Bullish Forecast – Future bright for large
rodeo shows, while independents continue to struggle
Author: Dave Brooks
Date: November 01,2007
In professional cowboy circles, it’s known as
Buckin’ Juice.
           
Steroids have reportedly infiltrated the world of bull riding.
Strangely, it’s not the bull riders who are allegedly juicing
up — it’s the bulls. The Professional Bull
Riders’ (PBR) CEO Randy Bernard has announced that he soon
plans to begin testing bulls for steroids after blood tests from
several bovine showed the animals were being injected with
performance-enhancing
substances.     
           
“We’re planning to roll out some type of testing
protocol for our World Finals Event” at the Thomas and Mack
Center in Las Vegas, Bernard said.     
           
Professional Bull Riding is growing up with its own demographic and
its own doping scandal. Corporate dirt shows are continuing to
develop as touring forces with their own professional sports
issues. PBR is continuing to push forward with expansion into South
America and Australia, while Grit Rock Rodeo has created a recent
partnership with AEG to book a series of arena shows under its
“World’s Toughest Cowboy” banner.
    
           
This growth hasn’t been great for all dirt show producers;
many independents said they’re seeing their own market share
diminish. Promoters like Montie Montana Jr. of Buffalo Bill’s
Wild West Show have essentially stopped touring and switched their
attention to one-offs and corporate
events.      
           
The death of Bruce Lehrke on March 16 meant the departure of one of
the last independent dirt show producers on the market. His death
would bring a cloud of uncertainty over his Longhorn World
Championship Rodeo, based in Nashville. In 2006, Lehrke produced 10
rodeos compromising 30 events, playing for about 160,000 people and
grossing nearly $1.3
million.        
           
At the most, Longhorn will hold five or six events in 2008 under
the direction of Lehrke’s daughter Heather, explained his
widow Sheila Lehrke.  
           
“We’re just taking on a handful of shows to test the
waters,” she said. “We’re only doing guaranteed
shows with promoters. We’re not looking to take any risks
this season.”    
           
Sheila Lehrke said her show is dealing with the problems faced by
other independent promoters – rising transportation costs, a
diminishing audience and shrinking attention span, coupled with a
stagnant ticket price that can’t push much higher than the
$10 to $15 range.   
           
“We keep going, but that means we’re going broke,
too,” joked Cotton Rosser of the Flying U Rodeo in
Marysville, Calif. This year, his company added 30 additional shows
to its calendar, saying that they have pushed through a
company-wide mandate to lower operational costs without
compromising the integrity of the show. Rosser said he also raised
ticket prices by $2 to a general admission price of $12
“which hasn’t brought any major outcry as far as I can
see.”
           
Rosser said he wants to keep his show in small markets, an area
some of the larger dirt show producers are looking to grow.
        
           
Bernard said PBR will expand its tertiary market Enterprise series,
a qualifying round for cowboys looking to ride in the Built Ford
Tough Series. This year, PBR has produced a handful of Enterprise
events at county fairs and festivals including the San Diego County
Fair in Del Mar, Calif.; the L.A. County Fair in Pomona, Calif.;
the Santa Barbara (Calif.) Fiesta; the Pendleton Roundup at Camp
Pendleton, Calif.; Cheyenne (Wyo.) Frontier Days and the National
Western Stock Show in Denver.     
           
“We felt strongly that we really needed to create events for
more bull riders. We have over 1,000 riders moving forward and they
need a platform to develop their talent. It creates a standard for
bull riding as
 
these athletes climb the
ranks.”          
           
Bernard said he’s not concerned with Grit Rock Rodeo’s
alliance with AEG, partially because he believes the two run
separate formats.
           
He said he plans to continue to co-promote events with both Live
Nation and AEG, as well as a few independents.
           
As for Grit Rock Rodeo, Eric Stevens of AEG Events and Media said
his company plans to push forward with televised rights of
World’s Toughest Cowboy event on regional Fox Sports Networks
to bring more exposure to the company’s growing arena
network. He said he expects branded events at the new 02 Arena in
London, the Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo., and the Prudential
Center in Newark,
N.J.       
           
“There are over 30 million rodeo fans worldwide and in
certain markets, there is not enough content to meet demand,”
he said. “With the right corporate partnerships and
collaborations with our own production staffs, Grit Rock can
develop as a profitable touring and television
product.”
 

Interviewed for this story: Randy Bernard, (719) 593-8840; Montie
Montana Jr., (559) 572-9531; Sheila Lehrke, (615) 876-1016; Cotton
Rosser, (530) 742-8249; Eric Stevens, (213) 742-7155