It was understandable when steer wrestlers, tie-down ropers and a swath of cowboys decided to boycott the 2019 Cheyenne Frontier Days Rodeo. Earlier in the year the CFD Board decided to buck 123 years of tradition and adopt a tournament-style format rather than the conventional best-on-the-average that rodeos have stuck with since the invention of the fence post.
Cowboys and cowgirls elected to boycott for a multitude of reasons, not the least of which meant they were handcuffed to Cheyenne during the 10-day rodeo and couldn’t go to as many rodeos as in former years. And for those desperate to get to December’s National Finals Rodeo, more rodeos means more dollars. Even after hearing input from participants and seeing a concerted effort by some to not attend this year’s Daddy Of ‘Em All, Cheyenne Frontier Days CEO Tom Hirsig backed up the board’s decision.
“Rodeo entries, schedules and travel are business decisions that individuals need to make for themselves. We understand that goals are set for this year and some contestants could not make the timing and logistics of this new format work for 2019,” Hirsig said in a statement. “At the same time, we hope they can respect the business decision we made to change to a tournament-style format.”
Hirsig referenced the Calgary Stampede, as well as Austin and San Antonio Stock Show & Rodeos, as established rodeos that use the tournament format. He also said the move was made to make the rodeo more enjoyable to a more mainstream fan.
“For fans who are new to rodeo, a tournament format offers a better attendee experience,” Hirsig’s statement read. “For less experienced fans, slack is complicated, and it is hard to explain what the average means — or why if someone wins on Monday, they are not in the Sunday finals. Our consumer research shows that 85 percent of our ticket buyers are first-time rodeo attendees or only attend one rodeo per year.”
That change in format worked out well for Eli Lord, one of the steer wrestlers who elected not to boycott. Lord had an average of 16.9 seconds on two head in the slack before tallying a 51.2 and a no-time in the quarterfinals. Normally that would have put him out of the running, but because he placed third in that day’s performance, he advanced to the short go-round. Lord then put down a 6.9-second run in the finals to win.
“It worked out for me this year,” he said afterwards. “I got one third place and that brought me back here. This is a huge deal. This is one of those rodeos you dream of winning as a cowboy.”
That’s why Seth Hall decided not to boycott. Even though the veteran tie-down roper had plans of going to four or five rodeos throughout the week, he didn’t want to miss his seventh appearance at Cheyenne. That paid off after he qualified through the slack, tallying a two-head average of 22.5. Because of that he had a chance to make up for his no-time in the first quarterfinal. Of course, in the old format his slack average alone would put him into the short round. New format giveth, new format taketh away.
“The rounds don’t pay as much and that money’s a little different, the way it’s broken down,” Hall explained. “But they’re trying to make it better for everyone. We can’t complain too much.”
Although, admittedly, his placement may have had something to do with that.
“When you win you don’t really care about the format,” he said. “When you are the champion you don’t really care.”
Last year’s barrel racing champion Nellie Miller wasn’t sure what to make of the move initially, but she wasn’t going to miss Cheyenne. She returned to CFD to make the short go and tie with Shali Lord for first place with a 17.22 in the finals. That meant they technically tied and shared the winnings. Miller, however, received the buckle and saddle because of better times earlier in the rodeo.
“I won the average last year and I won the final round this year,” she said. “It’s exciting either way you do it. It’s just a great rodeo to win. There’s so much tradition here, so much history.”
This year’s bareback champion Clayton Biglow had an 85.5-point ride in the quarterfinals and an 89.5 in the semifinals to advance. On Sunday he scored a 91 on Undulata’s Witchy Woman to win his first Frontier Days Rodeo in his fourth attempt.
Biglow didn’t have strong feelings about the new format either way. New format or not, he knew what was at stake and he wasn’t going to miss Cheyenne.
“This means everything,” Biglow said. “Everyone’s dad’s back here and everyone’s got a history. This is pretty prestigious.”
At its basis, the new format in bareback relied on big rides. The top four scores for each quarterfinal advanced to the semifinals, where the top six out of each advanced into the short go. Biglow knew he’d need big scores regardless of format to stay in the running. And, in that case, it was just like any other rodeo.
“Guys are going out there spanking big ones and making big scores,” he said. “To me, that pumps me up and makes me want to be right there at the top of the leaderboard with them.”
Each one may feel differently after the world standings are calculated but going into August their victories, along with higher payouts, kept them satisfied with the change.