For geezer drunks and slumming hipster youth, the letters PBR stand for Pabst Blue Ribbon. But for a growing cadre of thrill enthusiasts, PBR means the Professional Bull Riders Inc., a rodeo offshoot that features statistics such as “buckoff percentage” and draws more than a million paying fans annually.
“I didn’t know much about bull riding until I went to my first PBR event in 1994,” says Randy Bernard, the group’s CEO. “I’d been to a Mike Tyson fight, and I felt that same energy. That’s when I got hooked.” Bernard signed on to run the PBR the following year and has overseen the group’s growth from fringe outfit to respectable niche sport, winning TV deals with the Outdoor Life Network and sponsors like Ford Trucks and Wrangler jeans.
“Everyone thinks of cowboys as rednecks, but we’ve tried to make our sport more rock ‘n’ roll, like a Van Halen concert,” says Bernard. One tactic: promoting bulls, instead of the cowboys, as the sport’s true stars. “One time we did a million-dollar match where the bull rider, Chris Shivers, stayed at the local DoubleTree, but the bull, Little Yellow Jacket, stayed at a five-star resort. And we did a weigh-in, like in boxing. People loved it!”
So has Bernard ever ridden a bull himself? “Nope. Never will, not even a mechanical bull.” Why not? “Too dangerous,” he says, an unspoken “Duh!” evident in his tone. “I’ll leave that to the professionals.”