|Wednesday, August 7
Updated: August 8, 5:17 AM ET
Riding tall in the saddle
By Darren Rovell
By the end of this year, an estimated 100 million people will find intrigue in watching a 150-pound cowboy hold on while being tossed around by a bull weighing 13 times more than the guy on his back.
"There's no doubt we're a very young NASCAR," said Randy Bernard, chief executive officer of Professional Bull Riders Inc., a 10-year-old tour that's top tier, the Bud Light Cup, will award $7.2 million in prize money in 2002.
Corporate logos from Wrangler to Jack Daniels are prominently displayed at venues on the 29-city tour. Professional Bull Riders will pull in more than $10 million in sponsorships this year, a dramatic increase from the $360,000 they collectively earned in 1995.
And endorsement dollars for cowboys, who wear logos on their vests and chaps, could triple in the next year with the increased television exposure, according to Mark Nestlen, president of Cowboy Sports Agents, who represents 15 of the top 50 riders on the tour. "The people at (whiskey maker) Jim Beam have told me they're ready to increase their spending budget five times," Nestlen said.
This week, Nestlen will begin a partnership with Cindrich and his staff, whose well-connected marketing agents offer important business contacts with major corporations. Nestlen said Cindrich also can help with licensing opportunities, which he says are "very untapped at this point."
"I'll admit that I didn't have a whole lot of interest at first," Cindrich said. "But I felt that something like this was definitely worthwhile after doing independent research on my own and finding that there's a lot of potential in this business."
Cindrich is encouraged by the amount of network TV coverage, which he hopes could thrust the sport to the next level.
Last year, the tour had one network appearance on NBC in late November, which drew a relatively strong 2.2 rating despite competing with a Washington Redskins-Philadelphia Eagles game on CBS. The NFL game doubled the audience, still the rating was encouraging. In October, a PBR event will follow an NFL broadcast on CBS.
While the PBR commands a rights fee from the Outdoor Life Network, which will broadcast the events in all 29 cities, the organization pays for its network programming. Despite the rating, Bernard said last year's NBC broadcast was not profitable because advertisers unsure how the product would look. "This year we'll get good ratings and we'll make money," Bernard said.
"Network television is going to open the door to a lot of new audiences as well as create a lot of corporate interest from companies that have never had any association with bull riding before," said Cory McFadden, a 26-year-old bull rider from Texas and CSA client who has earned almost $250,000 on tour and more from sponsors like Lorec Ranch, Cinch Jeans and Double-H Boots.
Despite the critics, who say the sport's reach is confined to cowboy country, Bernard said he believes the tour soon will be attracting large crowds in the top U.S. markets.
Venues in Worchester, Mass., and Tampa, Fla., consistently pack sellout crowds, and two years ago, PBR cowboys performed before 10,000 people at Madison Square Garden in New York City. This year, the PBR is aiming to sell 30,000 tickets at both the Tacoma Dome in Washington and Georgia Dome in Atlanta.
"Like NASCAR, there's a perception that bull riding has its geographic limitations, but that's not necessarily true," said David Carter, principal of the Sports Business Group, a sports consulting firm. "While everyone doesn't ride a bull, this country was built by cowboys and it's arguable that this sport is more firmly rooted in our heritage than car racing is."
Shoe is on the other foot
Williams' deal, announced two weeks ago, is believed to be worth more than $750,000 a year, while terms of Dunleavy's deal were not disclosed. Other adidas basketball players include Orlando Magic forward Tracy McGrady, whom the company signed to a lifetime contract in April, Houston Rockets forward Eddie Griffin, Boston Celtics forward Antoine Walker, Milwaukee Bucks forward Tim Thomas and Dunleavy's new teammate, Warriors forward Antawn Jamison.
On Wednesday, adidas announced that basketball sales increased by 50 percent during the first half of 2002.
Tiger in the corn
"They weren't sure of the value of it because they've never licensed a corn maze before," said Brett Shryock, a senior at Missouri who helped design the maze. Since the maze opened July 18, the family has pulled in more than $4,000 from tickets. Shryock said the typical profit on seven acres of corn would be about $1,400.
The maze was designed by using a Global Positioning System. "We didn't even know how it turned out until a plane flew over and took a picture," Shryock said.
The Shryocks, who sell University of Missouri licensed ice cream at the maze site, have put ads in the local newspapers and plan to keep the maze open until Nov. 1.
"It definitely generates revenue and is a great marketing tactic," said Nicole, an Eagles cheerleader who appears on the August 2003 page. "On the entertainment level, I think the fans find it fun to look at our pictures and then try to pick out who is who while we're cheering on the field so they can yell out our names."
The timing for the calendar is interesting. More than 100 former members of the Eagles' cheerleading squad have a pending lawsuit against NFL team members for allegedly peeking into the cheerleader's dressing room. The Eagles, however, are not listed as defendants.
In 2000, the Eagles' cheerleader calendar sold out all 15,000 copies and Eagles spokesman Ron Howard said the team hopes there will be demand for a second printing this year. "We wanted this publication to be one that is very sexy but, at the same time, one that is extremely classy, very elegant, and very artistic," Howard said. "In other words, we wanted it to be somewhat of a cross between a Victoria's Secret catalogue and the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue."
Must be in the front row
NBA teams allow LiquidSeats to post listings of season tickets available on Web sites, including LiquidSeats' own site, Stubhub.com, and in local newspapers. The Jets have restricted sales to the team's Web site and only will allow waitlist fans -- who secure an individual password -- to purchase tickets through the program. "Teams really appreciate that our service can reduce the number of no-shows in the stands," LiquidSeats president Eric Baker said. "Not only does this create an exciting atmosphere of a packed house, but also results in additional revenues from beer, hot dogs and parking."
Season-ticket holders might want to use the service for its convenience, which is easier than making a sale through an online auction site or through a broker, Baker said.
"It looks a bit like a lacrosse helmet and it's definitely lighter," said New York Jets tight end Anthony Becht, who tried the helmet out in the spring and continues to use it during training camp. "It's supposed to protect you more, but I'm just not sure that many players will be willing to change, especially if you're like me and you haven't had any concussion history."
With concussion protection in mind, Becht said he thought it would be ideal for quarterbacks. In the spring, the helmet was tested by four NFL quarterbacks, the Indianapolis Colts' Peyton Manning, Arizona Cardinals' Jake Plummer, Cincinnati Bengals' Jon Kitna and Jacksonville Jaguars' Mark Brunell. The helmet, which has a protective shell that extends to the jaw area and can be custom fit by inflating the padding, retails for $159.99, or $37 more than Riddell's other models.
Darren Rovell, who covers sports business for ESPN.com, can be reached at email@example.com