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About the BFI

By Kendra Santos, BFI CorrespondentBob Feist Invitational Roping

Just two short decades ago, this day was only a dream. Team roper/Ropers Sports News publisher Bob Feist had a theory that the roping world would rally around the world’s toughest talents. Back then, as a spectator at a few tennis matches, he noticed that the crowds were full of tennis players & future to former. The fans represented every skill level in the sport, but had something in common: they loved the game.

“I wanted to look at team roping from the ropers and spectators point of view,” said Feist, who has since added rodeo announcing to his repertoire.

So he did. He disregarded the skeptics and set out to build the greatest open roping in the world.

Using rodeo conditions as the model of how not to format the perfect roping, he gathered up good steers, set the scoreline out there a ways to make it a horseman’s roping, too, and made the BFI a multi-round average to lessen the “luck of the draw” factor that so strongly affects one-headers.

“When we would practice roping & when all we had to do was catch & we set things up right and roped every steer,” Feist remembers. “The great ropers’ true talents didn’t always shine through at the rodeos, where it seemed like 50 percent luck the way you had to reach and rope so fast. You also had to draw the right steer to win.”

With terms too good to pass on, people understood the attraction for the ropers. But would roping fans actually buy a ticket to watch?

“I just know that when I competed, any time I was at a jackpot, we stopped whatever we were doing when we heard names like Camarillo and Rodriguez (at ropings like Oakdale, Chowchilla, Riverside and Dr. Lane Falk’s in Modesto, Calif.),” Feist said. “Whether you were drinking a Coke or playing pitch (cards), you made a point of watching them rope. Good, smooth roping is an artistry and it’s a great spectator sport.”

Feist put his neck on the chopping block when he advertised the first-ever BFI in 1977. He invited the 40 premier teams in the country, and, after a long talk with his banker, guaranteed a $40,000 payoff. The first BFI was held in Chowchilla, Calif., where the roomy arena allowed for a 35-foot score. (Feist’s one regret is that current conditions only allow for an 18-foot score.)

The roping was an instant hit with the ropers, but as determined as Feist was to stay out of their pockets (he continues to hold out just five percent for “administrative costs,” a percentage that only starts to cover his cattle and personnel costs), he was dipping deep into his own wallet.

“The BFI was financially unstable for several years,” Feist remembers.

Sponsor support was a tough sell at first. The BFI was sailing on unchartered waters, after all. What Feist was proposing had never been done.

“I put my name on the roping to start with hoping a sponsor would come in and replace it with their,” he said. “But there were no takers. After about five years, there were a lot of takers. But by then I decided to keep it. We have great sponsorship support now.”

The BFI was an invitational roping for seven years, with Feist hand-picking the world’s best ropers. He looked high and low for talent and didn’t discriminate. If a guy worked on a ranch in the middle of Montana and could really rope, he was in. It didn’t matter who he was or who he knew.

“The BFI was like a big, private party at first,” Feist said. “But after I got hurt in 1980, when I started announcing more and roping less, I didn’t have as good a handle on who the up-and-comers were. I also started getting a lot of calls from parents and grandparents trying to pressure me into letting their kids and grandkids rope. It finally just got too political, so I decided to open it up to the world and let the first 100 teams that entered rope.” (Feist now accepts 110 teams to allow for last-minute emergency draw-outs.)

The first four BFIs were held in Chowchilla. The BFI moved to Las Vegas in 1981, then to Denton, Texas, in 1982. That fall, Feist and Hartnell College student Bill Wittmer were in a car accident while on a fishing trip in Alaska. Wittmer died, and Feist just wasn’t up to a 1983 event. At that point, the BFI was on its last leg.

“Then one day in 1984, I got a Federal Express envelope from Perry Bigbee,” Feist remembers. “In it was a note that said, ÔHave this thing & the ropers need it.’ Also a check was in there with the note.”

It was the boost the BFI needed to get back on track.

“The BFI wouldn’t have kept going without Perry Bigbee’s moral and financial support,” Feist now says matter-of-factly. “He said it was the closest thing to perfect for the open roper.”

In today’s world of point ropings that basically handcuff the big dogs & a world in which National Finals Rodeo qualifiers are struggling to make ends meet & the BFI is gold. If you rope for a living, you’re in Reno for the rodeo anyway. And if you don’t beat yourself, you can ride away rich.

The BFI has called Reno home since 1984, though the roping was held outside in the rodeo arena the first several years.

“We moved it inside to remove the weather factor,” Feist said. “One year when we were outside, the weather was atrocious. It rained, hailed, sleeted and the wind blew. It was typical Reno weather & three seasons in one day. It was terrible to see guys roping for that kind of money in those conditions.”

Salinas & home of the great California Rodeo & was Feist’s other original site finalist. he loved the big arena. But Reno won out because of factors like airport accessibility and stall facilities. Reno’s casinos also wanted in on the BFI act.

The BFI’s always been held on Monday. Feist scheduled it that way from the beginning because he didn’t want to step on any existing ropings or rodeos’ toes. It’s also easier to get hotels excited about events that attract guests for customarily slow nights on Sunday and Monday.

Feist says BFI spectators have done as much for the roping as the contestants. You show up in record numbers each year to take in the richest one-day roping in the world.

“I really enjoy working with the contestants, too,” he said. “They’re professional and appreciative. Even when they don’t win a nickel, they come by and tell me, ‘This is the greatest roping in the world.’”

The BFI has stood for the best of the best & ropers, to prizes, spectators to sponsors & from the start. It hasn’t always been easy. But Feist hasn’t cut a corner yet.

“I’m so proud that the BFI is a roper’s roping,” Feist said. “I wanted this to be a great roping, but I didn’t think I’d be the one who would take it to this height. I thought someone else would take it and run with it.

When I started the BFI, everyone said I was nuts. Now it’s the ultimate. The talent pool’s never been deeper at this roping than it is today. This is anybody’s roping. So sit back and enjoy it. We wouldn’t be here without you.”

For more information on the BFI, call (303) 870-6489.