Charting PBR’s Western Sports Expansion with Sean Gleason

Sean Gleason in New York City. Photo: Andy Watson / BullStockMedia


  • The 25th PBR: Unleash the Beast and the Velocity Tour are having their best year ever with local attendance.
  • PBR has partnered with the National High School Rodeo Association and World Champions Rodeo Alliance to bring live rodeo events to fans through RidePass.
  • RidePass is a western sports digital OTT (over-the-top) network serving as the exclusive home for fans to get all things PBR and other western sports.

In This Article

Recent record-setting events in Sacramento, Anaheim and Kansas City have built on the PBR’s blazing start to this special 25th Anniversary season.

Last weekend, the sport notched another first when the PBR produced three tour events on the same weekend.

The 25th PBR: Unleash the Beast drew a to-the-rafter crowd in Kansas City, while the Real Time Pain Relief Velocity Tour packed the house in Youngstown, OH and Greenville, SC. More than 36,000 fans watched live, marking the first time PBR has ever held three events in three U.S. markets on one weekend.

The Velocity Tour is having its best year ever with local attendance records set in Portland, OR, North Charleston, SC, Lexington, KY, Grand Rapids, and last weekend in Youngstown, which sold out both Friday and Saturday nights.

Amid success in traditional bull riding, the PBR struck partnerships in the high school and professional rodeo levels as the league asserts its leadership in western sports. 

New PBR alliances with the National High School Rodeo Association (NHSRA) and World Champions Rodeo Alliance (WCRA) will bring live rodeo events to fans through RidePass, the newly announced 24/7 digital streaming network.

PBR.COM sat down with PBR CEO Sean Gleason to discuss these new developments during a very exciting week off the dirt.

AG: The sport has truly bolted from the chute, so to speak, to start 2018?

SG: We’re on a great run. Five of the six PBR 25th: Unleash the Beast events have set records (and New York finished very strong after a late-week blizzard). Beyond our elite series, for the first time in PBR history, the Real Time Pain Relief Velocity tour sold out the last three weekends in a row. I want to thank our fans who make all this possible in supporting the riders, bull stock contractors, everyone at PBR and our venue partners working hard to bring them this great sport.

AG: What is RidePass, and why is it a big deal for PBR fans?

SG: RidePass is a western sports digital OTT (over-the-top) network serving as the exclusive home for fans to get all things PBR and other western sports. Members have access to live, broadcast-quality coverage of Unleash the Beast rounds not carried on CBS and CBS Sports Network, next-day on-demand access to the TV event rounds, more than 30 annual Velocity tour events, PBR international events, along with original series, documentaries and news. We’ve also joined with NHSRA and the new WCRA to bring their events to our fans.

AG: This is a very ambitious digital network. Why do it?

SG: Our mission is to grow the sport, increase payouts to riders, and bring fans exciting events and up-close access to and story-telling about the stars on the dirt. RidePass does all of that.

Five years ago, we brought TV production in-house to have a platform for delivering the best content to fans. CBS is a fantastic partner, and will continue to be so. But PBR has hundreds of events each year. There’s simply not enough broadcast and cable bandwidth for all the action and associated programming for our sport as well as western sports in general. Now fans will have significantly expanded event coverage and storytelling with RidePass.

Ridepass Craigmatt

AG: How will the PBR work with the NHSRA?

SG: Even before Jess Lockwood was winning a quarter of a million dollars in the PBR while still competing in high school, we’ve been huge fans of NHSRA.

We believe high school rodeo has tremendous untapped potential as a global media property so PBR is now sponsoring NHSRA and marketing their media rights. High school rodeo will be a compelling component of RidePass coverage.

We’ll work with NHSRA to tell the stories of their great athletes to help build the cowboy stars of tomorrow and market their events, including the Junior High and High School finals, which are the two largest rodeos in the world in terms of number of competitors and stock.

AG: PBR also joined forces with the WCRA in professional rodeo. What is the WCRA?

