DALLAS (CN) - A federal judge ruled that the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association can prohibit members of a breakaway group from competing in PRCA events, but refused to dismiss the Elite Rodeo Association's antitrust lawsuit.
U.S. District Judge Barbara Lynn on Thursday denied the Elite Rodeo Association's request for a preliminary injunction.
The newly formed ERA and star rodeo athletes Trevor Bazile, Bobby Mote and Ryan Motes filed an antitrust class action in November last year after the PRCA enacted bylaws banning ERA cowboys and owners from PRCA-sanctioned rodeos.
The ERA cowboys claimed the PRCA was "bullying its own membership" by locking them out of PRCA rodeos if they compete in ERA-sanctioned events.
Organized similarly to the breakaway Professional Bull Riders organization, the ERA features top rodeo athletes in several events. It plans to hold its first season this year with national broadcasts of its nine events on Fox Sports 1 and Fox Sports 2 cable channels. ERA plans to hold a final World Championship Rodeo at the American Airlines Center in downtown Dallas in November.
Judge Lynn disagreed with the argument that cowboys who do not compete in PRCA rodeos will be unable to make a living as rodeo athletes.
"The court concludes that plaintiffs have not made a clear showing that they will suffer irreparable harm absent a preliminary injunction, nor that they are likely to succeed on the merits their claims," Lynn wrote.
"The evidence shows that ERA members are projected to be able to earn as much through ERA rodeos as they previously earned through the PRCA. For example, plaintiffs presented evidence regarding Bobby Mote's net earnings. He testified that his net earnings in 2015 were $30,000: approximately $100,000 earned at forty-eight regular season rodeos, and $40,000 at the NFR [National Finals Rodeo], offset by $110,000 in costs for medical expenses, travel, entry fees, and the like. For the ERA's 2016 regular season events, the evidence was that a very successful ERA competitor could earn approximately $80,000 at regular season ERA events, and an additional $3 million will be awarded at the World Championship."
Lynn found that ERA's business model reduced an athlete's expenses by eliminating costly entry fees, reducing the number of rodeos, and reducing travel costs that can exceed $50,000 a year.
"An ERA member could thus potentially accrue gross earnings of $80,000 in eight trips, instead of $100,000 in forty-eight," the opinion states.
The ruling negates a Jan. 7 opinion in which Lynn halted enforcement of the bylaws for six weeks as she studied the lawsuit.
The PRCA said in a statement Friday that the "bylaws at issue will be immediately enforced."
The announcement was followed by the withdrawal of several ERA members from competition at the Fort Worth rodeo.
ERA president and CEO Tony Garritano said the group will press on with its debut season.
"The ERA will continue to present the best collection of professional rodeo athletes during its inaugural 2016 season - starting with the first ERA rodeo next month in Redmond, Oregon," he said in a statement.
Although Lynn refused to halt enforcement of the bylaws, she denied the PRCA's motion for summary judgment to end the lawsuit.
She found the plaintiffs have "sufficiently and plausibly pled" the existence of monopoly power: "(P)laintiffs have pled sufficient facts to raise their prospects for relief above a speculative level." she wrote.
Total purses from PRCA events averaged $39.2 million a year from 2009 to 2012, according to the 2012 PRCA Annual Report .
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