ARLINGTON, Texas ― Numbers and trends are pushing PBR to the brink of a historic weekend in Arlington, Texas.
A record number of people are expected to watch the PBR’s uniquely formatted Dr Pepper Iron Cowboy V both in person and on television.
CBS will broadcast the conclusion of the event on Sunday, and the network broadcast will include the Bad Boy Mowers Million Dollar Ride in which the winner of this year’s Iron Cowboy will match-up with two-time and reigning World Champion Bull Bushwacker for a chance to earn a $1 million bonus if he were to make the 8-second whistle.
“The chance to see a rider get on a bull for a million dollars – a onetime shot – is going to be a big deal on CBS,” said PBR Chairman and CEO Jim Haworth.
In two previous network broadcasts – Jan. 26 and Feb. 9 – the PBR ratings are up 59 percent in households and 54 percent in viewership over last year, which benefitted from three broadcasts at this time.
In fact, during its January broadcast the PBR ranked sixth overall in sports programming in terms of household viewership by reaching nearly 1.2 million homes and beating out ESPN’s broadcast of a NBA game featuring the storied Boston Celtics and Brooklyn Nets, who are based in the country’s largest media market.
BFTS telecasts are produced by David Neal Productions, a Los Angeles-based production company led by 34-time Emmy Award winner and Peabody Award winner David Neal, who serves as executive producer.
Haworth said the television ratings prove, “We’re gaining traction with new fans.”
He added, “We’re attracting new viewers, but also we have a good core fan base.”
The iconic image of the cowboy is as strong as the patriotic pride of the Summer and Winter Olympic Games.
On Feb. 9, the PBR was 10th overall in sports programming with 1.1 million homes tuning in—a number that out-performed some Olympic coverage that was broadcast by both NBC Sports and USA Network.
“I always tell people, ‘If you like us on TV, you’re going to love us live,’” Haworth said.
This week’s event will be the ninth of 26 regular-season events that culminate with the Built Ford Tough World Finals in Las Vegas in late October.
Already it’s been something of a banner year for the PBR.
Attendance is up three percent over this same time period a year ago.
In 2013, the PBR set personal attendance records in six cities in terms of total tickets sold. In 2014, the organization has already set four records – Duluth, Ga.; Sacramento, Calif.; Anaheim, Calif., and Kansas City, Mo. – with a fifth expected this weekend.
Three of those records – Sacramento, Anaheim and Kansas City – were previously set last year.
Last Saturday’s performance in Kansas City was a sellout of more than 13,000 fans at the Sprint Center.
At each stop along the tour, in-arena announcers Clint Adkins and Brandon Bates, along with entertainer Flint Rasmussen, have asked the live audience who happens to be attending the PBR for their first time.
Each time there has been a resounding applause, which Haworth said indicates the PBR is “growing for the future.”
He added, “We know this, we’ve had and have the most passionate fans of any sport out there.”
Fan engagement via Facebook continues to out-market most other major sports organizations, as the sport’s PTAT number (People Talking About This) consistently sits above 10 percent.
The PBR’s impressive fan engagement numbers earned it recognition as a finalist last year in the category of “Facebook Engagement” at the Cynopsis Sports Media Awards.
Speaking of which, Haworth observed, “The way people are consuming content is so much different than it was five years ago and definitely different than it was 10 years ago.”
In addition to PBR.com, which saw an increase of 34 percent unique visitors in January over the same month a year earlier, the PBR uses a trio of social media outlets – Facebook, Twitter and more recently Instagram – to deliver its message to fans along with providing a Live Event Center online as well as a Spanish language broadcast via epicentre.tv.
This past weekend, during the Built Ford Tough Series event in Kansas City, Mo., PBR.com surpassed the 1 million milestone for Facebook “likes.” After taking four years to reach 500,000, the page doubled in size in only seven months.
According to Facebook statistics, the PBR’s page has grown by 515,655 followers since July of last year. That is ahead of many other major sports organizations, including NASCAR (468,884) and the NHL (300,867). During that span, the PBR’s total follower number surpassed that of the PGA Tour and Major League Soccer.
Globally the PBR has 1.6 million followers through various Facebook pages, including Brazil, Canada, Australia and PBR Latino.
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“I think it speaks to the focus of our team,” Haworth said. “It’s exciting to think about the team and teamwork we’re building here.”
The PBR has been at the forefront of connecting with fans and is a model example of how beneficial it can be when bull riders and stock contractors personally engage with the ever-growing fan base through Facebook and Twitter.
It’s been a similar phenomenon to the longstanding tradition in which riders make themselves available for autographs and photos following every performance.
According to Neal, CBS Sports Network and others have used the PBR as an example of how to integrate and engage social media into television broadcasts. In fact, Leah Garcia recently tweeted with reigning World Champion J.B. Mauney live on the air when he missed a recent BFTS event in St. Louis because of a hand injury.
Haworth also talked about the strength and health of the sport leading to increased exposure as well—making it a matter of compelling storylines.
In addition to the backstories of riders and the classic man versus beast matchups, new fans, core fans and casual observers are intrigued by the animal athletes.
Mauney was recently featured in Time magazine, while the announcement that Bushwacker – perhaps the most popular bull and certainly greatest bucking bull of all time – would retire at the conclusion of the 2014 season was picked up nationwide by major media outlets, including USA Today.
“At the end of the day, it’s about competition,” Haworth said, “and what’s happening there.”
Follow Keith Ryan Cartwright on Twitter @PBR_KRC.
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