PUEBLO, Colo. - As the PBR approaches the 20th anniversary of hosting its first event in Fort Worth, Texas, the organization continues to emerge as the most recognizable global brand related to the Western lifestyle.
In just two decades, the dream of 20 bull riders has become a global sports phenomenon that is televised worldwide. More than 100 million viewers annually watch primetime PBR programming on networks around the world, including CBS, CBS Sports Network, NBC and NBC Sports Network.
In the U.S., nearly two million fans attend Built Ford Tough Series and Touring Pro Division events each year.
In Brazil, however, there are more than 1,800 rodeos each year, and they attract a combined live audience that approaches 30 million spectators annually - making it the most popular live sport in the country. Rodeo is the second most popular televised sport in Brazil, behind soccer.
"You see 45,000 people show up and then another 40,000 people stick around to be a part of the environment," said PBR CEO Jim Haworth, who recently attended a PBR Brazil event held in conjunction with Festa do Peao de Barretos. "It is phenomenal."
According to research conducted by Price Waterhouse Corp., a corporate finance and transaction service company based in Brazil, the Barretos event attracts 800,000 tourists annually and creates upwards of 15,000 temporary jobs during the weeklong event.
"What's great about this sport is that it translates across a lot of different demographics."
PwC reports also indicate that 71 percent of temporary workers at rodeo and bull riding events, which amount to 300,000 workers annually throughout the country, earn three times the minimum salary.
According to Haworth, who has extensive international business experience, when it comes to economic growth, most global businesses are concentrating on China, India and Brazil.
"We're already in Brazil," he said, "and have a real successful business and a successful sport."
Haworth noted that ranching and the cowboy way of life are "embedded in the culture."
The BFTS events are televised on Canal Rural, while PBR Brahma Super Bulls events are telecast nationally on Rede TV, which also airs a weekly show - "Super Bull Brasil" - dedicated to promoting PBR Brazil, as well as the success of Brazilian riders in the United States.
The weekly show, as well as the Brazilian events, are also available in South America on GLOBO SAT HD TV.
"It's something that is homegrown," said Haworth, referring to the historical significance of bull riding in Brazil.
He added that as the sport continues to grow and gain popularity throughout South America - PwC research shows the audience figures for Brahma Super Bull events grew by 170 percent from 2011 to 2012 - a "natural extension" would be to look at Argentina as another possible destination for the PBR.
"What's great about this sport is that it translates across a lot of different demographics," Haworth said, "It translates in a lot of different countries and I think when we look at a lot of the opportunities -not only what we see here - there are plenty of opportunities (in the U.S.) for growth. But as we think of different countries down the road, it's amazing to think about how large we could be someday - and really, truly a world sport."
One obstacle to expanding into China is that laws prohibit shipping livestock from the U.S. to China.
Haworth said, "We can take bulls from Australia into Asia … so we'll use that as a strategic hub."
He later added, "I think there are some spots that we can go. Who knows, maybe we'll come up with bull riding in China some time."
The crowd floods the dirt after a bull riding in Sao do Rio Preto, Brazil.
While the PBR is still establishing itself as a viable mainstream sport in the U.S., it does have global advantages over other sports like the NFL. The NFL is viewed as the single most popular sport in the world, but that's largely based on its economic presence in the U.S.
There have been 40 NFL games outside of the U.S. since 1986.
This year's international series will feature a regular-season game between the New England Patriots and the St. Louis Rams.
The Rams have recently backed out of playing the annual game in London next year and the year after, and have been replaced by the Jacksonville Jaguars. The Jaguars have struggled in recent years to sell season-ticket packages and are hoping that by offering U.S. fans one fewer home games it could, in fact, make season tickets more affordable.
In a 2007 article with Bloomberg.com, the NFL indicated a desire to have every team play one game outside of the U.S. each season within five years, and that within 10 years, they would have fulltime teams in London, Mexico City and Canada. However, in a report published by the Associated Press, sources said that in spite of "ambitious expansion" plans by the NFL, fulltime teams outside of the U.S. wouldn't be considered until the 2030s.
NFL teams based in Seattle, Oakland, Calif., San Francisco and Phoenix would face 12-hour flights to London.
The Buffalo Bills' series with nearby Toronto, Canada, proved to be disappointing, and in 2007, the league scrapped a planned pre-season game in China soon after its initial announcement.
"They're trying to work on building an international sport," Haworth said, "We have that week in and week out. You look at some of our top riders from Brazil, Australia and Canada. We have a very big benefit as we think about the growth of our sport - not only what we do here to compete in the U.S., but then also how we take that to other countries.
"You think about the founders 20 years ago: Would they have ever thought we would be as big as what you're seeing today?"
It remains to be seen if and when the PBR will expand into China, but the eyes of the world are now cast on Brazil.
In 2014, the country will host the World Cup soccer tournament, and in 2016, it will play host to the Summer Olympics. As more people familiarize themselves with the Brazilian economy, they may be surprised to discover the overwhelming popularity of PBR Brazil.
"Brazil is continuing to make sure they help promote this great sport that we have," Haworth concluded, "and specifically helping to promote the PBR."
Follow Keith Ryan Cartwright on Twitter @PBR_KRC.
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