ARLINGTON, Texas ― Since its inception 20 years ago, the PBR has continuously provided the top bull riders in the world with countless opportunities that were unimaginable before the 20 founders voted to establish bull riding as a standalone sport.
In 1996, the total purse at the PBR World Finals was increased to $1 million and three years later it was increased to more than $1.5 million. In 2003, Chris Shivers won his second world title and claimed the $1 million bonus awarded to the World Champion.
In 2001, Ross Coleman rode Tuff Enuff for $100,000 and, Jim Sharp earned more than $120,000 when he rode Dillinger in Fort Worth, Texas in 2002. In 2003, Owen Washburn collected more than $125,000 at a PBR event in Bossier City, La. In 2007, Justin McBride broke the record for the richest bull ride when he rode Scene of the Crash for $150,000 en route to setting a single-season record by earning more than $1.8 million.
He's the richest western athlete in history with more the $5.1 million.
There have been 27 riders to eclipse the $1 million mark, including Brendon Clark, who did so last week in Tulsa, Okla., and in 2010 the PBR surpassed $100 million prize money awarded. Three short years later and the organization is already at $130 million.
J.B. Mauney earned $343,000 at the World Finals in 2009. A few months later, February of 2010, Valdiron de Oliveira took home largest single-day payout of $260,000 when he won the first Iron Cowboy. Luke Snyder was the 2011 Last Cowboy Standing and earned a $216,500 payday for his efforts.
Two-time reigning World Champion Silvano Alves has reached the $1 million, $2 million and $3 million mark faster than anyone in history. In fact, since coming to the U.S. in 2010, he's averaged over $100,000 a month in career earnings, including two $1 million bonuses.
The financial impact the PBR has had on bull riders is staggering, to say the least.
"That was our dream," said nine-time World Champion Ty Murray, who was one of the 20 founders along with David Bailey Jr., Clint Branger, Mark Cain, Adam Carrillo, Gilbert Carrillo, Cody Custer, Jerome Davis, Bobby DelVecchio, Mike Erikson, David Fournier, Michael Gaffney, Tuff Hedeman, Cody Lambert, Scott Mendes, Daryl Mills, Ted Nuce, Aaron Semas, Jim Sharp and the late Brent Thurman.
"It feels great to me to see guys on the biggest stage of bull riding, and have a chance to earn some money like that," Murray said.
PBR co-founder Cody Lambert speaks at THE AMERICAN press conference on Thursday. Photo by Jerry McClure.
"Our bull riders have had that kind of opportunity before," Lambert added. "It doesn't come along that often, but they get it; but I'm extremely proud that everyone else in the other events will get to see what that's like and what that feels like."
The opportunity Lambert is speaking of is THE AMERICAN.
With the slogan "A new rodeo is born…" THE AMERICAN will become the largest, richest one-day rodeo in the history of the sport with a total payout of $2 million. It will take place Sunday, March 2, 2014 in Arlington, Texas, at AT&T Stadium (commonly known as Cowboys Stadium).
Rural Media Group CEO and President Randy Bernard made the announcement at a press conference Thursday morning.
The marquee event will pay $100,000 to the winners of each rodeo event ― bareback riding, bronc riding, team roping, tie-down roping, barrel racing, steer wrestling and bull riding ― and $25,000 for second place.
In addition to the winning payouts, if a "qualifier" happens to win the event at AT&T Stadium they will have earned their share of an additional $1 million bonus.
According to Bernard, invitations will be sent to the Top 10 bull riders in the world standings following this year's PBR World Finals and invites will then be sent to the Top 10 athletes in the remaining events following the National Finals Rodeo in December.
There will be qualifier events and Bernard also reserves the right to hand out exemptions to elite athletes, who wouldn't have otherwise competed in what many have already called a historic event.
"It's about showcasing greatness in rodeo," Lambert said. "It's about greatness, just like the PBR. It's about honoring greatness and rewarding greatness."
Charmayne James, an 11-time World Champion barrel racer, said, "I really believe THE AMERICAN will be the single biggest thing that's happened for rodeo in its history. It is exciting to see this type of money for the people that deserve it most-the rodeo contestants."
Eight-time World Champion Larry Mahan agreed.
He added, "Witness history."
At Thursday's press conference, eight-time World Champion Donnie Gay said THE AMERICAN has the potential to change lives.
VIDEO: RFD-TV presents THE AMERICAN
"Anytime that there is innovation in the sport of rodeo that is used to make it more exciting and relevant for the fans in today's world is great," said seven-time World Champion saddle bronc rider Dan Mortensen, "and that is what this event is."
Along with the PBR, which will host the Iron Cowboy V the night before THE AMERICAN, the rodeo is being sanctioned by the Professional Rough Stock, United States Team Roping Championships, Ultimate Calf Roping and Better Barrel Races.
Noticeably missing from the event is the PRCA.
"As an official statement they make no statement to it," Lambert said, "I guess, because their rules probably wouldn't allow them to sanction it, but they certainly should endorse it and try to be a part of it because this is a great opportunity for rodeo at the highest level."
Lambert added, "They should be proud of that rather than ignore it. Just ignore it and maybe it'll go away, that's the attitude. I don't know. I don't know what the (heck) they're thinking, but to me it's a shame. I'm proud the bull riders got the opportunity, but I'm also just as proud that all the other guys in the other rodeo events are going to get that opportunity. I'm just as proud of that. Our bull riders have had that kind of opportunity before. It doesn't come along that often, but they get it, but I'm extremely proud that everyone else in the other events will get to see what that's like and what that feels like."
Reaction from athletes throughout rodeo has been overwhelmingly positive.
Trevor Brazile, who recorded a video message played during the press conference, called into "Western Sports Round Up" on RURAL RADIO SiriusXM 80 and raved about the opportunity.
Brazile has won a total of 17 world titles. He wasn't the only multi-World Champion excited about the idea of competing at THE AMERICAN.
Tuf Cooper, a two-time World Champion tie-down roper, took to social media and tweeted:
"This is an event that could expose people to Cheyenne (Frontier Days) and history and the legends that have come before," Lambert explained. "It's funny to me that that PRCA is not interested in being part of this. … Whether they decide to be a part of it or not it's Trevor Brazile. It's still Tuf Cooper. It's still the Wright brothers. It's still the best guys in the PRCA that are in this event."
Just as the annual Arlington event has become a marquee event for the PBR, Bernard and organizers of THE AMERICAN are hoping to do the same for rodeo.
According to Lambert, THE AMERICAN is not only an opportunity for the contestants, but also a chance to expose and market the sport of rodeo to a larger audience.
"The thing that the PBR has tried to do from day one is make things better for the fans," Murray said. "What is more exciting to a fan to see then guys compete when there's a lot on the line or it's a bigger deal? That's sports. If there's a million dollars on the putt it suddenly becomes more interesting. Everybody wants to see what the outcome is.
"That's something the PBR has been able to do ― they've made the opportunities better for the riders because first they made the opportunities better for the fan. That's where, when and why it got better for the riders."
Follow Keith Ryan Cartwright on Twitter @PBR_KRC
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