Rodeo cowboys group tries to lasso global audience

The NBA used superstar Michael Jordan to export its brand around the world. The NFL sells its product in Europe with a regular season game in London. And Major League Baseball promoted its sport with the World Baseball Classic.

Now the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association is going global.

The Colorado Springs-based pro rodeo organization, staging its annual Super Bowl event called the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas until Saturday , is investing in international media buys in Australia, Brazil and China in hopes of exporting the rodeo brand to grow the sport and bringing more value to its cowboy-theme product.

The media buys are modest in cost – less than $100,000. But they indicate that the 7,020-member PRCA is willing to try to reach more fans outside of the United States in hopes of expanding the brand awareness, said Sara Muirheid, PRCA director of marketing.

The international media buys will be on TV and radio and in newspapers, Muirheid said. The media spots will occur in the second quarter of 2013, Muirheid said.

The rodeo association’s global move comes at a time when the PRCA is crafting a new business strategy to showcase the sport’s superstars and highlight the personalities of the bull riders, ropers, barrel racers and steer wrestlers who are vying for $6.125 million in prize money in the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo until Dec. 15.

Mimicking major sports that have built their brands around their biggest stars, the PRCA is creating a new made-for-TV event called the Champions Challenge that will invite 10 of pro rodeo’s biggest names to the special event that would be a separate property from the hundreds of rodeo events across the country.

The PRCA needs to showcase its stars in a more consistent manner to get more fans to connect to rodeo events, and to ultimately grow the sport, said Karl Stressman, PRCA commissioner. The rodeo association reported that attendance at its 591 rodeos hit 4.7 million this year – up 700,000 from 2011. The Great American Country TV network broadcasts the pro rodeo association’s events.

“We need consistency to sell the faces so we need to create superstars. I am a Denver Broncos fan and you see Peyton Manning’s face week after week,” Stressman said.

Stressman said taking the pro rodeo’s brand international is a sound business decision because the image of the American cowboy has universal appeal.

“There’s a little cowboy in every little boy and probably every little girl, too. Those little boys become big boys and we want to expose them to the cowboy image,” Stressman said.

Sponsors and competitors supported the pro rodeo association trying to sell the sport in Australia, Brazil and China.

Jeff Chadwick, director of Wrangler Special Events, said the PRCA needs to tell the stories behind the competitors to resonate with fans close to home and abroad.

“We have to expose the cowboy lifestyle and we need to tell their story,” said Chadwick, whose company is the title sponsor for an event that has sold out the Thomas & Mack Center.

“It’s great thing to try and expand the rodeo,” added Kanin Asay, a 26-year-old bull rider from Wyoming.

Brazil appears to be a logical choice for rodeo sports because that country is known for its bull riding, while Australia has a cowboy demographic that can be tapped, said Harry Hutt, a veteran sports marketing consultant who worked on TV and sponsorship deals for the Detroit Pistons.

“Both countries have very large farming areas, cows, horses, etc., so I feel certain that marketing and media buys in those two countries would be an excellent brand extension globally for the Pro Rodeo Cowboys Association,” Hutt said.

Contact reporter Alan Snel at asnel@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-5273.

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