Brett Hoffman

When it comes to the herd of sports broadcasting channels, there’s a new horse in the barn.

One-sport fans have long had their own TV destinations to call home — be it for the NBA, NFL, MLB and so on — but now rodeo fans have their own channel/signal. And it will be based in the heart of rodeo country.

The Cowboy Channel, operating in new studios in the Fort Worth Stockyards, is broadcasting the Fort Worth Stock Show & Rodeo live on national TV for the first time. The studio is based in a facility was once a gritty cattle auction ring.

All 25 performances of the Stock Show Rodeo (Jan. 17 through Feb. 8) are televised live on the Cowboy Channel, or its sister channel, RFD-TV, the go-to source for news on agriculture, ranching and Western sports. It’s a part of a new six-year media partnership deal that Rural Media Group, Inc., recently struck with the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA).

“We’re going to do as many rodeos as we can live and take people to the action,” said Patrick Gottsch, Founder & President of Rural Media Group, Inc. “The Cowboy Channel is designed to be the Western sports network on TV, just like there’s a golf channel, a tennis channel, and a football, baseball and basketball channel.

“We’re going to do everything we can for Western sports, and especially rodeo, that these other channels are doing for their sports,” Gottsch said. “It’s just a different way to look at rodeo that’s never been done before. It’s long overdue.”

Rodeos have been televised for decades, but live broadcasts have been sparse. On the PRCA circuit, iconic rodeos have been shown on cable television, but in an edited, tape-delayed format.Even the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo performances from Las Vegas that have been broadcast on the CBS Sports Network in recent years have not been completely live.

But under the new agreement, the 2020 NFR performances in December will be live from the time the first chute opens for bareback riding until the last gate closes for bull riding. And fans will be able to watch a live feed on both RFD-TV and the Cowboy Channel.

"Just like ESPN does the Rose Bowl, where they have ESPN and ESPN2 doing two different feeds, we’ll have two different feeds for the NFR and it will be live,” Gottsch said. “Instead of it being a one-hour tape delay by the end, we’re going to be live, we’re going to do split-screen, we’re going to do several cameras, we’re going to add a skycam and a ghostcam. So, we’re going to do everything for the NFR that these other networks are doing for the Super Bowl, the World Series or anything else.”

Throughout the PRCA regular season, performances from sizable rodeos such as the Fort Worth Stock Show, the Cheyenne Frontier Days in Wyoming, RodeoHouston and the RFD-TV’s The American at AT&T Stadium in Arlington (on March 7-8), will be broadcast live on the Cowboy Channel or RFD-TV. The Cowboy Channel also features “Western Sports Round-Up,” a one-hour weekday show that features pro rodeo news and feature stories.

“If you look at major league sports and the way that the industry has evolved, now each of them has their own sports network,” said Joe Loverro, a longtime sports TV producer who produces the rodeo broadcasts on the Cowboy Channel and RFD-TV. “I used to produce baseball for Fox. I’m a big MLB guy and I watch the MLB Network a lot. They are going to be a good model for a lot of what you’re going to see here [at the Cowboy Channel].”

Stetson Wright, the PRCA’s defending world all-around champion, said he’s grateful that the Cowboy Channel is broadcasting an abundance of regular season rodeos leading up to the December National Finals.

“Every competitor needs to be recognized, and I feel like none of us do until we get down to the NFR,” Wright said. “Now that we’re getting put on live TV, people realize who we are and it’s really helping grow the sport.”

The Cowboy Channel has formed a team of longtime rodeo broadcasters such as Amy Wilson, a former Miss Rodeo America; Dave Appleton, the 1988 world all-around champion from Fort Worth; eight-time world bull riding champion Don Gay of Terrell; former Miss Rodeo America Pam Minick who lives near Fort Worth; longtime TV rodeo announcer Justin McKee; and Steve Kenyon, a longtime TV and radio announcer for Western sports.Wilson said live TV will help pro rodeo command more respect.

“Live TV can be a little bit crazy when you’re actually the one working it, but for the people watching, it doesn’t get any better than that,” Wilson said. “If we want to be considered a professional like we are, it’s super important that we’re live and people know when to tune in and see professional rodeo and follow the top athletes.”

Appleton, who serves in a Fort Worth Stock Show director role and has conducted arena interviews on the rodeo’s national TV broadcasts, said the Cowboy Channel’s live broadcasts will bring pro rodeo into the modern era.

“We’re in a world today, with phones being a computer and everyone’s got one,” Appleton said. “It’s instant information. It’s live. It’s real time. If it’s more than four hours old, it’s old. It has to be instant to keep a fan base. Here, you are seeing what’s happening. Everyone is clued in. Everyone knows what’s going on.”

The Cowboy Channel’s rodeo performances broadcasts also offer feature stories on accomplished rodeo personnel. For example, during the final round of the National Western Stock Show Rodeo in Denver on Jan. 26, McKee reported a story on the Cervi family of Colorado, which has provided the livestock for larger rodeos for many years in cities such as Denver, Houston and San Antonio. Kenyon said he hopes the rodeo broadcasts will rope in new fans.

“I hope someone sees the Fort Worth Stock Show Rodeo on the Cowboy Channel...maybe it inspires them to go buy a ticket,” Kenyon said. “If we can attract new fans and bring new people into our lifestyle, if we can show them our great athletes on two legs and on four, and get people to want to go see one or two rodeos in person, that will be a great thing.”

Kenyon said rodeo competitors are independent minded people “who don’t like people telling them what to do, where to go and how to get there. We choose to make a living with a horse, a rope and a saddle because we don’t necessarily want to have to worry about satisfying a boss every day. If we can introduce those stories and bring a little bit of the Old West back, I think we’ve done our job.”

PBR update

On the PBR circuit, Jose Vitor Leme of Decatur clinched the title at last weekend’s tour stop in Oklahoma City and earned $39,351.

He turned in scores of 85.75, 88.75 and 92 (during the final round). It was his second consecutive victory on the Unleash The Beast tour. Leme also clinched the title at the UTB tour stop in Sacramento on Jan. 26.

Leme is ranked No. 1 in the PBR’s world title race with 425 points.

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