SBJ/October 22-28, 2012/Leagues and Governing Bodies

PBR rolls into Vegas seeking ways to grow

The Professional Bull Riders is marking 20 years in business in 2012 and next year will celebrate its 20th year of competition. On the eve of the PBR’s Built Ford Tough World Finals, to be held Wednesday-Sunday at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas, PBR Chairman and CEO Jim Haworth spoke with correspondent Bruce Goldberg. He discussed those milestones, what to expect at the finals, how new sponsor relationships are working out, and how the PBR is trying to grow.

What will fans see that’s different at this year’s finals?

HAWORTH:
This will probably be our closest final we’ve had in history. Mathematically, 14 of our top riders are in the running to win the world championship. It’s going to be one heck of a race. Silvano Alves was the world champion last year. If he wins this year, he will be the first back-to-back champion.
We have [for the second year] a TV screen, 26 by 46 feet. … It has changed the way fans watch bull riding. They watch it live, then their eyes go to the big screen to watch the replay, and a lot of times the reaction comes to the replay, rather than the actual event in the dirt.

Haworth made the rounds in New York in January, including a stop by the New York Stock Exchange.
Photo by: GETTY IMAGES
Two of your newest sponsors are Pabst Blue Ribbon and Kawasaki. How are they activating their deals?

HAWORTH:
Pabst is up and coming. It’s an old brand, but it’s becoming kind of hip to drink Pabst beer. They do party zones at most of our events across the U.S. and also do activation in their properties, where they have affiliations with specific bars in those markets.

When you look at our fan segmentation, we over-index with outdoors and camping. The propensity for people using ATVs was very high, so we’re very excited to get Kawasaki on board for this year, and they’re renewing for next year. They bring a younger demographic. [At events] they’ll take an ATV and drive it on the dirt at different points in the show. … We also have “text to win,” where fans can send a text and have a chance to win a Kawasaki.

Any other new sponsors to talk about?

HAWORTH:
Montana Silversmiths is a new sponsor, a belt buckle manufacturer, the largest in the U.S. They have a long history with the Western lifestyle.

Any special plans for the PBR’s 20th anniversary?

HAWORTH:
This is the 20th-year anniversary of the original founders signing checks for $1,000. We’re excited about the opportunities of working with our sponsors. They’re looking at different things they might do to support us in our celebration.

We have some special events we’ll do throughout the year [in 2013]. We’ll be in Las Vegas in May for a special event tied in with the 20th. … We’ll do the top 20 most interesting moments of the PBR’s history and will be releasing different segments throughout the year. We’ll also have a special logo and special merchandise.

How are you trying to grow your fan base?

HAWORTH:
There’s a couple of things we’ve gone back and looked at. We did a specific fan segmentation to understand the demographics of our fans even better. We applied that to this year’s TV and ticket sales. We also used it to enhance our relationships with current sponsors and used it to continue to grow our sponsorship.

We’ve enhanced our TV. We have David Neal [34-time Emmy winner] as the producer of our TV show. He did nine Olympic Games. He has looked at the property, gotten excited about the sport, and looked at ways to enhance our sport. We’re seeing some ratings improvements. We had 16 nationally broadcast events in 2012, the most in the history of the PBR.

What keeps you up at night regarding the PBR?

HAWORTH:
I think any business today, a live-event business, we’re continuing to look for sponsorships. I think any live-event business that is depending on it for revenue [also] will continue to work at ticket sales.

Bruce Goldberg writes for the Denver Business Journal, an affiliated publication.

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