By: Andrew Giangola
In 1993, 20 rodeo cowboys pooled together $1,000 each to form a standalone bull riding league. For their first event, they took their new sport to the most iconic venue possible – the Cowtown Coliseum, an intimate, history-soaked venue in Fort Worth, Texas, which hosted the first indoor rodeo in 1918 and where longhorn steers stroll by twice a day on a cattle run.
In the 28 ensuring years, PBR grew to be a nationally televised sport operating in five countries. The organization also went full circle, returning to its rodeo roots to form partnerships with WCRA (World Champions Rodeo Alliance), Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo, and the NHSRA (National High School Rodeo Association), among others.
Continuing to wield its marketing and media might to introduce Western sports to new audiences, PBR has returned to the historic Fort Worth Stockyards District, making the Cowtown Coliseum a new hub for promoting league and partner events, which will serve up new programming for fans to enjoy live in person or on PBR’s media channels.
This morning, on the steps of the iconic Cowtown Coliseum, the world’s leading bull riding organization joined giant venue operator ASM Global and Forth Worth’s Stockyards Heritage Development Co. to announce a new joint venture to operate the venerable Cowtown Coliseum and to expand entertainment programming and marketing partnerships within the National Historic District.
Through this landmark partnership, the three new partners will manage and promote Cowtown Coliseum and portions of the surrounding historic District, including event programming like Friday night’s “PBR Stockyards Showcase,” which combines a PBR Touring Pro Division event with a brand new concept, “Bulls Gone Wild.”
In addition, PBR will produce dozens of Western sports events at Cowtown Coliseum annually, as well as concerts, live entertainment and other Western lifestyle content. This programming will also be available to fans everywhere, broadcast on PBR’s various media distribution channels, including RidePass.
A goal of the partnership is to make the Fort Worth Stockyards a global epicenter for the Western lifestyle, growing the visitor count from its current flow of 4.7 million visitors a year to seven million visitors annually.
The new U.S. Census lists Fort Worth as the twelfth-largest city in the United States.
“Our founders’ first event was here in Fort Worth; it’s the epicenter of cowboy culture and cowboy history, part of PBR’s own history and heritage, and now a big part of our future,” said Sean Gleason, PBR Commissioner and CEO.
Gleason said that while traditional PBR events will be a cornerstone of the new Stockyards relationship, “we’ll also experiment with different formats for an audience coming more for lifestyle experiences. Cowtown Coliseum gives us a great place to incubate and tweak those concepts for those already interested in the Western lifestyle.”
Under Gleason, PBR’s media strategy has expanded to include other Western sports that haven’t been broadly available to consumers in recent decades.
For example, the Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo will be paired with PBR Unleash The Beast for a historic Western sports weekend in Las Vegas on June 11-13. The all-Black rodeo will be broadcast on CBS Television Network on June 19.
With Bill Pickett’s statue sitting outside the Cowtown Coliseum, it’s a good bet fans will someday see the namesake rodeo in the same arena where Pickett, who invented the sport now known as steer wrestling, competed in 1908 during the Fort Worth Stock Show.
“As we expand our programming in Fort Worth, we’ll make the events available for people at home to tune in, whether over television or RidePass,” Gleason said.
Whether it’s a Bill Pickett, WCRA, or high school finals rodeo, fans can expect to see properties aligned with PBR showcasing their events in Fort Worth.
“Being able to take the gloves off and go full throttle with two amazing partners is great,” said Bob Newman, chairman of ASM, the world’s leading producer of entertainment experiences, in an interview with Sportico, which broke the Cowtown partnership news this morning.
“This has all the makings of a very unique, powerful and attractive event-driven destination. The PBR is the best in the business at creating new content, and their fan base is one of the most passionate and dedicated fan bases we’ve ever encountered in the world.”
Gleason is stoked for PBR to partner with Newman and ASM on such an exciting project, especially following the two organizations’ accomplishments during the pandemic.
More than half of PBR events in its premier series are held at ASM venues, and PBR was able to pioneer the return of fans to indoor arenas in July 2020, and then the first events offered at capacity in March 2021, by partnering with ASM to develop new fan safety protocols rolled out at the Denny Sanford PREMIER Center in Sioux Falls, S.D.
The Fort Worth Stockyards have already benefitted from hundreds of millions of dollars of investment in recent years, including more than $200 million with Mule Alley and the Hotel Drover over the past three years. The three-way partnership will add new entertainment experiences to supercharge the draw to visitors.
“We look forward to expanding on our vision of elevating and enhancing the visitor experience while we pay careful attention to the history and legacy of the Stockyards,” said Craig Cavileer, managing partner for Stockyards Heritage Development Co. “We know that PBR and ASM share our core values and will make great partners for us and for the City of Fort Worth.”
The first event at Cowtown Coliseum under the new joint venture and a harbinger for future Western-lifestyle programming to come will be the PBR Stockyards Showcase on Friday, June 4.
After a bull riding stop for the Touring Pro Division, the PBR Stockyards Showcase will premiere PBR Bulls Gone Wild, a specially-formatted bullfighting extravaganza that brings together celebrity guest stars, the world’s best freestyle bullfighters, and zany game show challenges such as Bull Jenga, Cowboy Poker, and Toro Bowling.
That’s the kind of compelling and sometimes unexpected live entertainment, bridging traditional and cutting edge, old and new, to be expected in Cowtown.
“Most visitors are here for the historic experience and to see a place where the Western lifestyle has a long and storied history. Bringing in new event experiences, we think we can grow that number when word gets out there’s a lot more to do in the district,” Gleason said.
In all, PBR’s position at the forefront of the booming Western lifestyle just got a lot bigger in Fort Worth. As live events ramp up, the sport is doubling down on creating fun and entertaining experiences.
“Fort Worth is a city of great character with great characters,” Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price said at today’s press event. “This is the city of cowboy culture, and I can’t think of a better place for PBR to hang its hat than Fort Worth.”
Indeed, as the Mayor spoke, the Fort Worth Herd cattle drive slowly moved through Exchange Avenue, just as it does like clockwork every morning and afternoon.
The city is known as “where the west begins.” The cattle drive was the perfect visual for the beginning of a partnership that may be transformative for both Fort Worth and PBR.
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