GUEST BLOGGER: BullT, From the Thomas and Mack Arena on Friday of Finals Week

Finals: Thomas & Mack Arena

I figure that you either watched the event itself or you caught up on the blow-by-blow descriptions on this blog or even (when desperate) on the PBR site. Just to give you a sense of the flavor, here are the thoughts I jotted down from my over-priced seat.

I would have great photos to accompany this, given that the seats were right up front, but PBR has a policy displayed all over the place, saying that cameras with interchangeable lenses are not allowed. In the past I got away with bringing one in, but I didn’t want to take a chance on having to chase down my camera kit after the show. Once again, though, the best action seemed to be in the stands and not on the dirt …

We got here early, settled in and were treated to that same annoying woman’s voice you hear on Versus every week doing ads. And Colby Yates’ new CD. Sorry, old son, being stomped on by livestock does not make you a star singer and btw, you need a new band and arrangers! What I’m waiting to hear is some down-home Brazilian folk music or some Portuguese hip-hop.

In our bright red seats, we found ourselves surrounded by stock contractors and breeders, plus a few random wives/girlfriends/ buckle bunnies. I’ve seen some very good openings at PBR events in past years, and I’ve seen a few mediocre ones. This year’s counted as pure crap. I’ve seen better choreography and delivery at a bad high school musical. And please, Mr. Site Manager─ hire a real arena sound guy before you perforate an ear drum with boomy bass. The
system is great, but with 48 speakers in each corner and another 6 or more in the center beneath the new hi-def screens, things get crazy loud.

I was quickly very glad for those great new screens, too. With the first ride of the night, the wives and girlfriends in Gold Buckle seating have to stand up and block the view.

After my first PBR Finals (and, incidentally, my first live bull riding event) I commented that PBR seemed like a cross between World Wide Wrestling and NASCAR, with some livestock and a Pentecostal tent meeting thrown in for variety. This year they threw in a scantily clad (in a country way) girl waving a scorecard placard over her head. Goofy me! Took half an hour to realize she was the Applause girl and the sign said “Bring on the Noise!” All the superfluous crap going on made it hard to focus on the bulls. As if Flint wasn’t enough of a distraction for those who paid $400 a seat and didn’t really want to watch the bull riding occurring in the other half of the arena.

Speaking of the arena: Thomas and Mack has an unusual ring setup. There are chutes at both ends of the arena with the Shark Tank and iron gates dividing the ring. They do “flights” at either end, moving back and forth every so many rides. From our seats, it was very hard to see clearly what was going on in the opposite half of the ring. That’s when you get to dally with Flint and the cowgirl. Did you notice that I’m not thrilled with this layout?

When we first saw the PBR in Las Vegas it was at the Mandalay Bay arena, which was the more tried-and-true setup and where we had a much better sense of being involved from start to finish. I don’t know if it is the fault of the ring or if it has to do with television interruptions and all that entails, but the flow of events was much choppier than in the past and there was less of a sense of being part of the action. Or else I’m just getting old and cranky and a tad spoiled…

There were quite a few real emotional folk among the stock contractors who were in line for $500k that gets awarded for Best Bull. They even had cowbell supporters in the stand. I can imagine that it costs a small fortune to field bucking bulls, transporting them around the country and keeping them healthy and viable for the year. I learned that you need to allocate at least 5 acres per bull in your homey ranch. I’m guessing that far less than 10% of your bulls make it to the big time PBR and CBR events, so that makes for some fair-sized spreads. Like 3 or 4 Central Parks end to end? So long as we are helping these ranchers out, how about next year we give an award for longest unbroken stream of bull snot let loose on mid-air jumps or spins? With a bonus point for actually hitting someone in the audience with it!

My first real excitement of the night came courtesy of J.B. Mauney. There is such an obvious difference between the top ten and the rest of the riders. More poise and stage command, for sure. And better riding, by far. Which means that things really liven up toward the final 5 or 6 rides each night.

From what I understand, for all its talk about caring about the riders and the “bull athletes,” the organization still takes big advantage of everyone but the star riders with strong brand recognition. It seems that only the top guys make any money. In fact, I’m not sure how any of them afford to hang in there at events from week to week. Probably the same way the Minor League baseball guys do─ depending on the largesse of family members and sleeping in rat-trap hotels on the backside of each town they hit, driving together in their pickups to save money. Because driving a Prius to save on gas would simply not live up to the Cowboy image!

