The Silver Spotlight - USTRC President, Kirk Bray
Q & A with United States Team Roping Championships President, Kirk Bray
Q: Kirk, tell us how you became involved with the sport of team roping, and how that led your position at the USTRC?
A: I grew up in a family that roped. Going to rodeos or ropings on the weekends was something we could do together as a family and with friends. All through High School and College I roped calves, steer wrestled and team roped. After I graduated from college in 1987, I went to work in the cattle feeding industry. What little time I had to rope was spent team roping at the local jackpots. I became a member of USTRC in 1992 and although I still had little time rope, I went to all the USTRC events I could get to.
In May 1998 Denny and Connie Gentry reached an agreement with Equibrand to sell the USTRC. In the agreement, Denny agreed to stay on as President through the 1999 Finals, and in the meantime, was given the latitude to find his successor. He approached me in the spring of 1998, and although the offer was very flattering, I initially turned it down because I had just accepted a manager’s position with a feed yard in Wildorado, Texas. Denny and I discussed the position again at the 1998 Finals. By then the timing was better for my family and I felt like I had honored my commitment to the owners of the company I was with and my staff. With their blessing, I accepted the position in January of 1999 and started with USTRC the following April.
Q: You became president of the association over ten years ago. How has the sport grown in that time?
A: There has been significant growth in the amount of money that can be won. When you think that the first National Finals back in 1990 awarded only $125,000, we’ve come a long way. For the past nine years the cash and prize purse at the National Finals of Team Roping has been $4 million or more. During the same period the season cash payouts have ranged from $19 million to $21 million. Events like the Reno Rodeo Invitational, BFI, Wildfire Open, World Series Finale and others have huge cash payouts as well. This has brought more notoriety to the sport of team roping and thus has attracted more ropers. Team roping has become a very lucrative “niche” sport.
Perhaps the most noticeable difference over the past ten years or so has been the influx of novice ropers to the sport. When USTRC first began, the novice roper was almost non-existent at roping events around the country. USTRC like many other producers staged lower level divisions, but they were still beyond the skill level of the true novice/beginner ropers. Not until 2000 and 2001 did we realize there was another customer base sitting in the stands, yearning to be involved. Since that time most every producer, including the USTRC with its #8 Pick/Draw, has included a division for the true beginner/novice roper.
Q: One of the cornerstones of the USTRC marketing program has been promoting it as a sport that the whole family can enjoy. What opportunities does the USTRC have for the kids & spouses?
A: We really try to cater to kids, after all, they represent the future of our sport. First, USTRC offers a free membership to kids 12 years of age and younger. Secondly, these “Junior Loopers” can participate in any of our dummy roping contests, free of entry fee, held at every sanctioned event around the country. We have three age groups, 6 and under, 7 to 9 and 10 to 12. The winners of each age group are awarded Gist trophy buckles and the runners up receive Classic ropes. In addition, USTRC stages a Junior Looper Shoot-Out at the NFTR where the champions receive Martin trophy saddles and a host of other sponsor prizes. Thirdly, our TRIAD Classification system allows youngsters, as well as spouses, to compete equitably at our ropings at their own skill level. The way our formats work, ropers are encouraged to seek out partners at lower skill levels. Thus, dads and sons, moms and daughters, granddads and grandaughters can all join in any event. Plus, through USTRC’s Gold Plus program memberships are free to the spouse and any other members of the immediate family under 21. Whether they compete or not they all can take advantage of all the perks the program has to offer like shopping at National Roper’s Supply and receiving a 10% discount.
Q: You’ve said that it is easier than ever for any member of the family to get involved with team roping. What are some of the tools that are available now that weren’t an option when you got your start?
A: First and foremost it’s the classification system, which allows ropers of all skill levels the opportunity to compete against other ropers of like skill. When I was growing up classifications didn’t exist, so all of the ropings were considered Open. We had two choices, let the wolves feed off of us or learn how to be one. Needless to say, in my early to late teens, I was mostly the prey.
Back then if you didn’t grow up roping or come from a ranching background, there was no place for you to get involved in the sport. Nowadays that’s certainly not the case. As the sport became more organized, due mostly to the advent of classifications, the need for instruction and better practice equipment became more apparent. Anyone of any age and any ability level can get started in the sport today with one on one or video instruction from the best ropers and clinicians in the business. Products like Hot Heels, Heel O Matic and others afford ropers the opportunity to learn and practice in a controlled environment and everything from ropes to saddles are engineered to make catching more easy.
Q: Due to the popularity of team roping now, there are more choices than ever for where the casual roper is going to compete on any given weekend. Why should a USTRC roping always be their first choice?
