The Professional Bull Riders, Inc. (PBR) World Finals are back in Las Vegas this weekend. This is the last year that the finals will be held at the Thomas & Mack Center; starting in 2016 they will be held at the new Las Vegas Arena where we hope to also have an NHL team play some day.

I’ve always been a big fan of the rodeo. As a lover of history and America I appreciate the role that cowboys and the rodeo have played in helping to form our national character. There’s a definite mystique and rugged individualism about it that make it the most intense 8 seconds of any sport in the world. I also love that PBR holds its world finals in Las Vegas, a city that also celebrates its rugged western heritage.

There’s also a host of important legal issues surrounding the rodeo that I’d like to briefly cover. First, though, a quick lesson for those of you needing a biology referesher course- a bull is a male cow who has not been castrated (castrated bulls are called steers). They are big, strong, mean and nasty, and because there are a few people on this earth crazy enough to jump on their backs and try to ride them, we have the exciting sport of rodeo and all the legal issues surrounding it.

Personality rights

A “personality right” is a “right of publicity” that gives the holder “personal control over commercial display and exploitation of his personality and the exercise of his talents”. Zacchini v. Broadcasting Company, 433 U.S. 562 (1977)

As with any professional sport, the bull riders can often become quite famous and see their face, image, and likeness appear on all kinds of merchandise. The PBR Rider application contains a lengthy “publicity consent” section wherein the rider agrees to allow PBR to use their image and likeness. Thus the PBR rider application allows for PBR to use the likenesses of the riders in their promotion materials, commercials, etc. This makes sense, as the riders are competing in the league (PBR), thus the league wants to be able to utilize photographs and videos of their riders in their promotional materials and broadcasts.

But if a rider enters into his own deals outside of PBR, especially a famous rider, he should be mindful of his personality rights. (more on this below).  Make sure that the contracts they sign protect against unauthorized use of their “personality rights”, otherwise they may find their image and likeness being used in ways that they did not approve of.

Visas for International Athletes

PBR has many international athletes competing in its events. Some of the top riders are from Brazil, including 2014 World Champion Silvano Alves. In fact, Brazilian riders won the World Championship in 2014, 2010, 2008, 2006, 2002, 2001, and 1994. There was also an Australian World Champion, Troy Dunn, in 1998.

For these international athletes, having the proper paperwork in order when traveling into the United States of America can prevent unwanted and unnecessary headaches at customs. Luckily there is a special visa, the P-1 visa, just for athletes. You can find more information on how to obtain such a visa here:

Bear in mind that immigration law is a complex area that involves (in my opinion) layers of bureaucracy and is subject to changing political agendas. While I never recommend that anyone attempt to represent themselves in court or handle their own legal matters, I DEFINITELY do not recommend that anyone take immigration matters into their own hands. If you are an international athlete looking to obtain a visa, or an American athlete competing abroad, speak to a competent, experienced immigration attorney first.

Assumption of Risk

The legal doctrine of “assumption of the risk” is a defense to liability wherein a person literally “assumes” the risks inherent in a situation and thus cannot bring a lawsuit in the event of injury. “Assumption of the risk” clauses are standard in almost all liability waiver forms, and if you’ve ever participated in some sort of sports or adventure related activity (whitewater rafting, skiing, horseback riding, go-cart racing, and softball leagues come to mind) then there’s a good chance you have signed one of these clauses yourself.

Not surprisngly, the PBR rider application contains an assumption of the risk clause wherein the rider “expressly acknowledges that bull riding is, and has always been, an extremely dangerous activity”. In this respect a PBR rider “assumes” the risk of injury when he rides a bull. Assumption of the risk clauses for athletes have generally been upheld by most American courts. See; Knight v. Jewett, 3 Cal. 4th 296, 316-20 (1992); Gauvin v. Clark, 537 N.E.2d 94, 97 (Mass. 1989).

