Tuesday, September 13, 2011

World Reining League Pt. 2

You may recall that last week I covered a new competitive equine organization being launched, the World Reining League. I have in my hand a copy of the application to become a rider for the WRL, along with the invitation letter that accompanied it. I am finding it very, VERY interesting.....

Not only is the WRL going to have professional cheerleaders, laser lights, a flying stage, be a completely choreographed and scripted entertainment event, finish with an award winning country and western music star, and let's not forget betting, it will:

  1. Introduce reining to a multitude of people that never even heard of reining before. (That is exactly as it was typed.)
  2. Make reining a spectator sport. (Isn't it already?)
  3. Bring reining to TV. (Again, isn't it already? How much of a market is there for reining TV shows?)

There's more big talk....”Each exhibition will be in different cities across the United States. Concurrently we will be initiating the same exhibition program in Europe,” as well as the intention to sell team franchises and engage in actual league competition. In an era in which the percentage of the general population that can own a horse is shrinking, when the number of shows held and the number of entries has gone down, when fan attendance is down across all major sports, I am finding it hard to believe that this level of grandiosity is possible, much less profitable.

You might be wondering how the WRL expects to pull in enough of an audience to keep this show on the road; it will be the showmen, elevated to the status of stars. It is abundantly clear on the application that this event is meant for the most elite show persons only; not only must you list your own *LTE, but also the LTEs of two horses that you intend to ride for the WRL exhibition. They ask for the AQHA and NRHA numbers for those horses too – I am wondering if the specificity of asking for an AQHA number precludes other breeds from participating.

Also on the application are two questions meant to gain release of the trainer's image for advertising purposes on their website, literature, DVDs and - this is important – any and all merchandise that the WRL may produce. In other words, they own your image, and they can put it on anything they wish.

But it is the last three questions on the application that really got my attention:
  • Have you ever been convicted of a felony?
  • Are you currently a defendant in any pending or ongoing criminal charge?
  • Are you currently a defendant in any pending or ongoing civil litigation?

What?? What is the purpose of those three questions? I am wondering how many $50,000+ LTE NRHA trainers there are out there that have a felony conviction or an ongoing criminal charge. And I am wondering who exactly they had in mind when they put this provision in their application.

The invitation letter also contained some interesting bits; such as, “Non-pros can ride for the WRL without affecting their NRHA Non-Pro Status.” Hmm, that sort of tells me that the WRL isn't really “in complete association with the NRHA”, doesn't it?

Another line in the letter states, “Once your application has been received you will be supplied with a complete set of Rules and Show Conditions.” Wouldn't you want to know these things before you signed off on it? Why the secrecy?

There is a lot of money at stake. The letter states that each rider selected to compete in a WRL exhibition will receive a $20,000 appearance fee, and each member of the winning team will receive a percentage of the gate plus merchandising sales with a guaranteed minimum of an additional $20,000 per rider. That will surely be tempting for some riders to give up a week of their time. But the whole thing is sounding like the WWF and the NRHA had a lovechild, who strangely resembles Dancing With the Stars. Is this going to be a big distraction from the traditional events that so many in the NRHA work so hard to put on and raise money for?

I called the NRHA to get their comments on the WRL, and was told that the WRL is not approved yet, as no conditions have been released by them yet. The NRHA is trying to determine if the WRL is going to follow NRHA guidelines, and that, I was told, should be finalized within a week or so. The NRHA is not sponsoring the WRL event in January, and it will only be promoted as a 'regular' event. It is not going to be included on the NRHA website, though the WRL would be able to purchase advertising as any other entity would. When I asked if the winnings would be counted toward a rider's LTE, I was told that it may be affected, but they are trying to figure out if WRL earnings would be counted toward the Top 20 Rider Standings.

I do not feel that this type of production is by any means a “regular event,” do you? This sort of sounds like a dance along the fence line. Either the WRL is a regular show, subject to the same terms, qualifications and conditions as the NRHA, or it's not. I understand that Silver Spurs has been a huge contributor to the NRHA in the past couple of years, but the NRHA going along for the WRL ride is something that we should all seriously consider this implications of. Once we buy the bed, we are going to have to lie in it.

*LTE – Lifetime Earnings