Randy Bernard/Troy Ellerman

Kings of the real cowboy scene

There are people who still think PBR stands for Pabst Blue Ribbon and that rodeos are the stuff of small-town county fairs. But the two biggest names in the business — Professional Bull Riders and the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Assn. — continue to grow by the year, and the sport may soon manage to buck its detractors.

Founded in 1992 as a loose collaboration between top bull riders, the PBR quickly transformed into an international corporation, with sponsorship rising from $365,000 a decade ago to nearly $30 million today. “When I first came on, I was the only employee,” says Randy Bernard, PBR CEO since 1995. The show started with just eight events. “This year we’ll have 170 in the U.S. and 110 in Brazil, Australia and Mexico.”

The PRCA, a nonprofit established in 1936, has seen a similar rise in its profile. Despite a budget deficit in late 2004 that threatened to shutter the venerable ProRodeo Hall of Fame, commissioner Troy Ellerman has since steered the org back out of the red. Last December’s National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas was billed as the richest rodeo in the world, with more than $5 million in prize money.

P.O.V.: “People think this is all Texas stuff,” says Bernard. “But if you went to our events in Connecticut or Massachusetts, our fans there are just as passionate as anyone in Texas. Maybe more so. They’ll come out in a snowstorm to see you.”

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