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Chris Jones

Las Vegas Reaps in Benefits of Bull Riding

6 November 2003

LAS VEGAS -- In a business where fame and fortune is won or lost in only eight seconds, it pays to be bullish on bravado.

Fortunately for those involved with the Professional Bull Riders tour, fear is not a trait commonly associated with PBR Chief Executive Officer Randy Bernard.

The 36-year-old Californian has overseen the 10-year-old tour since 1995, and, in that time, the sport has enjoyed a remarkable surge in popularity. PBR events are now routinely televised on networks such as NBC, Telemundo and the Outdoor Life Network, and the rider-owned organization expects to produce approximately $34 million in revenue this year.

PBR's growth is also bringing more visitors to Las Vegas. And with 45 riders and an expected 67,000 fans in town to take part in this year's Built Ford Tough Series World Finals, Bernard is not afraid to discuss why his sport has blossomed in the back yard of another popular Western event, December's annual National Finals Rodeo.

His simple explanation: Bull riding appeals to younger, noncowboys who enjoy extreme sports.

"(At) a lot of rodeos across the country, (fans) take their family to see a tradition that's dying," said Bernard, whose event runs today through Sunday at the Thomas & Mack Center. "You'll see a lot of grandpas taking their grandchildren to show them something that was very big back when.

"That's not what you see at our events. You'll see a lot of ball caps with (fans') favorite cowboy on it ... which is unlike NFR, where almost everyone has a cowboy hat on."

Bernard said his organization has no animosity toward the rodeo, which is sponsored by the rival Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association. Instead, he believes there's room for both to succeed.

"The best analogy I can use is in the racing industry. You have Formula One racing and you have NASCAR. They have completely different demographics even though they're in the same industry," Bernard said. "You have a champagne drinker at Formula One and a beer drinker at NASCAR, and that's exactly what you have with bull riding and rodeo. They're two different sports."

With both in hand, Las Vegas stands to gain.

Approximately 46 percent of PBR fans reported household incomes of more than $50,000 per year, while 11.5 percent earn more than $100,000. Such demographics weren't overlooked by Mandalay Resort Group, whose Mandalay Bay property will for the first time serve as host hotel for this year's PBR finals.

"This is clearly a great special event that will bring a lot of people to our properties," said Scott Voeller, vice president of marketing for Mandalay Bay. "It draws a great crowd, actually a very well-heeled crowd that isn't afraid to spend money."

In addition to helping fill the nearly 13,000 hotel rooms at Mandalay Bay, Luxor and Excalibur, Voeller said PBR's popularity also creates positive television exposure for its host property because more than 100 million viewers watch televised PBR events.

In addition, bull riders and their fans attract related events such as the Western Gift Expo, which is expected to draw 80,000 to Mandalay Bay this week, as well as newer shows like those backed by the International Chili Society and Kansas City BBQ Society.

"The whole package just made a lot of sense for us," Voeller said. "It will be a good room-filler during a period of time when we could use the business."

Mandalay Bay and Excalibur are sold out this weekend, while only a few rooms remained at Luxor on Wednesday afternoon, a company spokeswoman said. The hotels will also benefit from a major boxing event scheduled for Saturday at Mandalay Bay.

Caesars Palace had been PBR's host hotel, but Bernard said recent management changes within that property's parent company, Park Place Entertainment Corp., led him to seek out a new venue.

"They didn't have a strong focus with PBR," Bernard said. "Mandalay Bay was very aggressive. They wanted it, and it made great sense ... because they have an arena and we wanted to make this a 10-day event."

Next year, Bernard said, the finals will begin on Friday, Oct. 22 with three days of competition at Mandalay Bay's 11,000-seat event center. The following Monday through Wednesday will include related, noncompetitive events such as country music concerts, with the finals wrapping up with four days of riding at the Thomas & Mack Center beginning Thursday, Oct. 28.

Bernard said he's also paid for representatives from 18 European television networks to attend this year's finals. Though costly, he said the move should soon pay off thanks to new business from across the Atlantic.

"This will pay off for us in the long run," Bernard said. "Channel 9 in Russia has already agreed to buy next year's tour."