The doctrine of assumption of the risk is also an important legal concept for the spectators at sporting events, and typically appear on the back of tickets. Assumption of the risk clauses often come up in the context of baseball games when spectators are struck by foul balls and broken bats, and assumption of the risk clauses on tickets have been upheld by the courts. In fact assumption of the risk in the context of baseball fans is so common that it is unofficially referred to as “the baseball rule”. For more information look up the following cases:

Turner v. Mandalay Sports Entm’t, 180 P.3d 1172 (Nev., 2008); Mantovani v. Yale Univ., 2008 WL 544648 (Conn. Super. Ct. Feb. 6, 2008); Crespin v. Albuquerque Baseball Club LLC, 216 P.3d 827 (N.M. Ct. App. 2009), cert. granted, No. 31,907 (N.M. Sept. 15, 2009); Correa v. City of New York, 2009 WL 3380018 (N.Y. App. Div. Oct. 22, 2009);

Agents

For most people, when they hear the words “Sports agent” they immediately think of either Scott Boras or Jerry McGuire. A sports agent is essentially a person who represents their client (the athlete) in contract negotiations. Although most professional sports league do not require that an agent be an attorney, many sports agents are attorneys because the nature of their work (drafting contracts, negotiations, etc) is similar to what attorneys do on a regular basis.

The PBR maintains a list of approved agents who have been certified to represent their riders. The list can be found here.

Workers Compensation/Insurance

Another important legal consideration is workers compensation and insurance. Anyone who follows rodeo know that the riders often get hurt, and even if you are not a rider there is always a chance someone could get hurt on the job.

If you have the courage to be a rodeo rider, you can find an application on PBR’s website here:

It’s clear that the PBR doesn’t just let anyone off the street apply to ride on bulls. There is an 8 page application wherein it states that you must be at least 18 years old and have had prior success in bull riding events. The application also states that “All competing contestants will be insured for a limited amount against injury while competing at PBR events”, and the rider must pay a deductible on the insurance.

Further, on the PBR website there is an application for a “stock contractor”, or someone who provides animals for the rodeo. The stock contractor application can be found here. For a fee, bull owners can become a stock contractor and provide their animals for rodeo use.

The stock contractor application is essentially a liability waiver and is, in my opinion, a well written contract. It is plainly written (aka no “legalese”), the actual wording is conspicuous (bolded and underlined), and each paragraph requires a signature/initial. As I have mentioned in a previous post, in Nevada courts will construe an unambiguous contract according to its plain language. Sheehan & Sheehan v. Nelson Malley & Co., 117 P.3d 219, 223-24 (Nev. 2005). Further, Nevada Courts have ruled that a person is bound by any document they sign “in spite of any ignorance of the documents content” provided there has been no misrepresentation. Yee v. Weiss, 110 Nev. 657 (Nev. 1994). I have personally cited to Yee with success in contract actions in Nevada, and one of the cases I handled involved a contract that contained a signature/initial block on every paragraph.

Other than standard liability waivers and acknowledgments that the stock contractor is “experienced and regularly engaged” in livestock breeding, the main purpose of the application is to state that a stock contractor is NOT an employee of PBR and is therefore responsible for maintaining their own worker’s compensation insurance. Furthermore, the stock contractor cannot assert a worker’s compensation claim or other insurance coverage claim against PBR.

PBR’s contract is consistent with Nevada law, specifically NRS 616A.110 which states that the following people are NOT considered “employees”.

Any person engaged in household domestic service, farm, dairy, agricultural or horticultural labor, or in stock or poultry raising.

Also of note to the readers of this blog, musicians and stage performers are also not considered “employees” for purposes of workers compensation. For more information on workers compensation in Nevada click here.

Sponsorship

For many athletes, sponsorship can provide an excellent source of revenue. In sports like rodeo, golf, or NASCAR, where there is no guarantee of payment unless you win or place high enough, sponsorship can mean the difference between getting paid or not. Even the casual rodeo fan will notice that many of the riders have logos emblazoned on their vests and sometimes their hats, and the rodeo ring is covered with signs and stickers of various sponsors.

Therefore it is in the best interest of a bull rider to seek out sponsorship from as many sources as possible in order to create income in the event that he can’t earn prize money. A legal problem may arise, however, if a rider seeks out sponsorships from two “competitors”. Read the sponsorship contracts carefully to determine what is a “competitor”, and if you think a sponsorship contract is too prohibitive in terms of what other sponsorship deals you can sign, you can always negotiate or just walk away. Also bear in mind your personality rights (see above).

I’ll be attending some of the PBR events this weekend and hope to follow up with a few more posts on legal issues as well as a recap of events. Stay tuned and hit me up with any questions or comments!

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