He has the singular distinction of being chief executive of both the Professional Bull Riding and IndyCar organizations, two divergent sports businesses with wildly different demographic crowds and cultures.
But anyone who knows Randy Bernard will tell you he is most at home in his latest job. That’s running a TV network that focuses on rural America and getting back to wearing Wrangler blue jeans instead of executive blue suits.
Bernard is chief executive of Omaha, Neb.-based RFD-TV, which invested $1 million to broadcast the diverse scenes of Western culture and cowboy lifestyles that have swept through Las Vegas as part of the National Finals Rodeo. The 10-day Super Bowl of rodeos is underway through Saturday.
In much the same way that ESPN covers the action all around the Super Bowl, RFD-TV cameras are showing up at NFR-related activities such as watch parties in sponsor hotels, rodeo pageants and buckle ceremonies. Bernard also wants his content to frame the cowboys’ personalities.
“He’s captured the fan experience here. It’s not just a rodeo. There’s so much more to this. They’re going to broadcast stuff behind the scenes. He’s doing what MTV brought to Spring Break,” said David Allen, a Bernard friend who is president and chief executive of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation based in Missoula, Mont.
Bernard didn’t pay a nickel in NFR broadcast rights fees to capture the bull riding, horse back riding and roping at UNLV’s Thomas &Mack Center. The Great American Country network has the TV broadcast rights for that.
Instead, his half-dozen RFD-TV crews are roving Las Vegas to give viewers a strong dose of cowboy culture in Las Vegas, plus offer coverage at an RFD studio set at FanFest in the Las Vegas Convention Center.
It’s six hours of daily coverage for 11 days: 66 hours of cowboy hats, Wrangler jeans, boots and country music from Las Vegas available to more than 60 million homes across America.
Las Vegas Events, which is marketing and promoting the NFR, said that while 175,000 tickets have been sold at a packed Thomas &Mack Center for the 10 days, there are two to three times that number of visitors in Las Vegas filling hotels, watch parties and restaurants as part of Las Vegas’ transformation into a cowboy town.
“That’s what RFD-TV is capitalizing on,” NFR calf-roping competitor Tyson Durfey said.
Karl Stressman, commissioner of the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association, which puts on the NFR, appreciated RFD-TV’s coverage.
“It’s been great pre-game,” he said.
RFD-TV is not on Cox Cable in Las Vegas, but it is available via Dish Network and DirecTV to Las Vegas residents. Cox Hospitality network is also broadcasting RFD-TV in Las Vegas hotel rooms.
Bernard’s journey to running a rural-theme TV network was hardly linear when you consider the long-time Professional Bull Riding executive took a three-year pitstop to run the IndyCar league from 2010-12, trading bulls and beer-drinking crowds for high-speed, open-wheel cars and the champagne-sipping demo.
Bernard has shied away from discussing why he left IndyCar until now. A 46-year-old father of three, Bernard said he joined IndyCar after making Professional Bull Riding (PBR) a successful organization because he wanted to see if he could transfer that success to the world of big-time Indy car racing. After joining Indy in 2010, he rebranded the organization from IRL to IndyCar and even brought an Indycar Series race to Las Vegas Motor Speedway in 2011.
But the IndyCar series suffered a tragedy when racer Dan Wheldon died in a crash.
Bernard said the death prompted him to negotiate out of holding two more races at Las Vegas Motor Speedway under a three-year contract.
He said team owners were trying to oust him, and he eventually left in October 2012 under difficult conditions with two years left on his contract.
As one door closed, another opened when Patrick Gottsch, founder and chairman of RFD-TV, called and offered him a chance to run a TV network that focused on rural America.
Bernard checked out the financials of the network, which was founded in December 2000. He was satisfied. He took the chief executive job a year ago and never looked back.
“He’s back to his old culture and back to his roots,” Allen said of his pal. “Randy is rooted in the Western entertainment business. This is like coming home for him.”
Gottsch said it would not have been possible to pull off the comprehensive NFR coverage in Las Vegas the first year out of the box without Bernard’s deep network of contacts.
Bernard knows Las Vegas well from his days of staging big-time PBR events in the city.
“He gave us instant credibility with all the hotels,” Gottsch said. “His reputation in the Western industry is very unique. They know when Randy Bernard gets involved in something, it will get done.”
Bernard has appreciated his boss’s words, and quipped, “I told Patrick that I’m cheap to get, but my ideas are expensive.”
Bernard’s next idea? He said RFD-TV is bidding for the broadcast rights to the National Finals Rodeo event.
Alan Snel can be contacted at 702-387-5273 or email@example.com. Follow @BicycleManSnel on Twitter.