PBR bringing bulls, big bucks to Edmonton in 2017

Oilers Entertainment Group Vice Chair and CEO Bob Nicholson laughs with bull rider Zane Lambert during a press conference announcing a new partnership with Professional Bull Riders at EPCOR Tower in Edmonton August 3, 2016.  AMBER BRACKEN /  EDMONTON JOURNAL

Bull riders coming to Rogers Place

Oilers Entertainment Group announces three-day global professional bull riding showcase, the PBR Monster Energy Canada Tour Finals, is scheduled for Nov. 10-12, 2017 with a $1 million purse up for grabs.

It’s about bulls and bucks, politics and partnerships.

That’s how and why the Professional Bull Riders wind up here, starting a five-year run in 2017, and the Canadian Finals Rodeo spends three years in Saskatoon after its final show at Rexall Place in November.

At the middle of it all is the Oilers Entertainment Group, who were rejected by the Canadian Professional Rodeo Association, which owns the CFR, and embraced by IMG, which owns the PBR. That speaks to the partnership piece of the puzzle.

The roots of both properties are planted deep in the dirt out west, but there are striking differences. PBR likes to call itself bull riding wrapped in a rock concert, and their high-energy show is indeed music to the ears of a young demographic. The CFR is traditional rodeo that includes timed events and garners an older audience, its more leisurely paced nightly performances capped by the most exciting event, bull riding.

There are all kinds of rodeo fans at PBR shows and vice versa. And there are no doubt many people in Edmonton who will forever be disappointed that one has replaced the other. That’s fair. Over four decades, the CFR wove itself into the fabric of this city.

But the CPRA rejected Edmonton’s offer to keep the CFR here beyond 2016, citing dissatisfaction with the size of the purse and a reluctance to cede control over TV production and sponsorship of the event. The OEG took that as a signal that there could never be a real partnership and chose not to bid when the CFR hit the open market. The City of Edmonton also backed away from the table, citing too much financial risk and a too small share of any upside.

All that jockeying aside, the PBR deserves a look, because they and the OEG have made a major effort to showcase this city.

For starters, there will be two events held at Rogers Place over three days in November: the one-day PBR Canada Monster Energy Finals, which crowns the national champion; and the two-day PBR Edmonton Invitational, which features the top 20 Canadian riders in that event against the top 20 cowboys from the PBR world standings. Both will be broadcast on TSN.

What’s more, the combined purse of $1.25 million CAD makes Edmonton the second richest of the PBR’s 250 worldwide events, behind only the $5-million US national finals in Las Vegas.

And those three days of bull riding will act as the centrepiece of a 10-day western lifestyle festival that supports Farm Fair International on the Northlands grounds and incorporates an Oilers game, as well as food and music events throughout the community.

“Fans can be assured that the action and excitement will not be contained to Rogers Place, as our goal is to bring the city together to celebrate our rural roots,” said OEG vice-chair Bob Nicholson.

Fans can be just as sure that PBR was initially interested in Edmonton because of Rogers Place.

“We do a lot of business around the world. This is the nicest events centre that I can see coming out of the ground,” said Sean Gleason, PBR’s CEO. “It’s going to be a spectacular facility. PBR is a world-class organization. We want to be in a world-class venue.”

The PBR was founded 23 years ago by 20 bull riders who invested $1,000 apiece in the belief that a bull riding-only event would sell. They were right. Last year, PBR was sold to IMG for a reported $100-million US and is now backed by their global reach and entertainment expertise.

There are 1,000 riders competing in 250 events in six countries — Canada, the U.S., New Zealand, Brazil, Australia and Mexico. Their shows are beamed into 500-million homes worldwide on television. In the U.S., PBR ratings rival most other sports properties but the National Football League.

“While we may not be in the mainstream psyche of most people when you think about sports products, and I know that this is a big, huge hockey town, but in the United States, we regularly beat (hockey) in TV ratings. So we’re pretty proud of that,” said Gleason.

