The Cowboy Channel Bucks Covid-19 To Present National Finals Rodeo

Cowboy Channel
Everyone knows about the challenges facing major sports events in the Covid-19 world. Face masks, social distancing, bubble isolation and no spectators are among the features.
Now imagine having to apply those same rules to a violent direct contact sport like rodeo. That’s the conundrum facing the Cowboy Channel as it tries to present the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, the Super Bowl of the sport, which it will showcase for ten hours per day over ten days beginning December 3.
The event is being held at Globe Life Park, the Fort Worth, Texas Stockyards and Fort Worth Convention Center. It marks a move away from its longtime home in Las Vegas, where it annually sold out. The Cowboy Channel is available via in 42 million cable and satellite homes via DirecTV, Dish, Verizon FIOS, AT&T U-verse and other carriers. There are limited seats at the live event as well.

The Cowboy Channel itself has had an interesting history. Its ownership has gone through various formats until finally rebranding itself in 2017 to focus on Western sports and rodeo events.

CEO Raquel Gottsch of the Cowboy Channel answered a few Deadline questions.

DEADLINE: We all know that there are challenges faced by all live events in the COVID-19 world. Any special ones unique to your situation?

RAQUEL GOTTSCH: We were in the middle of broadcasting Rodeo Houston.  It’s one of the largest rodeos and on March 12th it went dark.  We found out at noon that day during a press conference. We were never given a heads-up,, and due to Covid, it was now canceled.  We were only on day 5 of a 20-day event. Singer Kane Brown was supposed to perform that night. We had to pivot really quick.  We had nothing to broadcast because all the large rodeos we were going to broadcast were now shut down.  The week before on March 6-7, we had our really big event called The American. It’s an event we broadcast but also produce and created it from the ground up.  All of the rodeo stars had been qualifying the entire year. We are very grateful we were able to finish that event.

All of the big rodeos with millions of dollars of prize money shut down.  The smaller rodeos with only 2,500-10,000 fans were still going.  They were in really small towns like Lawton, OK and Burwell, Nebraska. They never get the big rodeo stars and now all of a sudden you had star cowboys competing in these small towns. The Cowboy Channel pivoted, and we got the live feeds from the events and were able to send a reporter to cover live on site. During some weekends we were bouncing around covering from 5-7 different cities. Technology was our best friend, and we had more people in the newsroom figuring out how to edit all the feeds. We were always practicing the local guidelines and practiced social distancing and wore masks.

DEADLINE: Some sports teams have taken a bubble approach. Are you considering that?

RG: Rodeo is a little different than other professional sports teams. The Pros are independent contractors. Professional Rodeo Cowboys Assn. (PRCA) is the sanctioning body. To be a PRCA member you start with a permit and then after a certain number of rodeos, you can be a PRCA card member.

The PRCA started cracking down with Covid.  For example, normally cowboys would be seen walking around events and making appearances and signing autographs.  This was no longer happening.  They really started to limit the access people had to cowboys.

Cowboys and Cowgirls are to have a negative test before they can compete.  They are also all quarantining now two weeks before NFR starts on December 3.  They have to have a negative test before competing and are subject to random testing onsite.

DEADLINE: What are the precautions being taken?

RG:  Globe Life and PRCA will have a tent and everyone will have to get a temperature test every day. Crews are being kept in two different hotels and not intermixing They are following all the usual protocols.  There will be limited access into the broadcast trucks.  The Cowboy Channel Pre-Show will be outside at the Fort Worth Stockyards.  It’s set up like the outside set of the Today Show.  There will be cooking segments and other reporting but now due to Covid, the athletes will not be able to go on set or in studio

DEADLINE: Dogs and cats can catch COVID. Can horses and steer?

Jeff Medders, Cowboy Channel GM/President: There have been no cases of Covid in cattle. Dogs, cats and horses have been known to get Covid. But there hasn’t been any serious cases.

DEADLINE: What are some things city dwellers need to know to watch?

RG: There are two types of events: Timed Events and Roughstock Events. Everyone loves the popular Bull riding event. Barrel Racing is the one female event and this is extremely exciting and popular. Watch out for Sage Kimzey – chasing 7th straight bull riding title.

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