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A Conversation with: Chad Blankenship (SVP Marketing, PBR)

A Conversation with: Chad Blankenship (SVP Marketing, PBR)

7-minute read

  • With the recent sale of PBR to WME | IMG, there is opportunity to cross pollinate PBR with other WME | IMG owned properties
  • Despite bull riding being a heritage sport, the fast-paced nature of the event lends itself well to the social media age
  • With concerns over animal and rider safety, PBR understands that this is an important issue and takes all necessary steps to ensure that it is a safe event for all parties

The Professional Bull Riders (PBR) has been around since 1992 and has been growing steadily since its inception. There are a reported 60 million PBR fans in the United States, and the sport has a strong international presence with events in Canada, Brazil, Australia, and Mexico. In 2015, PBR made headlines with its sale to global sports and entertainment company WME| IMG which has been active in growing its property since the acquisition. This year, a Netflix original documentary series, “Fearless,” was released. The show focused on the behind the scenes of the sport and provided fans with exclusive access to their favourite Brazilian riders. PBR has also attracted a number of top sponsors such as Monster Energy, Ford, and Dickies. To provide sponsors and readers a closer look at the property, MKTG spoke with A Chad Blankenship, the Senior VP of Marketing for PBR. The following interview has been edited and condensed. 

MKTG

Could you give us a sense of the demographics of PBR fans and highlight something that would surprise our readers about your fan base?

PBR

We have fairly mass appeal as a property. Our sweet spot is a fan who is in the 25-54 age range and a surprising insight is that our gender split is pretty even. We have discovered about a 55-45 male / female split. While PBR is a sporting property, it is still very much an entertainment property that brings a lot of families to the venue; in many instances, these families are led by moms and wives who find PBR cowboys to be excellent role models for their kids and the sport itself a really compelling entertainment property. 

MKTG

You mentioned PBR as an entertainment property. Within WME-IMG there are several properties that provide an opportunity for cross pollinating, whether it’s creating PBR experiences with other WME-IMG owned sports, music or fashion events. Is this something WME-IMG is exploring?

PBR

We are. The most prominent and recent acquisition of WME-IMG is UFC. That is a property we are investing a lot of energy in because it’s so new to our organization and even with 260 million fans around the world has continued room to grow. Between the UFC and PBR there is a good level of crossover in our fan bases. PBR and UFC are both action sports.  There is a well-known UFC fighter named Cowboy Cerrone who is a huge PBR fan, which provides us with a great synergy opportunity for us, along with other fighters. 

We have also announced a new PBR theme song by Aerosmith’s lead singer, Steven Tyler. Steven is represented by WME  and recently embarked on the next phase of his career by releasing a country album. We were in the process of crafting a new theme song for PBR which would be part of our CBS telecasts, and we approached Steven with the idea of potentially performing the new song for us. He was excited about the opportunity and not only did he record the new theme song, “Hold On (Won’t Let Go”) but he actually put it on his new country-flavored album, “Everybody Comes from Somewhere.” 

MKTG

In Canada, Monster Energy has become the title sponsor of the Monster Energy Tour. Energy Drinks brands have traditionally associated themselves with action sports. When speaking to prospective sponsors d you position yourselves as an action sport?

PBR

Have you seen the sport? I think we could safely characterize bull riding as the original action sport. While we may think of Bull Riding as a heritage sport, it also has a very contemporary feel. Eight seconds of competition lends itself to the social media age. It’s incredibly easy to share outstanding rides or outstanding wrecks on social media as consumable content. To your point, this action has drawn brands like Monster to PBR. There can sometimes be a misperception around PBR that the fan base is rural and it is all about country music. While there are many rural fans, many young people from different places all over the country are attracted to the sport. 

MKTG

Let’s talk about the Netflix series Fearless. When we saw it, it reminded us of an HBO 24/7 series. It is a great storytelling platform that can engage the casual fan and give the avid fan a chance to access to their favourite athletes. What has been the reaction from fans and sponsors to the show since it has been launched on Netflix?

PBR

It has been extremely positive. Let me give you one example on fan enthusiasm and engagement around the property. We have about 2.4 million Facebook fans all of which were gained via organic growth. We unveiled the trailer for Fearless by posting it on our Facebook page. Within 48 hours, we had over a million views against an audience of 2.4 million fans, which is sensational. When there is an opportunity for storytelling through content like Fearless, it does a few things for us. First, it takes our hard-core and casual fans much deeper into the sport and it helps familiarize themselves with our athletes. Second, there are many general entertainment fans who like to see what’s new on Netflix; the reports we are getting from Netflix are that the broader audience of people has been strong. 

MKTG

Obviously this sport is a dangerous one. There have been some concerns in the marketplace with respect to rider and animal safety. How does PBR and WME-IMG talk to current and prospective sponsors about some of these challenges? Have brands ever expressed trepidation around rider or animal safety concerns? 

PBR

Our bulls are as much the athletes as our cowboys are. There are certain misperceptions about bull riding, particularly around animal care and welfare. Some of these misperceptions we address at PBR.com and on telecast. The bulls are incredibly well taken care of in the way that a race horse is bred to race. Professional bucking bulls are bread to buck and trained as such. Their stock contractors make huge investments in them. So their welfare is paramount not only to PBR and the integrity of our sport, but very much to their bull owners. Certainly, there exists a hazard to the human athletes participating (as there is with any action sport). In similar way to when the NHL grandfathered the helmet into their league, we are doing the same with rider helmets and faceguards. We are also introducing a new and more advanced safety vest and other equipment for our cowboys as well. I also think that sponsors and fans appreciate the honesty and transparency of PBR. It’s a dangerous sport but PBR is taking precautions to minimize those risks. But at the end of the day as a brand you have to know what you’re watching and what you’re investing in. 

MKTG

Transitioning to sponsor activations, could you highlight for us some of the activation campaigns with PBR that you consider to be best-in-class? 

PBR

The first example that comes to mind is a big initiative underway right now with Wal-Mart and Heinz with a mindset of “retailtainment”; the notion that a retail experience can include an entertainment component to make a customer’s visit even more compelling. To accomplish this, we put together a 40 store tour with Wal-Mart where we bring a full interactive experience with bull riders and bulls to stores, and we aim to educate consumers on the sport. Heinz is on-site and they are providing product samples. 

Ford also has a content series called Behind the Ride – a digital and television content series where we provide a deeper look into different aspects of the sport. Some editions of Ford Behind the Ride have focused on the medical staff, the bull riders, or the animals themselves. They provide our fans with educated and informative pieces of content.

The level of integration that PBR sponsors enjoy goes beyond most other sports and media entertainment properties because of the way that we are able to build them into the show format. So, while signage is a part of PBR sponsor packages, they are far beyond a “signage package”. It tends to be much deeper and of benefit to the fans and the sponsors. 

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