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Rough riders: PBR turns 25

Professional Bull Riders

Pueblo, Colorado

25th Unleash the Beast 

Feb. 24, 5:50-11:55 p.m.

AT&T Stadium

1 AT&T Way

Arlington 76011

Professional Bull Riders (PBR) turns 25 in February and the organization plans to celebrate its first quarter century with competition in Arlington at the 25th PBR: Unleash the Beast.

The top 40 bull riders in the world will compete at AT&T Stadium to be crowned Iron Cowboy by process of elimination. The winner will also walk away with more than $100,000 in prize money and double the amount of points toward the world championship.

PBR began as a dream of 20 bull riders and has grown into a global sports phenomenon. PBR now features the top 35 bull riders in the world and the top bulls in the business.

The televised UTB, along with the Real Time Pain Relief Velocity (RVT), the Touring Pro Division (TPD) and the PBR’s international circuits in Australia, Brazil, Canada and Mexico, have together paid more than $180 million in earnings.

Thirty bull riders have each earned more than $1 million dollars. This group includes two-time PBR world champion J.B. Mauney, who has become the top-earning athlete in Western sports history with more than $7 million in career earnings.

Sean Gleason, CEO of PBR, was in town recently for a VIP event connected to the competition in Arlington. He discussed the growth of PBR and what lies ahead with the Fort Worth Business Press:

Why do you believe the PBR has grown in popularity so much over the past quarter century?

It all starts with outstanding, edge-of-the-seat competition and the thrill of the unexpected. When 150-pound cowboys get on the back of 1,800-pound bucking bulls, anything can happen. The most thrilling eight seconds in sports all night long is wrapped in rock-and-roll, pyro and the comedy of our official entertainer. There’s no other sport like PBR. In 20 years with the sport, I’ve yet to meet a person who came to our event and did not have a great time wanting to come back.

Why do you think the sport sometimes outdraws sports such as PGA, baseball, NHL and even U.S. Open Tennis?

Our outstanding television partner, CBS, does a great job capturing the intense action on the dirt and creating connections between our fans and athletes, whether human or bovine. CBS has developed a stalwart franchise on par with other major sports: PBR’s unique reach per CBS event is 19.5 million viewers.

CBS Sports is expanding on this success and is bringing fans a total of 52 telecasts during our 25th anniversary season.

Why has the pay in the sport grown as it has?

Your question gets to the heart of what I do as CEO of PBR. My primary responsibility is to develop and pursue strategies to grow a sport founded by 20 cowboys a quarter century ago to pursue a dream of creating a stand-alone sport that would provide a good living for them and future generations of cowboys both during and after their professional bull riding careers.

Payouts to riders have increased because the sport itself has grown. PBR’s fan base has increased 15 percent from 2011 to 2015. At a time when there are more entertainment options and distractions than ever, PBR attendance was up 11 percent from 2015 to 2017, including 13 local event attendance records in 2016, and eight local attendance marks in 2017. Annually, 3 million fans attend PBR events globally.

We’ll continue to market and promote the sport to grow our fan base to ensure that we build on the $180 million paid out to our athletes.

Why has the sport grown to fill stadiums such as AT&T?

PBR is a highly competitive, grueling, thrilling sport. We’ll sell you the whole seat; you probably won’t use the back half. It’s man vs. beast in eight-second bursts of mayhem all night long, packaged in a very compelling, highly entertaining family-oriented event.

Can you discuss the upcoming event at AT&T Stadium and it’s increasing popularity?

AT&T Stadium is an iconic place that hosts marquee sporting events. Texans by nature are proud, enjoy the outdoors and like to live large. We feel right at home in this true sporting palace.

With offices around the world, bull riding is not just an American sport, correct?

PBR is a global sport with 1,200 athletes competing worldwide. Outside of the U.S., we have successful tours in Brazil, Mexico, Australia and Canada. The PBR Global Cup, a five-nation competition paying out the richest purse outside of the PBR World Finals, debuted in Edmonton, Canada, in November 2017 and next travels to Sydney, Australia, in June 2018. We expect this great sport will continue to grow both here in the U.S. and overseas.

What is the thrill that comes from watching bull riding?

PBR cowboys are modern-day gladiators. The bulls are extraordinary, beautiful animals, rock stars in their own right. Every time that chute opens, anything can happen. When a 150-pound cowboy goes up against an 1,800-pound bucking bull, the odds aren’t exactly in his favor.

What are some goals for the PBR as it moves forward?

We are focused on a number of important initiatives. We are working hard to continue to enhance the fan experience both in the arena with fun, entertaining experiences as well as giving fans access to live PBR events and rodeo anytime, anywhere over their phones, computers and tablets. We are launching a new over-the-top (OTT) network, “RidePass,” to bring members more than 150 annual, broadcast-quality live events, news, highlights, analysis and original shoulder programming, including an original 10-episode series with two-time World Champion J.B. Mauney.

Rider safety is paramount. Professional bull riding will always be an inherently dangerous sport, but PBR is continuously working to find ways to better protect our athletes. We’ll continue to invest in advanced equipment as well as medical resources for our riders, including education and awareness with regard to head injuries. Years ago, riders just got back on bulls after getting hurt, but now there’s a lot of discussion around proper recovery, particularly with head injuries.

Growing RidePass, our new digital network, is a major priority — bringing fans PBR and other Western sports anytime, anywhere without limits.

We’re very excited about the PBR Global Cup. This has always been an individual sport. Up in Edmonton in November, fans saw each nation representing their respective home country come together as a cohesive, genuine team more and more with each ride. It was one of the best bull-riding events many in the sport had ever seen, and we can’t wait for Sydney in June.

What is your personal experience with bull riding? Were you a competitor?

Heck no! I’m either too tall, too smart or too chicken to get on a bull. Probably all three.

Any additional thoughts?

PBR may not have the largest fan base of the major profession sports, but it’s hard to find a more passionate and dedicated fan base. They’re also patriotic and appreciate the local and military heroes who are honored at our events as part of our Celebrate America initiative. I want to thank the fans for their support and encourage everyone to come out to AT&T Stadium for an authentic sporting event that promises to be unforgettable.

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