SG: WCRA is an organization created to partner with PBR and offer rodeo athletes increased earning potential through new and exciting new rodeo events.

AG: What makes you think the PBR can be successful in rodeo?

SG: Past and current history. PBR has a proven model for creating large payout rodeos that fans love, including our partnership with RFD-TV for Iron Cowboy and The American. Together with WCRA we believe we can create three to four million-dollar plus rodeos each year to advance the sport. 

AG: Those are pretty big payouts.

SG: Yes, and that’s a founding principle of PBR which we believe will be true in rodeo, too: Paying the most attracts the best athletes. The first major rodeo with a payout of just about $400,000, and a unique match play format, will be in Las Vegas in conjunction with Last Cowboy Standing the first weekend in May. The goal is to increase purses from there.

AG: How will you do that?

SG: Our strategy is to leverage PBR’s expertise in creating big, exciting, well-produced and successful events to bring rodeo to different places and parts of the country where the sport doesn’t traditionally exist or to current rodeo markets at a time of the year when there isn’t a rodeo happening.

New events will offer incremental earning opportunities for contestants and bring rodeo events and the world’s top competitors to markets that have long been abandoned by other rodeo promoters and events.

AG: Will these events compete with PRCA, other organizations, or other rodeos?

SG: Absolutely not. Our goal is to create new opportunities for rodeo athletes through complementary events that don’t compete with PRCA or any other rodeo organization. Rodeo athletes won’t have to choose – these are non-competitive events.

AG: Who owns WCRA, and who is running it? 

SG: The WCRA is a privately-held Limited Liability Corporation with headquarters in Texas. The WCRA staff led by Gary McKinney, is comprised of professionals with 60 years of combined expertise in all areas of the rodeo industry. 

AG. Is the WCRA an ERA reboot? 

SG: WCRA is a brand-new entity following WCRA’s acquisition of the ERA and its assets. We are joining forces to invest in professional rodeo and create new opportunities for the entire industry. WCRA’s mission is to develop and advance the sport of rodeo by aligning all levels of competition, delivering value to the partners, athletes and fans of rodeo through world-class rodeo events. PBR and WCRA will create new rodeos that provide high-earning opportunities for rodeo athletes but without asking them to choose between events or organizations.

AG: How has PBR been involved with WCRA?

SG:  PBR has been a leader in advancing western sports and we see an opportunity to bring our expertise and resources to rodeo. We worked closely with WRCA to design the plan and execution model of this new entity.  We’re very excited about joining together to grow rodeo.

AG: So this is a new rodeo league, similar to the PBR in bull riding?

SG: This is different than how the PBR was formed. It’s not a “league” per se, nor designed to compete with any rodeo or event, and it is not owned by the competitors. We’ll create a handful of new events each year with large payouts – the world’s best athletes will compete, but they won’t be taken away from any other events.

AG: Who else will WCRA attempt to align with?

SG: The WCRA has said it is interested in building alliances with credible individuals and organizations wishing to promote the sport of rodeo, worldwide, to continue developing additional opportunities for rodeo industry competitors, stakeholders and fans. WCRA is open for business and will talk with anyone in the industry about alliance opportunities which advance the sport of rodeo.

AG: Who will participate in the rodeo in Vegas in May?  

SG: The WCRA and PBR will make a joint announcement at a later date regarding the athletes participating in the rodeo.  We’ll unveil the full overview and details of the WCRA and the unique partnership with PBR at a special May industry gathering in Las Vegas.

AG: What can fans expect this weekend in St. Louis?

SG:  It will be live coverage starting with Round 1 on Saturday. We’ll have a full broadcast team with Craig Hummer calling play-by-play and Matt West as color analyst, with additional commentary from Kate Harrison, Justin Felisko and JW Hart. This has been five years in the making. To say we’re eager and excited to punch up the RidePass app at 7:30 pm (ET) on Saturday night is an understatement!

To join RidePass, fans can click:

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