ARLINGTON, Texas ― For those who know Randy Bernard best, it comes as no surprise the former CEO of the PBR has another idea.
As a matter of fact, the Paso Robles, Calif., native has made a career out of "big ideas."
Thursday morning, at AT&T Stadium (commonly known as Cowboys Stadium), Bernard gathered several former World Champions from the world of professional bull riding and pro rodeo ― Ty Murray, Justin McBride, Larry Mahan and Donnie Gay ― to announce the largest one-day payout in rodeo history.
The March 2 event ― billed as THE AMERICAN ― has $2 million added and several retired competitors contemplating a one-day return to competition for a chance at winning a $1 million bonus.
"I think I know better than anyone about Randy Bernard and his big ideas," said McBride, a two-time PBR World Champion who is weighing a return in bull riding and bareback bronc riding. "It's the biggest thing that's ever happened to the sport of rodeo, that's for sure.
"Guys that rodeo, they don't get that kind of opportunity. I think this will go down as a monumental time in the sport and again Randy Bernard's name is going to be attached to it."
Bernard's big ideas and interest in rodeo is nothing new.
In 1992, he was working with the California Mid State Fair when he reached out to Murray and Cody Lambert with an idea to have the top-two, ranked rodeo athletes in the PRCA's all-around standings match-up against one another.
While the Mid State Fair hosted a relatively small rodeo, the other entertainment events featured the likes of Garth Brooks and George Strait, as well as Alan Jackson and Reba McEntire. However, they were having trouble drawing crowds on Thursday nights.
That all changed once Bernard reached out to Lambert.
Looking back at it, Lambert still laughs at the fact that he didn't even know who Bernard was and in August, while he was out on the rodeo trail, the last thing he wanted to do was fly out west for a $1,000 added event. So he overpriced Bernard for the special challenge and was surprised when the young promotions man agreed to meet the asking price.
"They treated us like celebrities," Lambert said. "We had our own dressing rooms and they picked us up in limos.
"We had never experienced that going to these rodeos."
Bernard promoted it again in 1993 and again it sold out.
A year later, he promoted a PBR event during the fair.
That night, after the bull riding, Tuff Hedeman and Lambert were in Bernard's office when they noticed an airline ticket on Bernard's desk. Lambert asked where he was headed, while Hedeman picked the ticket up to examine the round-trip ticket to Colorado Springs, Colo.
He was planning to interview for a position with the PRCA.
"When we walked out of there," Lambert recalled, "Tuff and I said to each other this is serious and we need to try and get this guy."
They wanted Bernard to meet with their lawyer, who also had an office in Colorado Springs, but Bernard didn't feel right about meeting with him at the PRCA's expense, so he flew back to California and then proceeded to board the next flight back to Colorado.
From day one, Lambert admired the way Bernard did business.
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Ultimately Bernard chose the PBR largely because they offered him the CEO position and the PRCA was interested in hiring him in their sponsorship department.
"He's had some pretty big undertakings from the get-go," said Murray. "If you look at the PBR in its infancy, he took 20 bull riders with an idea and you have to rewind 20 years to imagine what that was like. A lot of people gave us that bless-your-heart-smile and that's-cute-and-good-luck-type-of-thing. Twenty years ago it was a joke to most people. Randy had some legitimate job offers back then, but he wanted to go with bull riding because it excited him the most and he saw the most opportunity to make something. That's just how he is. That's how he's been ever since I've known him, and that's how he still is today. He loves to have an opportunity to make an impact."
Perhaps, no one has felt that impact like McBride, who was afforded an opportunity to retire in the prime of his career having earned more than $5.1 million in a 10-year career.
McBride specifically recalled Bernard walking into the locker room, in 2003, and announcing the World Champion would earn a $1 million bonus. He actually thought the idea was "crazy," but loved it.
After nearly 20 years of ideas, Bernard's ideas have become commonplace.
"It doesn't seem as big to them," said McBride, of the $1 million bonus paid to the World Champion. "I know it's big, but they expect that at the end of the year. There had never been anything like that. It hadn't been heard of or thought about-nothing."
Ten years later, Bernard, the CEO and president of Rural Media Group, which owns RFD-TV, is hoping to do the same for rodeo with THE AMERICAN.
"This is a big endeavor," said Murray. "I've worked with Randy Bernard enough, he thinks big and he's not just looking for it to be an overnight success."
Added McBride, "I talked to him at 10:30 at night, this past week, and he was still at his office. He never stops working. He's always working."
Bernard is known for pitching ideas and constantly trying to come up with new ideas or, as Murray said, "The next best thing."
"He's been involved in lots of different business and sports, but he loves rodeo," Lambert said. "Randy is a rodeo guy. Lots of people don't understand that ranching and rodeo are part of his past and have always been on his mind.
"Not only is (THE AMERICAN) the biggest one-day rodeo ever, but it's also Randy Bernard doing it. Randy has a history of making things better."
Follow Keith Ryan Cartwright on Twitter @PBR_KRC
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