Omaha’s two-year absence hosting the largest final-chance qualifier before the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association’s final in Las Vegas is over.
Non-profit Omaha Rodeo Inc. resurrected the late-September PRCA meet after it was shuttered by its former governing body following the 2015 event.
In 2016, there was a non-PRCA affiliated rodeo featuring rough stock and barrel racing events. There was no rodeo in 2017.
The 2018 Omaha River City Rodeo is scheduled for Sept. 28 and 29 at the CenturyLink Center. Tickets go on sale Friday.
“We started working on this a year and a half ago,” Omaha River City Rodeo volunteer Butch Lindley said. “When we were in Las Vegas we started a conversation with the PRCA and told them we’d be interested in returning rodeo to Omaha.”
Lindley was a member of the former Ak-Sar-Ben Rodeo Committee, which helped build the event. At its peak earlier this decade, the River City Rodeo became the second-largest rodeo in the world behind the National Finals Rodeo.
Some of the event’s family features — including mutton bustin’, a Rough ‘N’ Ready rodeo and the Douglas County High School Champions Challenge — will also return. The Rough ‘N’ Ready event gives handicapped children the chance to work with cowboys through hands-on learning about the sport.
Prize money less than 10 years ago was more than $830,000. Purses for 2018 will be more modest. Lindley said $10,000 per event will be available to top finishers in each of the seven events each night.
Lindley said 12 riders will go in each event. No participants will compete in the same event on Friday and Saturday.
By 2019, Lindley and other volunteers are hopeful that the event will return to a three-night affair, with the winners from the first two days competing in the finals for more prize money.
Lindley doesn’t expect the quality of the participants and stock to be diminished from previous years.
“We’re going back to the same format,” Lindley said. “It will be a rodeo that goes seven events, not just rough stock events. Some of the top cowboys in the world will be here competing for that last chance to qualify for the national finals.”
Lindley said the absence of a world-class rodeo in Omaha, a tradition that dates to the first Ak-Sar-Ben Rodeo in 1947, wasn’t just missed by fans in the metro area.
“People from all over the state and especially out in western Nebraska kept telling us they really missed this rodeo and hoped we could bring it back some day,” Lindley said. “We had to do our homework and get everything lined up.”