In 2015, WME|IMG made waves when it announced its purchase of Professional Bull Riders (PBR). What exactly did a talent agency headquartered in Beverly Hills have in mind in acquiring a sport historically believed to be engaged in and enjoyed by cowboys?
One year into the partnership, glimmers of the grand plans WME|IMG has to grow the popularity of PBR are emerging. And for those familiar with WME|IMG’s vast media arsenal, it shouldn’t be surprising that media is the driving force behind the strategy.
In the last month and surrounding the start of the second half of its season, PBR has launched both a Netflix documentary and mobile application game. The push with both endeavors is clear: Reach millennials and provide them with greater PBR insights and story lines.
“Fearless,” a six-part Netflix documentary, takes viewers inside the emotions, mentality and preparation faced by a group of Brazilian bull riders making their way through the PBR circuit. Unlike ever before, viewers are given behind-the-scenes access into the grit, determination and perseverance necessary to survive in the sport. The look introduces viewers to the idea that bull riders don’t necessarily participate in the sport to strike it rich or gain celebrity. Rather, they see men who leave their homes and families behind for a mere love of sport and craving for adventure.
“I feel like ‘Fearless’ shows the world what this sport is about. It’s hard for the world to know and fully understand and appreciate what they’re seeing when they see bull riding. The documentary gives a real look into what is involved in this sport and how extreme it is. Suddenly, skateboarding doesn’t seem so extreme after seeing this,”nine-time World Champion Cowboy, Ty Murray, told RULING SPORTS.
While “Fearless” provides a behind-the-scenes view of PBR, the organization realizes that it must meet millennials where they are to grow that segment of its fan base. This August, PBR in partnership with Rare Labs, launched mobile game 8 to Glory. The game, available on iOS and Android, gives players the chance to compete against others around the world on various bull rider and bull combinations to see if they can last eight-seconds in the arena.
“We consider bull riding a very dangerous sport. It is the most difficult eight-seconds in sports, we believe. This is probably one of the only sports where someone can die doing what they love. To allow fans to have the opportunity to feel what it’s like, this game is the first step,” PBR’s vice president of consumer products, John Sohigian, said.
For PBR, 8 to Glory presents a new opportunity to reach a target market that is increasingly reliant on smartphone technology.
“We had a video game a few years ago, but we wanted to come into the new age where everything is going mobile. Our first target market with the game is millennials. Our younger fans will engage with it first, but it also is a game that middle-aged people can get into and compete with their kids using,” Sohigian noted.
As PBR continues making a media push, the sport’s popularity and viewership have been rising. Over the last five years, PBR’s average viewership has increased from 969,000 to 1.184 million per broadcast. This year’s viewership is expected to overtake that number. At the start of the second-half of the season, event attendance increased 4.7-percent, with PBR estimating the percentage to rise to 15-to-20-percent by season’s end. Beyond that, PBR’s fan base is growing at a rate exceeding that of college sports and the four major sports leagues in America.
Time will tell how great of a role PBR’s media push will have in the sport’s growth. Yet, those who have stood alongside PBR since its infancy, including co-founder Ty Murray, believe that growing PBR’s media presence is necessary to give the sport greater recognition.
“We’re working every way we can to get people to see what an amazing sport we have. When you define what sport is and what an athlete is, we have both in spades. Whether you’re talking about the physical or mental aspect, we have it on another level. All sports have the pressure of winning and losing. On top of it, this sport has the pressure of living or dying,” Murray said.