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SMS Equipment Kicks Off 2023 Pro Rodeo Tour

May 12, 2023
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As SMS Equipment begins its second season of CPRA title sponsorship, it reflects on what drove the initial decision.

When the 2023 season of the SMS Equipment Pro Tour kicks off in Buffalo Lake, Alta. in May, attendees will revel in the excitement, pageantry and athleticism happening in the arena. Most of those same rodeo fans, however, will probably not give much thought to why title sponsor SMS Equipment — one of Canada’s largest construction and mining equipment dealers — chose to support CPRA, both last year and this upcoming season. At first glance, the two entities appear to have little in common. A closer look, however, reveals a sense of values so closely aligned that the SMS Equipment decision seems more than just logical — almost predestined. Not surprisingly, a partnership forged in such commonalities is proving beneficial to the two organizations, the fans, and the sport itself.

Rodeo Drive

Corporate sponsorships of sporting events are nothing new; companies have been attaching their brands to events since the close of the 19th century when photography giant Kodak lent its financial support to the 1896 Olympic Games. Today, brand names are ubiquitous in sports at almost every level, from the outfield signage at a Little League baseball game to stadium naming rights costing tens of millions of dollars per year. The reasons for these investments are many and varied but generally center on a push to increase brand awareness. For SMS Equipment, which, while not disputing the benefits of reaching its client base through sponsorship, the decision runs much deeper, according to Tom Tobin, the company’s vice president of equipment sales.

"When pondering our sponsorship opportunities for the 2022 season, we immediately considered the love western Canadians have for rodeo and the culture that surrounds it,” he said. “That affinity stems from the fact that almost every town, hamlet and community in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and many parts of BC seems to boast its own rodeo grounds and their own rodeo.

That culture is ingrained into the people from these locales; they embrace it with a true, well-deserved, sense of pride. We also saw a real parallel between that rodeo lineage and the stories most of our customers relate about how their companies came to be.”

To illustrate, Tobin said that probably more than half of SMS Equipment’s customers can trace their company’s origins to a past family member who owned several small sections of property and needed to build a dugout for the farm or do other work on the land. After purchasing an excavator at auction for their work, they were often approached by someone from a nearby farm or business who needed similar work done, leading to additional equipment purchases. And a new business was born.

“We find that scenario to be fairly common,” he said. “In most cases, however, it was not done at the expense of that farming heritage — many of these same customers still proudly own and maintain large farms and livestock. Much like those involved in rodeo, there’s that sense of pride in their roots that never leaves them. From our perspective, this is two sides of the same coin; we saw a great opportunity to serve them both and continue to see that today.”

Likes Attract

It’s not surprising that SMS Equipment identifies with the values so evident within the rodeo environment and chose to support them through sponsorship. Those inherent characteristics, after all, reflect many of the same tenets the company embraces: the importance of safety; a belief in respect for others; a desire for inclusion and the willingness to be and open to new ideas and approaches; a drive to exceed standard expectations and work collaboratively to achieve results, an embrace of authenticity and integrity; and an innate ability to get creative when delivering solutions. For Darren Ondik, SMS Equipment product support sales representative, it’s also the tenacity and drive of the CPRA contestants that he sees reflected in the customers with which they deal on a daily basis.

“There is a good deal of parallel between the two groups,” he said. “Both put in extremely long days, work hard at their craft and, at the end of the day, have a sense of satisfaction at what they’ve accomplished. And I think our customers, well-aware of rodeo’s cultural significance to the region, appreciate what we are doing, so our efforts are striking the right chord.”

That sentiment is echoed by Denny Phipps, the CPRA’s general manager, who said the partnership between SMS Equipment and CPRA is ideal in so many ways.

“Not only do we share an almost identical values set of being willing to do the hard work, doing things right, being part of your community, trying to give back when you can, and so on, they also seem to enjoy an almost family-like feel throughout their company. Rodeo is built around the concept of family importance so it’s great to have a partner who shares those sentiments. We couldn’t ask for a better partner to work with than SMS Equipment.”

