Professional Bull Riders (PBR) likes to say there are two athletes to every PBR ride – a human cowboy and a bucking bull.
Indeed, one element distinguishing PBR from other sports is the nature of the action on the dirt. In the same ring, PBR pits a lightweight versus a heavyweight: a 150 lb. cowboy sitting on the back of a 1,800-lb. bucking bull.
That makes for a brutal battle. To celebrate and honor the competitive tension between the cowboys and the bulls, PBR is rolling out a new campaign called VS (pronounced “Versus”) as the sport gets ready to crown a new world champion on Sunday in Las Vegas.
It’s the first fully integrated ad campaign for PBR, which was acquired by mega sports, entertainment and fashion agency WME IMG in April, 2015. Wrapping up its most successful season ever, the sport can now draw on broad parent company resources to conceive, create, and execute a campaign spanning TV, radio and print ads, in-market billboards, wrapped haulers and other creative executions.
In the print ads, bulls and cowboys stare each other down with captions such as Beauty vs. Beast and Buck Off/Buck You. The TV executions, including an opener for PBR’s CBS telecasts (think Hank Williams Jr. singing, “Are you ready for some football”), star WME client Steven Tyler, done up as a cowboy and belting out the new anthem, “Hold On (Won’t Let Go).” See the new opener here.
The song was commissioned by and is owned by PBR, so fans will see and hear Tyler in a variety of media. Aerosmith’s frontman liked the tune so much he put it on his new country-flavored album, “Everybody Comes from Somewhere,” which debuted at number-one on the country music charts.
While the creative looks as if it could be the highly stylized product of a BBDO or Droga5, all the work was done in house by the WME-IMG and PBR creative teams. For the first time, the sport will have a unified and consistent voice, tone and brand messaging
College football fans will see VS spots on Saturday during games on CBS and CBS Sports Network, PBR’s broadcast partner. At the end of the regular season, PBR on CBS Sports saw a healthy +12 percent rise in viewership; on two Sundays, PBR was the second most viewed sport, trailing only the NFL.
PBR’s Built Ford Tough Series also shattered 12 local event attendance records, and big crowds at beautiful new T-Mobile Arena this week will make that a lucky 13. By moving from Thomas & Mack Arena to T-Mobile, which is on the strip across from the host Monte Carlo hotel, PBR’s walk up crowd on the opening night of World Finals rocketed 68 percent. Total attendance for the first two rounds on Wednesday and Thursday is up 14%
By capturing the modern day showdown at the heart of PBR, the sport is unabashedly conveying its intensity, wild-west outlaw traditions, and epic David vs. Goliath confrontations. And now, it’s putting the bulls on equal footing with the riders. Along with the sport’s top riders, the ads call out big-time bulls, including Air Time (to be profiled in the New York Times this week), Asteroid, Cochise, and Wicked. Air Time even has his own 24/7 cam from Las Vegas.
PBR wants to build lasting connections to fans who may view bull riding as a highly entertaining spectacle but might not be diligently following every week. Many fans will attend an event as a one off; they’ll love the action and intensity wrapped in chest-thumping rock and roll and pyro. PBR is trying to bring casual fans back for more – through initiatives like the new ad campaign, hooking up with Netflix for a docu-series like “Fearless,” and preparing to launch a dedicated over-the-top (OTT) network and new original content for its own and other networks in 2017.
WME | IMG, which knows how to build stars, is intent on taking a niche sport mainstream. Mark Shapiro, the company’s chief content officer, told Sports Business Journal that since the acquisition, PBR has already doubled in value.
Now it’s up to WME | IMG’s legion of agents, pop culture connectors, content creators, and story tellers to truly turn America’s original extreme sport into a true tier-one sports property.