kind of help carry our event. A lot of the rodeos, it’s going to take them awhile to get there. But you know I think it’s a, you know certainly this is going to be a big step to making the National Finals in the breakaway roping.
Kelly Lynch: For sure. Well and I mean I think the fact that you guys at Cheyenne stepped up and added it, you kind of set the standard for a lot rodeos because you guys are one of the best so lots of the other smaller rodeos sure look up to you so I applaud you for taking a chance on breakaway roping and helping the sport as a whole.
Tom Hirsig: Well you know in sports in general you look around and see you know they’re calling for equality in sports, and we may be the first sport to really truly equate equality to our event. That’s pretty cool that we are one of the sports that could eventually get to that point where it is equal. And it should be.
Kelly Lynch: Oh yeah for sure because most people when they think of women in rodeo it’s just barrel racing so it’s pretty neat that some of the ropers are getting a chance to shine and be a part of the big show.
Tom Hirsig: Well and you know it’s, I was on a deal with RFD-TV and they said "Well Cheyenne’s making news again," and I said, "Well it’s not Cheyenne making news, it’s the breakaway ropers that are making news. They’re the ones that have made it what it is, we’re just kind of cleaning up and seeing what they’ve built and trying to you know incorporate that into our show to selfishly make our show better." So you know it’s not so much about what Cheyenne’s done, but it’s about what these ladies have done.
Kelly Lynch: Oh absolutely. I was watching an interview that was actually at Cheyenne Frontier Days with Lari Dee Guy and she was talking about how breakaway roping has been around for decades and it’s like I didn’t even know that because I just thought it was something that came about the last few years so I think that it’s so neat that its gaining popularity and people are actually recognizing it and the amazing girls that are a part of it.
Tom Hirsig: Absolutely, yep me too. BRJ