Mack Altizer, the founder of Bad Company Rodeo, will be honored by the Professional Bull Riders (PBR) at the 2019 PBR Heroes and Legends Celebration in Las Vegas on Nov. 5. Altizer will receive the Jim Shoulders Lifetime Achievement Award.
Altizer was a pioneer in the rodeo world who revitalized bull riding almost singlehandedly. He introduced high-energy and modern marketing techniques into rodeo events beginning in the early 1980s.
Today, no rodeo is without rock-and-roll music excitement, lighting, and announcing during the bull riding go-rounds. To Altizer, rodeo was all about the fan experience, and he saw traditional rodeos back then as in need of more “show business.”
Texas Monthly said Bad Company Rodeo was “where the Wild West is partnered with a little Hollywood” in their March 1991 issue. “Cowboys compete to rock and roll tunes, and a stable of clowns, trick riders, Frisbee-catching canines, and other acts regale audiences between events,” Texas Monthly announced.
Altizer turned his bulls into rodeo stars themselves. All of them were named after a well-known rock-and-roll song. It was the bull “Takin’ Care of Business”, a bull named after the 1970s hit by Bachman Turner Overdrive that Lane Frost rode that fatal day in July 1989 at the Cheyenne Frontier Days. Frost had just completed an 85-point ride. When he was bucked off after the 8-seconds were up and landed on the dirt of the arena, the bull struck Frost in his back with its horn, breaking several ribs while severing an artery. He was rushed to the hospital to no avail. The movie “8 Seconds” chronicled the career of Frost and his tragic death. The movie catapulted rodeo into modern popularity. Garth Brooks’ 1990 hit single “The Dance” was reported to be a tribute to Frost.
For Altizer, the incident with his bull and Frost was not how he wanted to be remembered. When working around Altizer, one never mentioned what happened in Cheyenne.
Into the 1990s, Altizer and Bad Company Rodeo dominated the southern rodeo circuits with the Bad Company Rodeo tour. Altizer was a prolific fundraiser for small town rodeos, like the rodeos in Pecos; Liberal, Kansas; Silver City, New Mexico; Stephenville; Brady; Sonora, and Del Rio. His bulls were showcased in Del Rio’s “Granddaddy of them all” stand-alone bull riding event called the “Super Bull” that honored fellow Del Rioan and bull rider George Paul who died in a solo plane crash in the late 1960s when traveling the rodeo circuit. The George Paul Memorial Bull Riding event continues to this day.
In 1998, Bad Company Rodeo was recognized by the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA) as the Stock Contractor of the Year. Bad Company was named the Professional Women's Rodeo Association (PWRA) Stock Contractor of the Year in 1999 and the Women's Professional Rodeo Association (WPRA) Stock Contractor of the Year in 1994 and 2000.
Rodeo announcer Boyd Polhamus talked about Altizer’s legacy at the 2014 San Angelo Stock Show and Rodeo. Before Mack Altizer came along, bull riding was a slow event. The bulls were large and slower moving, he said. “Then Mack starts naming all the bulls after rock-and-roll songs. So every time [a bull named] ‘Funky Cold Medina’ bucked, you’d hear Tone Loc singing ‘Funky Cold Medina,’” he said.
Integrating rock music into rodeo was revolutionary, Polhamus said, because back in the 1980s, rodeos exclusively played old Nashville country music, like George Jones and Merle Haggard.
“Mack incorporated a type of music that elevated the level of the entertainment,” Polhamus said. “He made it more exciting.”
Altizer was known for pushing for higher payouts for performing cowboy contestants. Stock contractors began breeding their bulls and in order to obtain the highest price for the bull’s sperm, those bulls required a high level of fame. Instead of having the rodeo committee at a particular rodeo pay a stock contractor to bring his bulls, stock contractors competed with each other to bring their bulls for free.
Polhamus explained that is how the futurity purse was used to increase the prize money for bull riding events. In a futurity, stock contractors would pay into the pot of prize money to get their bulls bucking in the rodeo, and with that, the exposure was marketing the breeding of the particular bull. This is why stand-alone bull riding events and associations like the PBR gained prominence.
“To compare bull riding of 1985 to bull riding of 2015 is a complete metamorphosis,” Polhamus said back in 2014.
In the early 2000s, Altizer broke his neck in a swimming accident in Pecos. As the years passed while Altizer recovered, Bad Company Rodeo faded in dominance. In 2010, Altizer assembled some of his old team together to attempt a reboot but it failed. Five years ago, Altizer mused about bringing the same excitement he generated with bulls to the saddle bronc and bareback bronc riding events. Health issues and an accident that led to a long hospital stay blocked him.
Many of Altizer’s Bad Company Rodeo team went on to improve professional rodeo. Casey Duggan, who was the operations guy and Altizer’s right hand, is today the Director of Special Events for the PBR. Boyd Polhamus, whose rodeo announcing was instrumental in framing the brand of all of Bad Company Rodeo’s bulls to audiences all over the south central U.S., is today the announcer for the PRCA’s National Finals Rodeo in addition to many of the marquee rodeo events around the country, including the Houston rodeo and San Angelo’s rodeo. Famed bullfighter Chad Beavers retired after 2012’s season after a storied career in front of thousands of fans and hundreds of 2,000-pound bulls.
Some of Bad Company Rodeo’s team gained notoriety in other ways. Ryan Bingham worked for Bad Company Rodeo in the 1990s. “Those guys, even though they were cowboys, were all hippies. We were always the black sheep of the rodeo world,” the singer and songwriter told Texas Monthly in an interview in March 2019.
Much of how our website and news platform San Angelo LIVE! markets itself has origins from tactics we deployed when I worked for Altizer in the late 1990s and early 2000s as the digital marketing consultant. Altizer saw early on how communications through the internet would transform the rodeo industry. Bad Company Rodeo had an email list of 1000s of subscribers and two very high trafficked websites in 1997 when even the PRCA struggled with having its own website. Sales of its popular line of clothing, Bad Wear, was always brisk online in the early days of ecommerce. After every performance on the Bad Company Rodeo tour, the company emailed the results to subscribers as soon as each performance’s numbers were posted online. Back then, this was “breaking news.”
Altizer is the son of the late Jim Bob Altizer who is considered the greatest match roper of all time. Jim Bob was inducted into the PRCA Hall of Fame in 1979.
“By thinking outside the box as a stock contractor, competitor and promoter, Mack Altizer built Bad Company Rodeo into a bull riding dynasty that has lasted decades,” the PBR stated in their announcement of the award.