They’re not rodeo, and they’re not mainstream. But they’re not fly-by-night, either. And anyone bemoaning the loss of the CFR should find some solace in the fact that the PBR is big league. The 26 Built Ford Tough Series events, their premier shows, play in buildings like Madison Square Garden in New York City and AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. Gleason said they’ll have 60,000 people at their PBR Brazil finals. And Aerosmith’s lead singer Steven Tyler wrote the PBR’s TV theme song and will play at the national finals in Vegas this fall.

The CPRA, meanwhile, suffered a six-figure loss last year, has been rocked by political dysfunction and will be hard-pressed to put the pieces back together quickly. President Murry Milan resigned in mid-July and, nine days later, GM Dan Eddy was fired after a 6-5 vote by the board of directors. The five dissenting directors immediately resigned, as did the CFR negotiating team and the business advisory council, which included external members.

The remaining directors and CPRA staff are trying to replenish the board, find an interim GM, finish their season and put on the final CFR in Edmonton.

The differences are indeed striking.



Rodeo's out, bull's in as Oilers Entertainment Group announces latest partnership



If you think the Canadian Finals Rodeo leaving for Saskatoon was a load of bull, wait until you see what’s coming the other way.

Oilers Entertainment Group has announced the Canadian finals of Professional Bull Riding will be coming to Rogers Place in 2017, an event that previously called Saskatoon home.

“This is the start of something very, very special,” Bob Nicholson, CEO of Oilers Entertainment Group, said Wednesday.

The group has partnered with Professional Bull Riders Canada to bring a three-day event to Edmonton for five years, starting in November 2017.

“Edmonton has a rich history as a western lifestyle town and I think it’s safe to say it’s a cowboy town,” said Sean Gleason, CEO of Professional Bull Riders, a company that has spent the past 23 years touring the U.S. and are now looking to do the same in 16 Canadian communities.

“We’re extremely excited about bringing the toughest animal athletes, the toughest human athletes and the most exciting sport to Edmonton,” Gleason said, adding the planned opening of Rogers Place was a factor in the decision to come to Edmonton.

The announcement comes on the tails of the Canadian Finals Rodeo Association decision to move its event to Saskatoon. Gleason said bull riding doesn’t necessarily preclude a return of rodeo, though.

“Our roots are deep in rodeo, we love rodeo, but it’s a different product,” he said, adding bull riding attracts a younger audience than rodeo.

Both Gleason and Nicholson said they have had positive meetings with Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson, though neither could say what the city’s contribution to the event might be or whether it would best come in the form of in cash or in-kind support such as policing or advertising.

What was hinted at, however, was a potential crossover with Farm Fair, the agricultural show that Northlands has been hosting for the past four decades.

“We’re honoured to be a part of Farm Fair,” said Gleason.

The “part” they’ll be playing isn’t clear. Bull riding will be a three-day event but hopes are that it will extend into a full 10-day western lifestyle festival including music and activities. It will incorporate Oilers games into the schedule, and capitalize on some of the same audience as Farm Fair, which attracted almost 95,000 visitors in 2015 and has an economic impact of $20 million.

“We’ve identified these dates because we want to work with Farm Fair. We haven’t had any formal discussions on that but we’ve made sure that we placed this in a time period that we can work with Farm Fair,” said Nicholson, adding he would like to see the music include both big-ticket bands and more local talent.

Lori Cote, manager of public relations for Northlands, said the organization hasn’t yet been approached to partner for the event, but added if it is the interest of the city they are open to suggestions.

Nicholson said two or three venues are being considered to house the bulls.

What the promoters are sure about is the potential for success. Bull riding in the U.S., Gleason said, is a growing sport and has managed to top weekend T.V. ratings in some markets for sports except pro football.

He hopes to repeat that success north of the border.

“We’re going to bring some heat in November,” he said, “when you guys need it.”