When Steve Hatchell reigned as commissioner of the Southwest and Big 12 athletic conferences in the 1990s, catering to the TCUs, UTs, A&Ms, and SMUs was the Old West equivalent of driving a herd of mustangs up the mountain.
Now that Hatchell reigns as commissioner of the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association, his job description requires spurring the different factions of a very traditionally minded sport to higher elevations.
"An intercollegiate athletics background helps you a lot on this job because when you're commissioner of the Southwest or Big 12 conferences, you have eight or 12 schools with different directions and you have to make sure everybody is pulling on the reins with the same intensity," said Hatchell, who has led the world's most prominent rodeo association for the past three years.
This weekend, Hatchell will drive rodeo's diverse personnel under one roof to smell the new leather at the American Airlines Center in Dallas.
He is the force behind the PRCA Copenhagen Cup Finale presented by the Texas Stampede.
The rodeo, which will be held in conjunction with concerts by stars including Willie Nelson and Alan Jackson, will be the PRCA's highest-paying show of the 11 months during which competitors vie for berths in the 2001 Las Vegas-based National Finals Rodeo in December.
The finale offers $700,000 in prize money to the top 12 in seven events ranging from men's calf roping and bull riding to women's barrel racing.
Organizing sporting events for elite competitors is old hat for Hatchell, 55, who dresses in traditional dark business suits and puts on his Stetson at showtime. He has the look of the downtown lawyer who pulls out the felt headwear for the annual Fort Worth Stock Show Rodeo.
But rodeo organizers say Hatchell wasn't hired to measure the depth of the sand around the gritty and aromatic bulldogging chutes. His main mandate is to broaden the horizons of a non-mainstream but familiar sport that was born on the North American cattle drives in the late 1800s.
"When I was hired for this job, what was said was not unlike what I had heard in other places, which was we need more visibility, more television and more sponsorships and that we want to take our place among all of the other sports entities," Hatchell said.
With his background, Hatchell can approach major network executives that he once negotiated with to televise big-time Saturday afternoon football games.
In 1995, Hatchell oversaw the formation of the Big 12 athletic conference after helping lay the Southwest Conference to rest.
The same year, he helped the league land its initial TV contract, a five-year, $100 million package. At the time, the agreement gave the Big 12 the largest share of television revenues of any college conference.
With rodeo, Hatchell has helped the PRCA to expand its TV time from 46 hours to more than 130 hours. The rodeos, ranging from Houston to Las Vegas' NFR, air on ESPN, ESPN2 and The National Network.
Hatchell also has beefed up other delivery mechanisms such as the PRCA's website (prorodeo.com), which receives 1 million hits a day, he said.