Professional Bull Riders (PBR)
20 Jan, 2021By: Sports Destination Management Team
Professional bull riding is a fierce, rough and grueling sport with roots deeply embedded in American culture. It’s America’s original extreme sport. Professional Bull Riders (PBR) was the dream of 20 bull riders from the rodeo who, back in 1992, came together with a concept: Why not pit cowboys against one another in a season-long battle that would establish bull riding as a standalone sport? Nearly 30 years later, that concept is reality, with riders going head to head in pursuit of the year-end title of PBR World Champion, and with that, a share of more than $10 million in prize money including the $1 million year-end bonus for the season’s best bull rider.
Pretty impressive numbers. But perhaps the best number was this one: 41. That’s how many days into the COVID shutdown PBR was able to stage its comeback, competing in a closed event at the Lazy E Arena in Oklahoma on April 25. SDM caught up with PBR to find out how they did it, what they learned from 2020 and how they’ll be moving forward.
Sports Destination Management: In the midst of the pandemic, PBR was the only live sport going on. How did you accomplish that?
Andrew Giangola: There are a lot of factors at play, most of all grit, determination and resiliency. PBR comes from and is grounded in self-reliant western values and culture. That means bearing down, working hard and making your own way, especially in daunting situations. Cowboys and ranchers are used to a lot of adversity. Optimism and resiliency are in their DNA. PBR’s marketing centers on the mantra “Be Cowboy,” which means being tough and courageous while also kind and welcoming, always working hard, and getting right back up when you get knocked down.
There was no manual or playbook for getting back to business during COVID-19. And nobody was about to hand one out. Our team bore down, got to work and found a way back. There were so many challenges along the way – the entire 2020 second half schedule basically had to be redone – but our team kept getting up after being knocked down. Since the shutdown, PBR has hosted 20 event weekends, 13 with fans in the arena, safely and responsibly. Our protocols have been shared with 15 other major leagues and teams. We are proud to be leading a way back to business during difficult times.
SDM: What was the reception like from the venues you were using?
Giangola: Venues are obviously very dependent on live ticketed events. They want to get back to business. They’ve been extremely receptive to our protocols and eager to collaborate on events. We have always enjoyed strong venue partnerships, and during COVID-19, our relationships have gotten stronger. Times of crisis are difficult. But they can also bring resilient people together.
SDM: Do you believe PBR’s audience has grown during the pandemic?
Giangola: According to major tracking metrics, PBR has grown in 2020. In the 2020 regular season, PBR on CBS television viewership was up 8 percent over 2019, according to Nielsen while just about every major sport is down, some at historic lows. Two Sundays this fall, PBR on CBS was the day’s second most-viewed spots programming, trailing only the NFL.
On social media, PBR increased its followers by 18 percent across its platforms and watch time increased by 27 percent compared to 2019. Minutes viewed on RidePass, the sport’s digital network, increased by 8 percent in 2020 over 2019. And at the PBR World Finals (November 12-15), the sport hosted nearly 44,000 fans over four days in pod seating in socially distanced AT&T Stadium
The PBR brand continues to expand off the dirt as well. In partnership with Cordish Companies, we will open PBR Pittsburgh in 2021. This will be the 10th location in the PBR country bar chain.
SDM: Are there any demographics for the audience?
Giangola: According to an ESPN Sports poll, there are 83 million Americans who consider themselves PBR fans. The sport has events in all corners of the country, and being televised on CBS nationally, these fans come from all parts of the country and all backgrounds. There’s a pretty even split between men and women: PBR fans are 55 percent male and 45 percent female. The average income of fans is $73,000.
SDM: What does PBR look for in when considering cities to host events?
Giangola: There are several factors. First is geographic diversity – we want to expose the sport to new fans nationwide while also super-serving core fans. PBR is a very unique sport in visiting markets as large as New York and Los Angeles as well as Billings, Sioux Falls and Tulsa.
Second, we want to have our events in facilities synonymous with the upper echelon of sports. Whether it’s Madison Square Garden in New York City or Denny Sanford PREMIER Center in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, PBR wants to visit the most prestigious sports venue in any market.
Third, PBR looks for markets where we can be successful in ticket sales while partnering with a wide range of enthusiastic local brand partners.
SDM: PBR has hosted events in some unique sites like the USS Lexington. Where else have you brought the sport that was unexpected?
Giangola: PBR has bucked bulls in places like Hollywood Boulevard, on Huntington Beach and in Times Square. While those were cool events, the consensus is that competing atop the famed aircraft carrier was the most spectacular venue in the sport’s 27-year history. On Sunday November 22, the PBR US Air Force Reserve Cowboys for a Cause on CBS peaked at 2.3 million viewers, making it the day’s second most-viewed sport on television, trailing only the NFL. It’s the second time this fall PBR was No. 2 to the NFL for an entire Sunday, which is a real tribute to the sport’s growth and popularity. The USS Lexington event was also the debut of PBR’s new annual charitable initiative “Cowboys for a Cause.” PBR and its partners raised $250,000 for military charities including Operation Homefront.
SDM: COVID aside, any idea what the economic impact of a PBR event on a community is?
Giangola: Two pre-COVID examples would be Sioux Falls, where PBR’s direct economic impact was calculated to be more than $4 million and Albuquerque, where it was nearly $5.5 million.
SDM: PBR has worked to rebrand itself as an extreme sport, leaving behind its rodeo roots. Do you think there are still people who associate it with rodeo, or do you feel like you have managed to make a complete separation?
Giangola: There is certainly still a rodeo association among many people. Bull riding is typically the final event of a rodeo, so that connection is certainly understandable, particularly to very new or casual fans.
SDM: Any advice you’d be able to share with owners of other events?
Giangola: Safety should always be the top priority. If it isn’t, make it No. 1. Do the hard research, and the even harder planning. Be very disciplined on executing your protocols. Human nature will inevitably lead to letting your guard down – identify and resist this temptation. Observe and analyze how other teams and leagues are keeping athletes safe while hosting fans. Share your plan with government officials. As in any crisis, this is as much a communications challenge as anything else. Keep everyone – athletes, employees, venue partners, sponsors, and fans – appropriately informed.
SDM: Anything else you’d like to mention?
Giangola: As the pandemic peaks again this winter, there will undoubtedly be many challenges ahead in early 2021 when PBR launches the new season. PBR will continue to make fans’ safety our priority with industry-leading health protocols so everyone can feel comfortable coming back to the arena. We appreciate the continued support of our brand and media partners, and most of all our great fans, who continue to stick with us. We look forward to providing fans with world-class sports entertainment in 2021. SDM