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Speed Match

6/5/2009

If Kenneth "Speed" Williams handled a six gun the way he throws a head rope, his name would be Billy the Kid.

"Speedy," as he's known to his closest friends, has always had a talent for getting the job done quickly when it comes to team roping — he racked up eight consecutive world titles between 1997 and 2004 — but, entering a new incarnation as a businessman has been something of a challenge for the newly "retired" eight-time world champion.

It's clear that Speed knows roping, but it remains to be seen whether his skills will translate into business success.

"Before you back in the box, you've got to go through every scenario that could happen," Williams said. "You know the answer, you know what you have to do, and you know the percentages of shots that you've got to pull off there.

"In the business world … that is the one thing that I haven't had, is the answer, because this is totally new."

Williams' new venture is called Speed's Match Roping ™, a head-to-head team roping format in where teams work their way toward a final round through a bracket system.

"It all started with a man asking me what I was going to do when I was done roping," he said.

Rodeo, as a profession, doesn't provide much in the way of security during a cowboy's golden years. Consequently, the simple question posed by an anonymous source got Williams to thinking … and to talking.

While Williams has lent his name and work ethic to his match roping endeavor, the nucleus of the idea had been sketched out several years ago by rodeo entrepreneur Gary Poythress, owner of software development company Rodeo Computer Services and former owner of United States Team Roping Championship classifications.

According to Poythress, Williams came to Poythress to ask if he had any business plans that might aid in William's transition to a post-rodeo life.

"I had some ideas, we ran a few by him, and he really liked this match roping concept," Poythress said. "It's an old concept with a brand-new twist to it. We've made several changes to it, but what [Speed] most liked about it is that it has what most competitors prefer: one-to-one competition."

Poythress has continued to work to "build the tools necessary" to help Williams launch the start-up company, along with investment partner Tom Stewart. Poythress says he enjoys helping friends move on to second careers after rodeo and appreciates Williams' desire to "move his sport forward."

According to Williams, the format has taken off, and a quick glance at his website seems to support that statement. At press time, www.matchroping.com lists somewhere in the neighborhood of 70 Match Pros — a job that's part recruiter, part computer consultant — and a little over 125 producers, or the folks who actually organize and put on the roping competitions. People in 22 states have taken a stake in the business to this point.

In Williams' newly adopted home state of Arizona, where the match roping business is headquartered in Scottsdale, veteran roping event producer and match pro Colleen Watson of Wickenburg, Ariz., says that overall turnout has been good.

Watson explains that it takes the ropers a few competitions to catch on to the new format, but that it seems the back yard-style roping that makes up the core of the business' ethos is working.

Unlike a rodeo, there's only one event, which makes the competition and the waiting time to compete shorter. The head-to-head style of the rodeo also simplifies things. If you win, you're in, and through to the next round. But, Watson said, there's more to enjoy than the simplicity of it all.

"As a roper, I enjoy it because I feel like you've got to go out and catch all your cattle and it keeps you tuned up," she said. "We've noticed a lot of the women doing really well because they're used to just going out and making average runs on a consistent basis."

Watson, who would welcome a greater role for women in PRCA-sanctioned rodeos, says the key in match ropings is consistency, not blazing-fast times.

Another enticement for would-be match roping competitors is a national finals round that has a guaranteed payout of $500,000 over five divisions, meaning $50,000 per roper in each winning pair.

The payouts at tournaments vary, but ropers stand a good chance of earning back their entry fees by winning just two rounds. And with the large payout at the end, Williams predicts that some bigger names will show up for the match roping finals — provided they've earned enough points at smaller match roping events.

At least two of Williams' former partners, Rich Skelton and Clay O'Brien Cooper, have attended match roping contests, but one name consistently missing is Speed Williams. Since retiring, Williams has almost entirely stopped roping, and he doesn't miss competing.

"You don't have as many mechanical problems and breakdowns," he said. "You don't have your horse come up lame, bad weather. There's a lot of things I like about the business world — you know, when it's 110 outside it stays cool in the office.

"It just kind of made sense — do you want to keep rodeoing or do you want to take a chance in the business world and set your family and yourself up for something in five or ten years down the road?"

Read what ProRodeo has to say about the retirement of a legend: 'Surprising Speed'