PUEBLO, Colo. ― Shortly after Ryan Seacrest had wrapped up the first season of "American Idol", the Los Angeles radio personality-turned-television host drove down to nearby Anaheim, Calif.
Seacrest was at the arena during the afternoon with the bullfighters to shoot a segment for "The Tonight Show" with Jay Leno. At one point, he found himself safely tucked into the barrel with a bull out in the middle of the arena and then later that night ― during the Built Ford Tough Series event ― he interviewed several riders behind the chutes, including Ross Coleman and Ednei Caminhas.
At the time, Caminhas' broken English was spotty at best, so the show played along by subtitling his interview with "@#%^&@#."
That's just one of the many times in the previous 19 seasons the PBR has been featured on late night talk shows - "The Tonight Show", "Late Night with Jimmy Fallon"and "Last Call with Carson Daly"- and morning news programs like "CBS This Morning"and "Good Morning America," both of which featured the PBR earlier this month when the BFTS was in New York.
The PBR has also been involved with "The Today Show," including the time when both Adriano Moraes and Rocky McDonald were so smitten by Maria Menounos that co-host Matt Lauer was the one to tease the Madison Square Garden event as they rolled out to a commercial break.
"It was uncharted. Nobody had ever been there as a cowboy, as somebody leading a cowboy organization. Those were things that had never been done."
Throughout its 20th anniversary season, the PBR will profile the Top 20 Moments in PBR History. "Mainstream Impact" is the latest in an ongoing series of moments.
The laundry list of exposure includes: Sports Illustrated, People,ESPN the Magazine as well as on ESPN's "SportsCenter" and "Outside the Lines." Nine-time World Champion and PBR co-founder Ty Murray competed on "Dancing with the Stars", while fan-favorite Cord McCoy twice did the same on "The Amazing Race." The organization has also received regular coverage in USA Today, The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Denver Post and other metropolitan newspapers, as well as internationally.
Several years ago, LeRoy Neiman, who famously painted Muhammad Ali, painted Murray on Red Wolf.
Two-time World Champion Justin McBride and Denise Abbott, senior director of public relations, remember the period from 2002-08 as the golden age of coverage for the PBR. In fact, McBride said the meteoric rise in popularity was unheard of in the world of professional bull riding (and certainly had never been experienced in rodeo).
In that seven-year window the PBR was profiled in Cosmopolitan, Maxim, and Time magazines. Then there were various television programs from "MTV Made" to "You Gotta See This" on FOX.
E! Entertainment television came to the World Finals to do a feature on Murray and Jewel.
"We used the assets that we had to attract the mainstream media," Abbott said.
The exposure has even reached beyond sports or entertainment to include business coverage, which includes everything from annual appearances on Don Imus' syndicated radio and television show to Sports Business Journal.
When McBride and Coleman debuted at the turn of the century it was as if the UNLV college teammates were thrust into the national spotlight.
"I had had no sort of media training and was just kind of thrown into the fire," recalled McBride.
"They were characters in and of themselves," Abbott said, "they got it and they had over-the-top personalities."
Their first big exposure was appearing on "The Best Damn Sports Show" on FOX Sports with Michael Irvin, John Salley, John Kruk and Chris Rose.
According to McBride, the four co-hosts made he and Coleman feel comfortable. In fact, he added, "They did such a great job of it I actually had a pretty bad screw up."
Rose asked the two bull riders to share the craziest thing they had ever seen at an event involving a fan. Coleman laughed, while McBride talked about a fan in Albuquerque who jumped into the arena while Promise Land was still running around.
Irvin, Salley and Kruk couldn't believe it.
McBride, who said he was "painting them a picture," continued his humorous story by adding, "Yeah, this drunk Injun from in the stands jumped down."
Everyone on the stage was still laughing, so McBride never thought twice about what he had said, while Abbott cringed and wrote in her notebook: "MEDIA TRAINING IMMEDIATELY."
However, in the moment, the segment went so well the producers asked McBride and Coleman to overstay their scheduled segment and were featured for half the show that night. McBride never knew anything was wrong until immediately afterward when he took a phone call from Randy Bernard.
The then-CEO was none-too-happy with McBride's Injun reference.
Mauney doing an interview for VH1 before the Monster Energy
in New York.
"He wasn't too happy, but he forgave me for it," said McBride, who said it was unintentional and honest mistake. In any case, producers overlooked the slip and invited each World Champion to appear on the show for the next several years (until the series was eventually canceled).
