A new team-oriented concept from Professional Bull Riders Inc. has Johnny Morris and Bass Pro Shops on board as owner of one of its eight franchises.
Morris and his outdoor retailer’s new team, dubbed the Missouri Thunder, will participate in the PBR Team Series that’s set to launch in June. The inaugural 10-event regular season will culminate in November with a team playoff at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. Each of the eight teams is scheduled to host in their respective city one bull-riding event during the season. Two events will be held at neutral sites with all competitions to be televised on CBS, Paramount+, CBS Sports Network or Pluto TV, according to PBR officials.
The Missouri Thunder’s event will be at the Morris-owned Thunder Ridge property at Big Cedar Lodge in Ridgedale. The team will be directed by General Manager Randy Bernard, former CEO of PBR who currently manages country singer Garth Brooks. The team will be coached by co-captains and bull-riding veterans Ross Coleman and Luke Snyder, Morris’ former son-in-law.
“It’s going to be a really fantastic deal,” said Snyder, who also is a senior manager of partnerships at Bass Pro. “We’re just really excited to give fans around here another team to root for.”
Snyder declined to disclose financial terms of Bass Pro’s investment in the PBR league.
The Missouri Thunder and other franchises in the PBR Team Series will create their rosters through a draft scheduled for May 23. Full team rosters will comprise seven riders and three practice squad members, Snyder said.
“We’re working on team uniforms and scouting right now,” he said, noting PBR will host a combine in Colorado for prospective team riders in March. “They’re going to go 80 riders deep in this draft.”
PBR’s new league isn’t its first foray into a competition centered around teams.
“The team series idea has been incubating for a number of years,” said Chad Blankenship, PBR’s senior vice president of marketing, pointing to its Global Cup, an event that debuted in 2017 and pitted bull-riding teams from different countries against one another.
PBR assembled a business plan for the league and prospective teams, Blankenship said. Conversations were held last year with several of the organization’s partners, including Morris, as Bass Pro has been a longtime sponsor of its bull-riding events.
“We’re thrilled to have one of our founding teams based in Ridgedale,” Blankenship said. “PBR has a very strong history of fan passion and enthusiasm in the Springfield and Branson region, and more broadly, across Missouri and Arkansas and eastern Oklahoma.”
PBR has held events in Springfield, including its Unleash the Beast PFI Western Invitational, which debuted in 2009. Bass Pro was among sponsors for the competition, which ran annually until 2020, when it was canceled amid the coronavirus pandemic. PBR officials said the event wasn’t scheduled last year and isn’t on its 2022 calendar.
Headquartered in Pueblo, Colorado, PBR employs over 100 and is owned by Endeavor Group Holdings Inc. (NYSE: EDR), an entertainment, sports and content company that bought the organization in 2015. Aside from PBR, Endeavor’s properties include mixed martial arts organization UFC and entertainment agency WME. PBR was founded in 1992 by 20 riders, who broke away from the traditional rodeo circuit. It now holds several tours, including its top Unleash the Beast tour, a developmental league dubbed the Velocity Tour, as well as circuits in Australia, Brazil, Canada and Mexico.
“Over the last six years in partnership with Endeavor, our global media reach has grown,” Blankenship said. “We’ve been able to really extend the PBR brand and the PBR business impact in some exciting ways.”
While PBR officials declined to disclose annual revenue, Endeavor reported $1.4 billion in companywide revenue for the third quarter of 2021, its most recent report. The sports properties segment represented $288.5 million in the quarter.
PBR’s sponsorship revenue has grown nearly 40% since Endeavor’s 2015 purchase, reaching $30.2 million last year, according to organization data.
In the PBR Team Series, the Missouri Thunder joins the Ariat Texas Rattlers; Arizona Ridge Riders; Austin Gamblers, based in Texas; Carolina Chaos, based in North Carolina; Kansas City Outlaws; Nashville Stampede, based in Tennessee; and Oklahoma Freedom.
“During the PBR Teams season, we forecast that a rider is likely to earn somewhere between $50,000 and $250,000,” Blankenship said. “That hinges entirely on the team’s performance on the dirt.”
Thunder co-captain Snyder certainly knows about the PBR circuit. During his 13-year career, he became the No. 13 all-time highest earner, at $1.7 million.
Snyder also became the 42nd rider inducted into the PBR Ring of Honor, the organization’s hall of fame.
Despite his past bull-riding success, Snyder said he’ll be perfectly happy being on the sidelines.
“No temptation to ride from my end,” he said with a laugh. “I’m 39 years old. This is such a young man’s sport.”
Officials said Bass Pro will expand capacity at the 8,000-seat Thunder Ridge Nature Arena in preparation for the event, but Snyder declined to disclose details or estimate costs for the work. PBR officials say the season schedule is still weeks away from being announced, but Snyder expects the local event will be in August or September.
Snyder said he got a call from Morris last year to gauge his interest in the new PBR concept. It was an easy decision to jump back in, he said.
“It was something I gave so much of my life to and was so passionate about,” he said. “It was really a dream scenario to do it.”
Even as the inaugural season is still a few months away, officials are keeping an eye on the future of the league.
“The league has plans for expansion down the road,” Blankenship said. “But the timing of the team expansion is to be determined. We’re very satisfied and pleased with the inaugural year featuring eight founding teams.”
Snyder said Bass Pro loves to invest in sports with outdoor and Western components, as it also is a sponsor of NASCAR and Major League Fishing. The retailer sponsors the fishing league’s Bass Pro Tour, which is set to begin its fourth season next month. The PBR Team Series fits right into that passionate mindset, he said.
“It’s buying into a professional franchise,” Snyder said. “It’s something we hope to be a part of for a long, long time.”
The expanded facility is expected to reach annual revenue of $650M.