And, while SMS Equipment sees the title sponsorship as a powerful vehicle for strengthening its brand with its customers, both Tobin and Ondik want people to understand that the intent runs much deeper than simply a promotional opportunity.

“It’s already proven an outstanding way to enhance existing relationships and develop new ones,” he said. “Rodeo is such a big part of life — particularly here in western Alberta — that many of our customers themselves have been long-time supporters of the sport, with banners placed right beside ours at events. Seeing that our involvement is real means a lot to them. More importantly, though, our sponsorship is one of the best ways to show that we are more than just their equipment supplier. We are a company that not only appreciates one of their most-treasured activities but, through the tour, are directly helping them and their communities. We’ve already seen the results of those efforts and it’s all good.”
2022 SMS Equipment Pro Rodeo Tour with Bareback Champion, Clint Laye
2022 SMS Equipment Pro Rodeo Tour with Steer Wrestling Champion, Scott Guenthner
2022 SMS Equipment Pro Rodeo Tour with Tie Down Roping Champion, Copper Beau
2022 SMS Equipment Pro Rodeo Tour with Breakaway Roping Champion, Lakota Bird

A Customer Perspective

The feedback SMS Equipment has received from existing customers in cities on the Pro Rodeo tour has been extremely positive, indicating that their intended message of support is reverberating. For one such customer, Bill Lowry, a senior operations manager for O’Chiese Contracting, LP, a First Nation-owned oil and gas support business, SMS Equipment’s choice is both impressive and appreciated.

“The rodeo tradition in my family is very strong; several generations have successfully competed in it,” he said. “As a result, the sport is in my blood — it might be closer to my heart than moving dirt. So, to see a company that we’ve been doing business with for so many years get involved in something we truly value was very special.”

Between his tenure at O’Chiese and a company he worked for before that, Lowry has counted SMS Equipment as his dealer for close to two decades. Although he said they stay with SMS Equipment for their outstanding service and support, the dealer’s decision to sponsor the CPRA tournament proved to be “the icing on the cake.”

“For me, whether it’s through rodeo, hockey, football, whatever, it’s great to see a large, well-respected company like SMS Equipment giving back to the communities it serves,” he said. “That’s not necessarily true for all the companies with which we deal.”

He added that SMS Equipment invited him to join them at the 2022 Ponoka Stampede and, in addition to appreciating the opportunity, he said it afforded him a chance to spend time with some of the company’s upper management. “It didn’t surprise me to find that they were very down-to-earth and genuinely interested in me and our business,” he said. “Mind you, we are just a small company — we don’t have hundreds of pieces of iron like some of their other customers do. But they treat us the same way they do the much larger companies. That level of personal attention is just how they do business.”

More Alike Than Not

As if to answer the rhetorical question posed at the outset about why SMS Equipment has embraced CPRA sponsorship, the list of parallels between rodeo and the equipment supplier are seemingly endless. Consider: the growing push for diversity; the emphasis on the safety (in CPRA’s case, the safety of both the contestants and the animals); the ability to work together seamlessly as a team; respect for the competition; and more.

“In addition, both groups are often asked to spend an inordinate amount of time away from their families and homes which is always challenging,” said Tobin. “But authenticity, a key component of who we are as a company, is almost always on display at a CPRA event. Inclusivity and togetherness are also at the forefront of each of these events. I’ve never lived in a small town and I have never rodeoed. Still, despite all that, I can put on a pair of cowboy boots and hat and go to a rodeo event and feel the warmth, the hospitality, the welcoming reception, and the appreciation from those I meet. And whenever we attend one of the tour events, I’m always humbled by the many competitors who take time to thank us for our support.”

He added that, while they are not looking for outright acknowledgment, it's always nice to see that a decision — particularly a major one like the partnership with CPRA — has proven to be the right choice.

“Positive feedback from both the competitors and the organization, grateful SMS Equipment customers, and a chance to contribute to the growth of this culturally significant sport? I’d say we definitely did the right thing.”
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