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Volume 20 No. 42
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Success overseas leads PBR to China series

Following international expansions to Australia, Brazil and Canada, Professional Bull Riders is heading to China.

PBR China, expected to be officially announced this week, will consist of a 32-event, 25-rider series running from Aug. 1 to Oct. 6. The series will operate as part of PBR’s minor league tour, the Touring Pro Division. PBR’s events in its other overseas locations are also Touring Pro Division events.

“The decision to expand there was greatly impacted by our success overseas,” said Dave Cordovano, PBR’s chief global events officer.

The earlier international expansions occurred in 2006.

In China, riders will compete for a $450,000 overall purse and can accumulate points toward PBR’s world standings. The series will travel to three cities along the country’s eastern seaboard: Qingdao for 20 events, Nanjing for three events, and nine additional shows at the AEG-managed Mercedes-Benz Arena in Shanghai.

James Wang, Yan Zhenlong and the PBR’s Jim Haworth and Dave Cordovano mark the arrival of PBR in China.
Photo by: PBR

Cordovano anticipates attendance at the events will near 250,000 overall and expects three rodeos from Qingdao to be broadcast online on PBR Live. China-based CCTV distributes an IMG-produced highlight show of PBR’s top circuit, the Built Ford Tough Series. PBR Chairman and CEO Jim Haworth said live coverage of PBR China could develop down the line.
“What we’re probably pushing for is, this is like a dress rehearsal this year,” Haworth said. “Let’s get it up and running, and then next year we can see about expanding it to a live TV audience.”

The circuit at this point is without sponsorship, but Cordovano noted there has been what he called “significant interest” from PBR’s sponsors as well as brands in China. Typical PBR partnership targets include financial services, beer brands, payment card companies and the automotive industry, he said.

PBR Built Ford Tough Series 2014 stats

 Average TV viewership of 1.2 million across six events on CBS, up 25 percent from last year.

Visits to up 24 percent for January-April compared to same period in 2013; number of unique visitors up 41 percent.

Facebook “likes” up by more than 400,000 since the beginning of the year.

Event attendance up 41 percent through 12 events.

Attendance records at six of those 12 events.

Source: PBR

“We’ve learned how to adapt and do business in each one of these international territories,” Cordovano said. “The biggest difference in China is that, in all the other countries that we’ve expanded to, they’ve had an existing western lifestyle, bull-riding culture, so they have the livestock and the riders.”

The largest investment PBR will make for the push to China, Cordovano said, is in the livestock itself. PBR has shipped nearly 100 bulls from Australia to China, where they will be housed and cared for. He said breeding programs that are started there will be developed with the intent of “making this a long-term series, just like any of the other territories we’ve expanded to.”

Haworth originally thought 2015 was the earliest possible starting date for PBR China, but a December meeting with the Chinese People’s Association For Friendship With Foreign Countries quickly changed that. The association, charged with the development of cultural activities for Chinese people in sports, was intrigued by PBR. “They gave us approval because of the way we look at our animals, as athletes, and they were really excited about that,” Haworth said. “They felt this was a sport that they could develop some riders for the future to really help build and make this something they can embrace as a culture.”

PBR’s expansion to China comes on the heels of what series officials call a successful first half of the season in the United States. As the Built Ford Tough Series hits its annual three-month summer break, the series has seen year-to-date increases in several key metrics (see chart).