A: The USTRC, its staff and network of producers take enormous pride in producing championship style events. That standard was set twenty-two years ago and we’ve never waivered from it. USTRC sets the highest standards in the business when it comes choosing facilities, staff and cattle and it shows in our productions. In survey after survey ropers have ranked USTRC’s event production and customer service the highest in the industry. When ropers spend their hard earned dollars with us we want them to have a fair chance to compete, and just as important, a great experience while doing so.
Q: The Cinch USTRC National Finals of Team Roping starts this week. This event has been and still is, considered the best roping in the world. How was that premier status created and how is it maintained?
A: The USTRC was founded on the concept of creating a national championship where recreational ropers of every skill level would have a chance to compete for the title of United States Champion. To this day that concept continues as the USTRC’s guiding principle. A critical aspect of USTRC’s success was to create a National Finals event unsurpassed in the amount of money awarded to ropers for nominal fees. That goal has been accomplished, signified by the fact that for the last nine years the NFTR cash and prize purse has exceeded $4 million.
Q: Recently you made an announcement about a “Guaranteed Million” for the 2012 season. Tell us about this.
A: For the past 20 years a portion (5%) of ropers entry fees and a portion (1.7%) of the producers commission from every sanctioned event has been set aside for the Shoot-Out Fund that has funded the added money at the Cinch USTRC National Finals of Team Roping. Because of roper and producer contributions for the past eleven years the Fund has grown to a million dollars or more, and as a result the cash payout at every NFTR since 2000 has been $3 million or more. As I mentioned, the huge payouts at the NFTR have been critical to the success of the USTRC, and I might add, to the growth of the sport of team roping.
Earlier this month I announced that the Shoot Out Fund is now being dissolved and the USTRC will be the sole guarantor of a minimum of $1 million added to the NFTR from now on. So, not only will the purses at the NFTR remain huge, ropers competing at sanctioned events can now count on a full two-thirds cash payback and producers their full one-third commission.
To put it in perspective, lets use this year’s Shoot-Out Fund, which amounts to $1,060,000. The ropers contribution was $795,000 while the producers contributed the remaining $265,000. All of that money will no longer be collected from the roper and producers from this point forward. Instead, by USTRC guaranteeing the added money at the NFTR, the cash purse throughout the season just grew by at least $795,000 without jeopardizing the huge payouts at the NFTR.
Q: The TRIAD classification system continues to be the best classification system in the world of equine sports. This was recently reinforced by the agreement that the World Series of Team Roping will be using the system. What has made it so successful and fair?
A: TRIAD is the only performance based national classification system in the industry today. Classifying ropers based on objective data is much more fair and accurate than using subjective information, like ropers voting on other ropers. TRIAD maintains a database of more than 160,000 ropers so it is undoubtedly the most comprehensive system in the world. The system works twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week and is managed each week by five dedicated employees. The brilliance of the TRIAD system is that the more data it receives, the more accurate it becomes. Since January of 2005 the system has analyzed 3.4 million live cattle runs representing more than 21,000 individual ropings.
Q: With so many USTRC events spread throughout the country, including several regional finals and a national finals produced by the association, what challenges do you have ensuring these are all quality top notch events? What is the key to making it all come together?
A: Having a great staff. I’m blessed to be on the best team in the business. Every member of the USTRC staff is just as passionate about this sport as I am and hold to the values and principles that made the USTRC the leader of the industry. We understand what the ropers expect when they come to one of our events and we are all committed to servicing those demands.
Q: You’ve said your wife and children (and your brothers as well) are also involved with team roping. Do you ever just get to go to a roping and enjoy the sport as a family, or do your duties as USTRC president always take precedence?
A: I don’t participate at USTRC events anymore and I really do miss the competition aspect of it. I tried it for a while, but it became increasingly more difficult given my responsibilities at our events. That said, I enjoy watching my son and daughter and other family members compete. My wife Becky and I enjoy hauling Ky, who is 14 years old and Presli, who is 11 years old to rodeos and jackpots whenever possible. I still love to rope and ride young horses. I cherish my time with Becky and the kids in the practice arena, or at a junior rodeo watching them compete.
Q: What are you going to do to ensure team roping will continue to grow and thrive for the remainder of this decade?
A: The steps recently taken by the USTRC to guarantee $1 million at the National Finals and increase our payout to a full two-thirds are with the future of the USTRC and the sport in mind. This commitment demonstrates how much faith the USTRC has in this sport and its members and how optimistic we are about the future. USTRC, its staff and producers will continue to produce the best events possible and with an ever improving TRIAD system, the playing field will continue to be as fair and equitable as we can possibly make it.