Professional Bull Riders: 'Original Extreme Sport' Focuses On International Growth In 2014 And Beyond
In 1992, 20 original bull riders each wrote $1,000 checks to finance what is now the Professional Bull Riders. At that time, just eight events existed in the United States, with maybe 300,000 people attending — and that’s probably even generous.
Fast forward to 2014 and the still young PBR has firmly established its imprint throughout the country, with major stops in Dallas, New York and Las Vegas. The organization now boasts roughly 300 annual events as it operates in five different countries, including Australia, Brazil, Canada and Mexico. Over the past two decades, the PBR has doled out over $140 million in prize money to its riders.
“Those 20 original guys and those $1,000 checks have evolved into quite a tremendous sports property that is covered in 400 million households around the world,” said Jim Haworth, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of the PBR.
“It’s been quite the growth pattern,” added Haworth, who calls bull riding the “original extreme sport.”
A former C-level executive with Sears Holding Corporation, Wal-Mart Stores and Sam’s Club, Haworth said that joining the PBR was the first time in his 30-year career where he could finally merge one of his passions, the western lifestyle and bull riding, with his savvy business acumen.
“It’s been a dream job for me,” said Haworth, who’s been in his current role since early 2011.
Of the countries where PBR holds events, most have some type of “western lifestyle propensity”, according to Haworth. As a result, the standalone bull riding events have resonated with a wider audience.
Along with the previously mentioned five countries, the PBR is also in the early stages of breaking into the Chinese market through its partnership with a Chinese group, Xinnu International Sports Culture Company.
China-based CCTV distributes an IMG-produced 30-60 minute highlights show of the PBR’s premier tour, the Built Ford Tough Series. While the highlights might be outdated by a few months, roughly 30 million viewers are tuning in. To put into context, that viewership number would surpass any major sporting event in the United States except for the Super Bowl. Consequently, Haworth and his colleagues realized that there was an opportunity to build a significant fan base overseas.
As part of PBR China, the organization’s minor league tour called the Touring Pro Division will showcase 25 riders across 32 events from Aug. 1 to Oct. 6. In spite of the potential future in China, Haworth noted that Brazil might even be a bigger target market. Next to soccer, bull riding ranks No. 2 in the country in live event attendance numbers.
Even through the domestic and international growth, the PBR has still maintained a close relationship with long-standing sponsors like Jack Daniel’s, the city of Las Vegas and Wrangler, all having been aligned with the PBR for upwards of 19-plus years. Just in the past two years, more progressive and extreme sport brands — like Kawasaki and Monster Energy — have recently partnered with the PBR with the hopes of reaching its 26 million fans.
“(The PBR) is the most exhilarating thing you’re ever going to see,” Haworth said. “It’s like a rock concert with bull riding going on. …For 21 years, the level of competition and the excitement about that competition has allowed us to continue to have the type of sponsor and fan support and the ability to grow like we have.”