All the more reason for me to be so pissed off about paying $395 for a ticket that has a $126 face value printed on it. The riders don’t get a penny of that, nor do the stock contractors or even the PBR itself. It goes to people who provide very little to the process and add no value at all to the events themselves. The music industry has faced this problem for years and, to be fair, so have some of the other sporting events that draw big crowds. $1200 for Barbra Streisand fall into the same category (not for me, thanks) and I’ve heard of Super Bowl prices well in excess of my first new car.

There have been lots of changes over the years with bull riding, but it seems to me that the PBR can’t decide what it wants to be when it grows up. They start with rockabilly, switch to some old Queen tunes, and then end up with techno. I hate the techno music! Thought I was on vacation in the Dominican Republic suffering through a cruise ship invasion.

And for those who are there live, Flint did indeed have more hair in the past (me too), and he climbed to the nosebleed area a lot quicker and more often before his heart attack. Given that he had a heart attack and now has a pacemaker in place, I believe, it’s truly amazing how he moves around the arena and dances his jigs and stuff.

Change is needed, for sure, and the PBR took on a big task when it set about making bull riding a mass market sport. But I get the feeling they need to not worry so much about reinventing the wheel. Grab hold of some of the folk who have been through this in other venues and media (like live music events). You can’t please everyone.

The guy sitting to my immediate right was at his 11th Finals in the same seats. He resisted the temptation to sell them to the scalpers, but he left early because of all the drinking and annoying sounds surrounding him. He said, “The focus is all wrong!” That may well be a marketing price that will have to be paid, but baseball has lost a lot of diehard fans who find the newer fans too annoying and disruptive. On the other hand, the Stones survived bad judgment at Altamont.

So many were too drunk to see! One of the people singled out for the Fan of the Night award turned out to have passed out cold in the high-dollar seats. Quote of the night was, “He’s spent the weekend at Bernie’s!” Bad American beer in plastic bottles. You pass out and even Flint can’t wake you up─ so he moves some of the clown makeup from his face to the drunk’s. Wait─ that reminds me of some nights at college! Minus the bulls. Dude, you’re in Vegas! Wait for the after-party to get lit up. You may not remember what happened after midnight, but you’ll at least remember the bulls bursting out of the chutes.

Something else I don’t get: a lot of people seemed to leave early. How can you not stay for the Boys from Brazil!?! A cultural note: Brazilian fans have huge energy and a sense of joy. They are so damned happy when their guys win. A clean-cut happy, if you will. Nothing vindictive or in-your-face attitude about their win, just a lot of energetic glee. I like that.

Personally, I think they are winning because they work harder at it than anyone else and it means so much to them. The Americans will catch up, for sure. It happened in golf when, after a few seasons of losing, they all realized that the new winners were taking the sport much more seriously and were spending a lot of time in the gym getting strong and building their endurance. One look at the forearms and biceps from Brazil lets you know that someone is working out. Riders like Austin Meier obviously get it. And that, IMHO, is why he was nearer the top this year.

I saw it when I rode motocross. I’m dating myself, but a lot us did well because we were young, innately talented and crazy. They may still be talented and crazy, but now they spend hours each week getting fit and building their skills. And we don’t get embarrassed by European riders at every World Cup event anymore. I see the same coming in the PBR.

And are only a few of us noticing that they just seem to tolerate the Brazilians? I was there when Justin McBride was about to win his last Finals and they couldn’t kiss his ass loud enough, frequently enough or publicly enough to avoid the spread of male HPV throughout the broadcast booths. They were OK with the first Brazilian to win (your picture with him was great) but now that there seems to be a national trend, it seems they are just embarrassed and want them out of the way as quickly as possible. But they did give him his million bucks!

All in all, an interesting night. See you in Madison Square Garden after New Year!!

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About Bull Riding Marketing

Creative services, marketing and public relations professional from entertainment industry background. Published in magazines and newspapers worldwide. I believe bull riders are the new rock stars.
This entry was posted in ABBI, Built Ford Tough Series, Bull Riding, cowboys, PBR and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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