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Kusek column: The show always goes on for Billings' Wagner

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To watch Bo Wagner at work is to watch a man in perpetual motion.

His workplace is the rodeo arena, where Wagner is usually one of the first to arrive and one of the last to leave.

He is constantly on the move, making sure every banner is hung straight, the sound system is clear, the opening ceremonies smooth and the talent ready when called upon. Wagner does a little bit of everything. He’s been pressed into being the arena director for the Northern Rodeo Association Finals and served as an emcee during a weigh-in between bull rider and bull for the Professional Bull Riders event in Billings this past May.

When Wagner does get a chance to pause and lean up against the fence during a hectic day, his cell phone buzzes with more issues. He’s even been known to hand off one of his children to a member of the media so he can work.

He’s one person who wears many hats.

And when the lights dim and starting time approaches, Wagner trades his cowboy hat for something more work-related.

“It’s 30 minutes to show, time to put on the headset and start the countdown,’’ Wagner relishes. “That’s an adrenaline rush. I look forward to that moment.”

Wagner is one of the fortunate ones.

He has parlayed his love of the Western lifestyle into a sports marketing career. His company, Vintage 5, helps put together sporting events, focusing on rodeo and bull riding. This year, Wagner has helped showcase 11 Professional Bull Riders events – two Built Ford Tough Series and nine Touring Pro Division events – in Montana, Idaho, North Carolina, Alabama, Florida and Colorado.

“I try to bring flexibility to produce and promote events, to however you see fit,’’ is his approach to rodeo committees. “I want to create a consistency. When people hear PBR, I want them to know it’s a quality event.”

Wagner has been working double shifts the last few weeks, preparing for the PBR Touring Pro Division events in Livingston this Saturday and Big Sky on Aug. 1. He is also helping Wiley Petersen with his bull riding on Aug. 8.

“I love the challenge of it,’’ he said of piecing together the promotion and production of an event to make the fans happy. “I love the execution of everything coming together.

“I like the constant change … the business is exciting.”

Of course, Wagner has always been immersed in the Western lifestyle.

His father Dave is a five-time Montana Pro Rodeo Circuit champion bull rider, while mother Barb was a top-flight barrel racer. The Wagners played huge roles in the development of the popular MPRC Finals held each January in Great Falls. Brother C.B. was a standout tie-down roper for Montana State University.

“I roped a little bit in junior high,’’ Wagner said of his competitive rodeo experience. “I quickly realized I was not that gifted.”

After a semester at Montana State Billings, the Laurel native was hired by David Allen, the president of Champion Sports Group in Charlotte, N.C.

Allen’s company was heavily involved in NASCAR – his high-profile client was Dale Earnhardt Sr. – and also produces the PBR’s Ty Murray Invitational in Albuquerque, N.M. Allen, who resides in Billings, still runs the event for Murray. Allen’s company also produced the Northern Rodeo Association Finals, the College National Finals Rodeo, worked with Nike and coordinated events at the Sturgis, S.D., motorcycle rally.

“Oh, my gosh, David taught me everything I know,’’ said Wagner, soon to be a father of three. He and his wife Brooke are expecting a child in September, joining daughter Juliana and son Landon. “Just watching David with everybody from Dale, to the people from General Motors, Nike and the guy on the Harley at Sturgis, he always connected with them.

“He taught me how to be smart but risky. We still meet for coffee a couple times a month and I pick his brain.”

Wagner moved back to Montana in 2007.

“I started Vintage5 in North Carolina but I didn’t have the resources. But I kept coming back to the western lifestyle,” he said.

Wagner dabbled in helping cowboys and cowgirls with endorsements, but their individualism sometimes made things tough. Wagner also helped with the NRA Finals and the PRCA NILE Rodeo.

He was tested when the NILE was moved to the smaller Expo Center because of the Father’s Day tornado in June of 2010.

“Justin did a fantastic job of mapping out everything,’’ Wagner said of Justin Mills, the NILE general manager. “You couldn’t hang things from the ceiling and every time we measured for banners, we seemed to lose a foot off the arena. It was a nightmare to configure the arena and it got interesting, but the NILE got it to work.”

The rodeo received rave reviews from fans and competitors.

“Honestly, it can be stressful,’’ he said of making sure everything works properly and on time. “But that’s what keeps me going.

“I grew up with it. I love it.”

And while every rodeo, every bull riding produces a different result, some things have remained the same.

“When I was 15, David hired me to wipe down the banners,” said Wagner. “And I’m still wiping down banners.”


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High School Sports, Rodeo Reporter

Sports writer for The Billings Gazette.

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