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Bass Pro readies arena ahead of PBR, Garth Brooks events

Thunder Days is set to open expanded Ridgedale venue Sept. 23-25

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Professional bull riding and a trio of concerts from country superstar Garth Brooks are on tap in the coming weeks at the Johnny Morris-owned Thunder Ridge property at Big Cedar Lodge in Ridgedale.

The inaugural season of the team-oriented concept from Professional Bull Riders LLC is set to open the newly expanded Thunder Ridge Nature Arena this month. The PBR Team Series will come to town Sept. 23 for Thunder Days, which includes a three-day slate of head-to-head matchups for the league’s eight teams. The lineup includes the Missouri Thunder, which is owned by Morris and Bass Pro Shops.

The PBR Team Series season opened in June, and the Thunder are 7-6 after losing three matchups in Austin, Texas, at the end of August, said Luke Snyder, who coaches the team with co-captain and fellow bull riding veteran Ross Coleman. 

Snyder, who also is assistant general manager of the Bass Pro-owned team, said crews are working quickly to get the Thunder Ridge arena ready prior to the PBR event. Nabholz Construction Corp. is general contractor, according to Bass Pro officials, who declined to disclose project costs.

“I’m sure we’ll be tweaking it right up until (Thunder Days),” Snyder said. “But they’re getting after it.” 

 Arena action
Located on 1,200 acres with views of Table Rock Lake and the Boston Mountains of Arkansas, Thunder Ridge is increasing capacity to roughly 50,000 guests from 10,000. It will include luxury suites, general seating, lawn areas and expanded parking access, according to officials. Morris worked closely with contractors to transform the arena while taking inspiration from venues including Gorge Amphitheatre in Quincy, Washington, and Red Rocks Amphitheater outside Denver.

“We’re going to hide the parking so there’s nothing that’s going to disturb the beauty of the Ozarks,” Snyder said. “With the topography there, you can get pretty strategic with your parking and not just have one big blacktop area for it.”

Days after the PBR leaves town, Brooks is scheduled to entertain audiences over three days. He was originally scheduled for a single concert on Oct. 1, but high demand prompted two additional shows on Sept. 30 and Oct. 2. The Oct. 1 concert sold over 55,000 tickets, according to a news release. Tickets for all three concerts, which were priced at $98.95 on Ticketmaster, are sold out, officials say, declining to provide ticket revenue.

The Thunder is led by General Manager Randy Bernard, former CEO of PBR, who also is Brooks’ manager. Snyder said the venue, which is next to the Bass Pro Shops Outdoor Academy and just over a mile from Big Cedar Lodge, has previously hosted musical acts such as Hank Williams Jr., Dierks Bentley and Chris Janson. 

“We don’t have anything new to announce, but there will definitely be a bunch of big artists down the road,” Snyder said, adding future work for the property will include development of a campground area.

Season status
The schedule for the PBR Team Series season was announced in March, followed by a rider draft in May. The three-day competition in Austin marked the halfway point for the season, said Chad Blankenship, senior vice president with PBR. 

“It has exceeded many of our progressive expectations,” he said. “We’re seeing terrific fan response around the team format, which is just exciting.”

Attendance numbers in Cheyenne, Wyoming, one of the 10-event regular season’s two neutral sites, exceeded 23,000 for the two days, according to officials. Blankenship said Thunder Days could draw 12,000 daily over the course of the three-day event, but he declined to estimate ticket revenue. Each of the eight teams hosts one of the bull riding events during the season, which culminates in November with a team playoff at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. 

Aside from the Thunder, other PBR Team Series franchises are the Ariat Texas Rattlers, Arizona Ridge Riders, Austin Gamblers, Carolina Chaos, Kansas City Outlaws, Nashville Stampede and Oklahoma Freedom. All competitions are being televised on CBS, Paramount+, CBS Sports Network or Pluto TV. Thunder Days will be streamed Sept. 23 and 24 on Pluto TV, followed by a live broadcast on CBS on Sept. 25.

Snyder said the winning team at the end of the season will share a $1.5 million prize. Additionally, riders can earn another $25,000-$70,000 to be split among them, depending on how their team finishes in the standings. Aside from its 7-6 record, the Thunder’s total winnings are $332,517, good for fourth place in the league, according to PBR data. 

“It’s really impressive what the PBR has put together,” Snyder said. “We just got back from Austin and the brand new Moody Center, and it was a sold-out crowd all three nights.”

Ticketmaster is selling PBR Thunder Days tickets for $65 general admission in the tiered lawn area, with VIP box areas ranging $250-$425. 

Snyder said Thunder Days will have on-site vendors, including those selling Missouri Thunder and PBR branded merchandise. Live music, meet-and-greet sessions with the riders and fireworks shows after each day’s competition also will make up the event’s lineup, which he said is still being shaped. 

Blankenship said the team series has already been declared a success by company officials, noting a second season is in the works. He declined to disclose annual PBR revenue or its projections for the 2022 season. 

Pueblo, Colorado-based PBR is owned by Endeavor Group Holdings Inc. (NYSE: EDR), an entertainment, sports and content company, according to past Springfield Business Journal reporting. In its most recent financial report, Endeavor reported $1.3 billion in companywide revenue for the second quarter. The sports properties segment of the company, which also includes mixed martial arts organization UFC, was $331.9 million for the quarter. 

“We have the outline of the 2023 schedule already,” Blankenship said. “We haven’t published it, but we know we want to return to the eight markets of our current teams. We’re having preliminary discussions with our broadcast partner, CBS, and our streaming partner, Pluto TV, which is another Viacom company.”

Aside from its ownership of a PBR bull riding team, Bass Pro also invests in other sports ventures, including NASCAR and Major League Fishing, according to past reporting.

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