Home of Champions Rodeo

Jake Finlay scored 81 points on Kicking Wing in saddle bronc during the Home of Champions Rodeo in Red Lodge in 2019.

BILLINGS — In a "heart-wrenching" decision, the Red Lodge Rodeo Association has canceled the 91st Home of Champions Rodeo that was to be held July 2-4.

The announcement was made on the Red Lodge Rodeo Facebook page and confirmed to 406mtsports.com in a phone interview with Home of Champions Rodeo secretary and communications director Stacie Nardinger.

The rodeo committee voted Monday evening. It is another major sporting event in the state canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic, joining high school all-star football and basketball games and the high school spring sports season. The Professional Bull Riders stop at First Interstate Arena at MetraPark in April was canceled, and so has been the 96th annual Livingston Roundup Rodeo scheduled for July 2-4.

The release stated: "The rodeo association president, directors, and ticket team have worked tirelessly over the last month to look at the rodeo situation from all angles, including the feasibility of having a fan-less event. Our team looked at the pulse from the community businesses through meetings with the Carbon County Economic Recovery Task Force, fellow rodeo associations, contractors, sponsors, Carbon County Commissioners, and the Carbon County Health Board. At every turn, we were shot down in one way or another. With heavy hearts, we had to make a tough decision. These are unprecedented times, calling for difficult decisions to be made, often resulting in significant sacrifice.

"With the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic along with recommendations from our county health board, state and national government agencies, we have had to make sacrifices in an attempt to reduce the spread of the virus, as well as to protect the safety of our volunteers, athletes, and fans. Our western heritage and spirit still shines through this event. Pull your hat down and set your spurs for Summer 2021!"

While the popular and prestigious rodeo has been canceled, there will still be a parade in Red Lodge on July Fourth. Normally, the parade is held all three days of the rodeo, but this year it will be on Independence Day and start at noon on Sixteenth and Broadway.

The parade will not be sponsored by the Home of Champions Rodeo this year and will be called the Red Lodge Patriotic Parade. The parade route will go north on Broadway to Eighth Street, turn west and go south on Oakes back to the Civic Center parking lot said parade director Glory Mahan. The route is different than years past to provide more sidewalk space for social distancing.

“The community is 90% for having the parade. I think a great many people are very disappointed there will be no rodeo, even though they understand,” said Mahan, who is in her 29th year as parade director. “Having the parade is a good step in the right direction in giving people the opportunity to enjoy an outdoor event and give them an opportunity to come together and lift their spirits.”

Nardinger said the rodeo committee regularly meets during the year. The group met in May and started to discuss options for this year's rodeo and met again on Monday. Committee members also worked through countless phone calls, emails, text messages and Zoom meetings during that span to figure out a solution. The committee had weighed waiting to make a decision until June 10, but with the rodeo dates fast approaching, decided to make the "very-tough decision" on Monday.

"It is heart-wrenching that we can't go on with the rodeo lifestyle and the western way of life," Nardinger said. "We would love to pull the chutes."

Nardinger said the plan is to once again resume the Home of Champions Rodeo next year.

"We are going to go full-on and pull off all stops and go full-on, and are excited to start planning that," she said.

Along with the reasons of canceling the rodeo out of safety concerns for the cowboys and cowgirls, rodeo personnel, fans and community due to the virus, another factor in the decision was the finances it requires to hold a rodeo such as the Home of Champions.

All told, usually 500 to 800 cowboys and cowgirls, counting the entries in all of the performances and slack, compete in the rodeo said Nardinger. Contestants come from all over the United States and Canada, and Nardinger added the Canada has closed its borders to horses crossing, meaning Canadian participants can’t bring their own horses for timed events.

The overall payoff was expected to be $120,000, including an added $6,000 per event, depending on the number of entries. For the first time, the rodeo was to pay both sides of the team roping competition (headers and heelers), without splitting the purse, said Nardinger.

Other costs associated with hosting the Home of Champions Rodeo include paying the stock contractor, rodeo announcer, bull fighters and barrel man.

“It’s extremely painful and it saddens us for the rodeo family,” Nardinger said. “The cowboys and our announcers, and clowns. This is what they do for a paycheck and they have to find an alternate way to make money this year.”

Nardinger said sponsorships cover “a big chunk” of the costs of hosting the Home of Champions Rodeo. Funds to host the rodeo are also acquired through an annual banquet, paid admission and concessions.

This year’s banquet, to be held in April, was canceled because of the crisis.

Having a rodeo televised without fans, as Cave Creek (Arizona) Rodeo Days was on The Cowboy Channel, would have been a challenge.

Nardinger explained many sponsors like to have their signage displayed to where fans at the arena see it. If a rodeo were to be held strictly on television without fans, signage is sometimes not viewable to those watching on TV.

Television coverage would also require more media timeouts and more volunteers, strapping “our volunteer base as a lot of our volunteer base is elderly,” said Nardinger.

Overall, the The Home of Champions Rodeo committee looked at several possible scenarios to host this year’s the rodeo: A TV broadcast without fans, full capacity, or 25% seating.

Normally, the rodeo would draw 5,500 fans with standing room only in other parts of the arena on the Fourth of July. Nardinger said the stands were measured to look at possible social distancing seating plans, but in the end holding the rodeo was not feasible with local guidelines, the governor’s directive, safety and financial concerns.

“It’s really hard to ask your sponsors for money when some are barely making it,” she said. “That was a factor we looked at was reduced sponsorships. But on the other hand, I was getting calls from sponsors whose other rodeos they sponsored, such as Livingston, were canceled.”

According to the press release, the following are choices for those who already purchased tickets:

● Credit for the 2021 year. Ticket buyers may receive credit for the 2021 season;

● Donate all or part of your ticket payment to help ensure the future of the Home of Champions legacy;

● Refund your tickets through the Red Lodge Chamber of Commerce or at http://redlodgerodeo.com/wp/tickets/ ;

For information on refunds, email rlachamber@gmail.com or call 406-446-1718. Applications should be completed before July 1, 2020. Any tickets outstanding after that date will be considered a donation.

Registration for the parade will be from 9 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. at the Civic Center parking lot on July Fourth. There is not an entry fee.

“We are open for business here and if people want to come watch the parade and cheer it on,” said Mahan, a member of the Red Lodge city council. “We won’t have a rodeo, but people can go up the pass to the Beartooth Mountains. They can still make a good day out of it, or a weekend if they want to.”

Email Gazette Deputy Sports Editor John Letasky at john.letasky@406mtsports.com or follow him on Twitter at @GazSportsJohnL

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