A new range war has broken out between two groups each hoping to stage the August Rodeo.
The dispute threatens to disrupt one of Rim Country’s biggest annual tourist draws if contending attorneys can’t drop a rope on the horns of the runaway disagreement soon.
The fight involves a rematch between the Payson’s Pro-Rodeo Committee and the Rodeo Preservation Alliance.
The Committee has reserved the rodeo grounds and has purchased the rights to the rodeo from the Rim Country Regional Chamber of Commerce.
The rival Alliance in January 2010 filed for a nearly identical name and initially won the crucial sanction of the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA). However, on Monday the PRCA reportedly withdrew its vital seal of approval until the two sides could work out the legal snarl.
The PRCA also removed the Payson Rodeo from its online annual schedule of events.
“Until the facts are out, we’re just doing the best we can to keep the town together and not split them down the middle,” said Bill Armstrong, rodeo boss for the Pro-Rodeo Committee’s “Annual World’s Oldest Continuous Rodeo.
Chuck Jackman, listed as director of the Rodeo Preservation Alliance, did not return calls seeking comment. The Alliance filed paperwork with the Arizona Corporation Commission for rights to the name “World’s Oldest Continuous Rodeo,” and initially obtained PRCA’s approval as the official Payson Rodeo.
Bob Klaver, vice president of the pro-rodeo committee confirmed on Monday that the PRCA had withdrawn its sanction of the Alliance’s rodeo.
John Stanton, head of the chamber, said on Monday “the letters went out today (from the PRCA) telling both the Alliance and the Committee, that neither one is sanctioned,” said Stanton.
The PRCA did not return calls seeking comment on Monday.
The confusing dispute once again splits advocates for the rodeo, one of the region’s major summer tourist draws, which has suffered from dwindling audiences and participants for the past several years.
The current dustup gallops through a cloud of irony, since the chamber and town officials essentially created the Alliance last year only to now find the town’s signature event threatened by the dispute.
The tangle all started last year when the chamber, which owned the rights to the Annual World’s Oldest Continuous Rodeo, formed the Alliance to run the rodeo. The Alliance then went to Pro Rodeo Committee to negotiate new contracts. The Pro Rodeo Committee had long run most of the events on rodeo day under the terms of a contract with the chamber. The Alliance and the Committee could not work out financial terms and the Committee had no involvement in last year’s rodeo.
The chamber’s contract with the Alliance included a provision giving the Alliance the first right of refusal for the contract to run this year’s rodeo.
Jackman had served on the Pro-Rodeo Committee, but essentially became the rival to his old associates when he left to head up the Alliance.
The rodeo only made about $12,000 last year on a budget of about $160,000. Most of the profit came from a hall of fame fund-raiser sponsored by the Mazatzal Hotel & Casino, according to sources familiar with the rodeo’s financing.
The chamber board then decided to sell the name and get out of the rodeo business, providing it could find a group that would keep the rodeo in town.
Stanton said the chamber board honored a contract provision by giving the Alliance the first right of refusal. The chamber essentially offered to let the Alliance take over the rodeo outright, if it let the chamber collect some gate and parking fees — amounting to about $10,000 annually, said Stanton.
The Alliance rejected that offer, said Stanton.
Jackman did not return calls on Monday seeking comment on that version of events. Marguerite Turlukis, listed as an Alliance director in forms filed with the Corporation Commission, also declined comment.
The Pro-Rodeo Committee then offered to buy the rights to the rodeo, said Stanton.
The two sides ultimately struck a deal. Stanton said he could not disclose the terms of the agreement, but it involved a one-time payment to the chamber by the committee.
Stanton said that before finalizing the deal, the chamber gave the Alliance one last chance to submit a bid.
Both sides remained tight-mouthed publically about the dispute.
Some behind-the-scenes observers believe that the Pro-Rodeo Committee’s decision to not contract with the longtime stock contractor may have played a role in re-igniting the dispute.
The dispute has already set off a flurry of filings and counter filings.
The Alliance made the first strike, by locking up rights to a slightly different name, by simply dropping the word “annual” from the title.
Initially, advocates for the Pro-Rodeo Committee thought they had an issue to use when they couldn’t find an official filing making the Alliance a nonprofit group. However, that turned out to be a clerical error on the part of the Corporation Commission.
In the meantime, attorney Arthur Lloyd, who represents the Pro-Rodeo Committee, filed with the Corporation Commission the right to the name “The Payson Rodeo Preservation Alliance Inc.” — which adds “the” and “inc.” to the official name of the rival Alliance.
The paperwork filings were further complicated by misspellings that had to be corrected, like “perservation” and “santioned” and “sactioned.”
Armstrong said he hoped both sides would work out a friendly settlement soon.
“We’ll exercise whatever we need to do to make it right. We don’t want to say anything negative about anybody,” said Armstrong.
He acknowledged it would be hard to stage the rodeo without the PRCA’s sanction.
“I’ll just say it’s on the upswing,” said Armstrong. “That’s all we can hope and pray for — for everybody to get behind the Rodeo Committee and we’ll put on a good rodeo. The lawyers are talking together right now about a joint effort.”
The Pro-Rodeo Committee is also moving forward with plans to put on the Spring Rodeo on May 14 and 15, but is waiting to see what happens next in the August rodeo, as knotted up now as calf hobbles.
Stanton said he hoped that both sides would make some progress this week.
“We hope to find some clarification coming up fairly quickly. Suffice it to say — we sold this rodeo and its rights to the Pro-Rodeo Committee. The agreement that we have had with the Alliance was a one-year agreement only. And those two things are in stone.”
The key remains with the PRCA’s position.
“We may get some movement this week. But until we get this mess cleaned up, there’s no sanction,” said Stanton. “It’s so touchy — you’re dealing with folks that are very passionate about what they do.”