Eleven-time International Professional Rodeo Association (IPRA) World Champion Steer Wrestler Dale Yerigan remembers pulling into a truck stop to find a pay phone so that he could get entered in a rodeo by calling the rodeo secretary directly.
“We had to fight for a phone and hope we could get through,” Yerigan chuckled; he won his first title in 1985. “This generation can’t image the way we did it for the bulk of my career.”
Thankfully, most of today’s competitors have never felt the pain of pay phones, nor have secretaries been expected to handle entries, due to the advent of cell phones and central entry systems.
Yet, despite some progress, technological advances have come slower to the rodeo industry, a trend that will change for IPRA members under the recently announced sale of the second largest professional rodeo association to Rodeo Logistics, the Austin, Texas based software development company which is already revolutionizing the business side of the sport.
Yerigan, who today serves as the General Manager of the Association he once ruled as a competitor and a member of the Board of Directors, believes the transition in leadership will bring nothing but positives for everyone involved
“This new venture will provide direct benefits to the membership,” Yerigan said. “We’ll immediately see an increase of $200,000 in prize money at the IFR [International Finals Rodeo] as well as a $50,000 increase in the stock leases there so everyone will have more in their pockets.”
The move effectively doubles the prize money for the 54th anniversary of the IPRA’s championship event.
“And that’s just the start,” Yerigan said.
The sale of the IPRA’s assets by its former ownership group, Rodeo Alliance, LLC, came after several years of relationship building. Rodeo Logistics CEO Gary McKinney also owns Reliance Ranches, owners of the Lazy E Arena in Guthrie, Oklahoma, which annually hosts the IFR in January.
In addition, for the past two years, Rodeo Logistics has brought their signature rodeo production tools like Open Stalls and Rodeo Entry Tool to the International Finals Youth Rodeo (IFYR), the world’s richest high school rodeo, an auxiliary event of the IPRA which is managed by IPRA staff.
Both the IPRA Board of Directors as well as the membership approved the sale.
“The acquisition was approved unanimously by the Board and a majority of the members,” Yerigan noted. “The members overwhelmingly support it, they see the value.”
While the technological innovations may bring some of the most anticipated changes for competitors, there will be other advantages as the conversion to new ownership is implemented. Members should not notice a disruption to the on-going rodeo season.
“The transition should be seamless and smooth for the members as far as process. This move will help streamline the business side,” Yerigan said.
He and the three other full time staff members will continue to handle the day-to-day operations out of the Association’s Oklahoma City headquarters along with one current remote project manager. More staff may be added as new programs are added.
“Rodeo is such a traditional sport and lifestyle and we try to stay with that but the majority of our competitors are young people,” Yerigan said.
“They want to be able to do everything on their phones, except make a call,” he joked. “The majority are hungry for these improvements.” Yerigan noted that in response to demand, the Association has already done away with their printed publication, instead relying upon their website and social media for communication in keeping with current trends.
“It’s a more efficient way to message the members about rule changes, elections, rodeo approvals, and so on.”
After a COVID-devastated 2020 rodeo season, the IPRA has clawed its way back, just completing a successful year which saw them sanction over 400 rodeos with a membership base of 2,700. The Association also concluded another successful, well attended IFR where they crowned ten world champions and Yerigan is looking forward to continued growth in the future.
“We have over 50 events in Canada,” Yerigan said. “That’s a big piece of our business and the increase in prize money at the IFR may make it more worthwhile for contestants up there to try to qualify. It’s a long way from Quebec to Oklahoma City.”
As Yerigan understands, bigger purses at IPRA championship events, which also includes the group’s National All Region Finals, incentivizes more competitors to pay membership dues which in turn puts more dollars in play for the Association to create even more opportunities.
Along with the conveniences that Rodeo Logistics’ technologies will bring to contestants, Yerigan is encouraged by what they can bring to the table for producers in conjunction with the advantage of event management programs.
“This move brings resources that we’ll have to benefit our committees and producers as well, like the development of sponsorship programs,” he said. “Right now, for the most part, I handle sponsorships but really, I’m spread too thin.”
“We’ll be able to make improvements there and we all benefit from that,” Yerigan noted of the cyclical nature of the sport. “The more rodeos pay, the more members who will join.”
Other improvements that Yerigan foresees include updating an old membership program within the national office and added resources to expand the number of sanctioned events.
Yerigan noted that current co-sanctioning agreements with regional rodeo associations will continue and that the ultimate goal is to reach out to more groups, particularly in the western part of the U.S. where the IPRA does not currently have a strong presence.
“At one time, we actually had quite a few rodeos out West, in California especially, and I’d love to see us work with the state and regional associations out there, give other opportunities that will grow membersship.”
Yerigan has been at the helm of the IPRA, in one way or another, for many years. He served on the Board of Directors and was the President for about a decade; when the Association was restructured and originally bought by Rodeo Alliance, he became the first, and to date, only General Manager.
“I jumped into the fire with both feet,” he joked. “We had what we called an executive director before but I thought ‘General Manager’ fit what I was doing.”
Despite the ownership change, and length of service, Yerigan isn’t going anywhere just yet.
“I still enjoy it,” he said. “It’s like anything, you have good days and bad days.”
But he’s all in with what he sees as an infusion of new energy with the capital to take the IPRA to new heights.
“When Gary asked me if I’d still stay involved, I said I would,” he revealed. “And he said, with the resources we’re going to provide and your knowledge, we can do great things.”
That was music to the ears of a man who has given much of his life to the improvement of the Association, even long before it was a paying gig, and Yerigan is focused on the future of the IPRA which he believes is as bright as ever.
“Everybody in the Association will benefit from this sale,” he said. “Across the board.”