It’s going to be a very special Valentine’s for some competitors in the richest rodeo in the 108-year history of Fort Worth’s Cowtown Coliseum.
Scheduled for Feb. 14-17, RFD-TV’s “The American” semifinals is now a $1 million rodeo, thanks to the addition of $500,000 in prize money. The combination of the additional prize money with the oldest indoor events arena for a rodeo in the United States makes this event even more appealing as competitors battle for a berth in the finals at AT&T Stadium on Feb. 19.
Billy Frey, chief marketing officer for RFD-TV, said both the history of Cowtown Coiseum and the Fort Worth Stockyards factored into the decision to raise the prize money for the semifinals.
“They are both historic and iconic, which is what you are looking for when holding a world-class event, particularly in the sport of rodeo,” he said. “We have the richest rodeo held in Cowtown Coliseum, but we’ve also been working with the folks in the Fort Worth Stockyard to have a week-long celebration of the rural and western lifestyle – cowboy culture. What better place than The Stockyards?
“The city has also embraced the event, and when you mix all of that together, we expect a bigger and better event.”
More than 600 qualifiers are competing for the chance to reach the finals, where they will have a chance to rope or ride for the $1 million “side pot” by winning one of seven events. With the added semifinals money, however, payouts will go deeper into the contestant pools, meaning competitors can win big even before reaching AT&T Stadium. For example, over $300,000 is expected to be paid out in barrel racing at Cowtown.
“There isn’t another barrel racing opportunity where our contestants can compete for a chance at $1.3 million in a single five-day period,” said Robin Hoffman, Better Barrel Racing co-founder and CEO.
This means that even though a competitor might not make it to AT&T Stadium, they can make a nice return on their entry fee nonetheless.
“We’ve come a long way since 1949 when the top paycheck was $179 in the bull riding,” said Hub Baker, executive director of Cowtown Coliseum and producer of the Stockyards Championship Rodeo.
The additional prize money also translates into more competitors, Frey said.
“In fact, the sanctioning bodies who put on the qualifying events came to us and specifically requested that we use the additionally prize money in this way,” he said. “They received a lot of feedback from their members, and they’ve already said this has created a buzz in that community.”
Frey said the additional purse was not necessarily needed. He said it was simply a matter of building on the success of the first three years.
“The American has always had strong numbers in terms of entrants, so the event was always going to be a success. However, we don’t want to rest on our laurels and wait until something goes wrong before we make improvements,” he said. “We want to be proactive.”
Patrick Gottsch, founder and president of “The American,” echoed those thoughts, adding that the semifinals can also play a significant role in the development surrounding the area. The city of Fort Worth is working on bringing Rural Media Group, the parent company of RFD-TV, to the Stockyards for its headquarters.
“Putting one million into the purse money for the semifinals will be the basis for a very exciting week of competition here in the Fort Worth Stockyards, while establishing the first new marquee annual event in support of the development now taking place in this historic district.”
The week will include a celebration of western lifestyle and cowboy culture, Hispanic culture, along with military and first responders in the FanZone.
“It’s going to be unlike years past. First of all, it’s more convenient for the fans. They can come in on Wednesday and watch rodeo for three days at Cowtown Coliseum before going to the PBR’s (Professional Bull Riders) Iron Cowboy on Saturday and The American on Sunday,” Frey said.
“Additionally, by nature of the location and the timing, we can do more. Now, with five days we can have a much bigger program, one that is inclusive of many cultures.
“We expect it to get bigger and better. While The American is still the world’s richest one-day rodeo, the semifinals is a significant rodeo in and of itself. We’ve had great stories come out of the semifinals and the qualifying system. It’s the true American underdog story. It’s about the cowboys and cowgirls and supporting rodeo as a whole, not just the stars.”