"That wasoneof my early blunders in big media," McBride recalled, "and, yeah, then I had another one early on."
An English journalist came to the U.S. to interview McBride at his ranch in Oklahoma for a feature that would appear in Men's Journal. McBride learned the hard way that not everything is off the record, even in situations when an unknown writer claims they're off the record.
"It was a valuable lesson for me," he said.
McBride did the interview the morning of the same day he was hosting his own birthday party. When the lengthy interview concluded that afternoon, he invited the writer to stay enjoy the party, but when the article finally appeared in the magazine the entire story centered around a wild bunch of drunk cowboys.
"I didn't think it was that bad, really," said McBride, with a grin on his face. "But it wasn't the puff piece that the PBR was used to having. It wasn't about good ole country boys riding bulls for a living. It was the first of its kind."
In hindsight, McBride said it did wind up being a breakthrough piece. According to him, it introduced a whole new audience that reads Men's Journal to "a young, wild, ass-kicking bull rider named Ross Coleman.
"People were like, 'Whoa, this isn't just some crazy hick who rides bulls. This is a rock star.' It was one of my early media blunders, but maybe not a blunder. I think Randy, in hindsight, we started realizing that stuff as we went."
McBride added, "Randy gets a lot of credit for what he did for the PBR and he should, but people have to remember, he was learning too as he went with a lot of this stuff. It was uncharted. Nobody had ever been there as a cowboy, as somebody leading a cowboy organization. Those were things that had never been done."
McBride and Coleman were young, single and didn't mind being away from home for a week or two at a time. They stayed in nice hotels, ate fancy steak dinners and, as McBride is quick to remind, drank the finest whiskey.
In spite of a few missteps they were cast in the role of spokesmen for the sport along with Chris Shivers and a few others. Murray has always represented the face of the co-founders and very early on so too did Tuff Hedeman. But by the time they were midway through the first decade of the new millennium McBride was clearly heralded as the face of the sport.
"As things evolved and as my riding improved, I think, my media skills improved too as I went," said McBride, who believes representing the PBR brand goes hand-in-hand with being given the opportunity to compete for millions dollars, "and it became something that when they needed something done they would just call me to do it."
In 2008, while recovering from shoulder surgery, McBride was asked to handle pre-event publicity for all 32 Built Ford Tough Series events.
He traveled ahead of the event and spent Tuesday through Friday making appearances and doing interviews in every city the PBR visited. By then he was married and became a father to the first of his two children.
"As things evolved and as my riding improved, I think, my media skills improved too as I went."
"It got harder for me to do," he admitted, "but, I will say, I never shunned from it. I understood that was part of the responsibility of being a World Champion."
McBride learned that early on from watching former Champions like Michael Gaffney and Shivers as well as founders like Ty Murray, Cody Lambert and Jim Sharp. He added, "The job was to keep elevating the sport as it elevated me."
In the five years, since he retired, the approach has been to use a wide range of riders (as well as bulls) in the role once filled by McBride and Coleman. In fact, twice in 2011 the PBR was featured in the Wall Street Journal and both times the newspaper focused on Bushwacker.
According Abbott, "The idea of bulls being athletes was new to people, so it was intriguing."
The key to its mainstream success in the media was having built stars and McBride had clearly become the biggest star in western culture. By the time he retired he won two world titles and was the richest athlete in Western sports having won more than $5.1 million.
The key to using McBride was not only that he had been in every type of situation and could handle the situation, but, more importantly, he could get his point across to sell the sport to the general public.
Later in his career, McBride said his priorities changed and he wanted to spend time alone in his hotel room to "get dialed in to what I was there for."
Not all riders are accustomed to media, but McBride shared that responsibility with Coleman and guys like Tater Porter and Luke Snyder. Later it became J.B. Mauney and Kody Lostroh. Now the PBR will look to guys like Douglas Duncan and Shane Proctor.
Luckily there's a whole new era of young guns stepping into the spotlight once dominated by McBride, Coleman and Shivers.
"Those guys have grown and retired and while they're still here helping the sport along, there's a new generation of guys coming along," Abbott said. "We've got J.B. Mauney, who stepped in, and we've got Douglas Duncan, Ryan Dirteater, Stormy Wing, Chase Outlaw. All these guys have unique, little quirks to their personalities…to attract the mainstream media - that's how the sport is going to grow and escalate.
"Those are the guys who are going to take us there."
Follow Keith Ryan Cartwright on Twitter @PBR_KRC
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