The Professional Bull Riders tour is going to get the Olympic treatment, with former NBC Sports exec producer David Neal signing on to wrangle the 60-plus telecasts of the series in 2011.
Except for a few broadcasts on CBS and NBC, sports cabler Versus airs the PBR on Saturdays and Sundays — roughly 400 hours per year — leading up to the PBR World Finals in October. The season begins in January at New York’s Madison Square Garden.
Neal produced nine Olympics while winning 28 sports Emmys and two primetime Emmys during a 30-year career at NBC, before forming his own production company this summer. He intends to bring that style of presentation to how the tour is presented on TV — approaching it as a storytelling opportunity for both the two-legged and four-legged athletes.
“As much as anything, it’s allowing room for these characters, these personalities to grow,” Neal told Daily Variety. “And it’s the old Storytelling 101: If we give a viewers a reason to care about the athletes involved, the riders and the athletes being ridden … that’s the magic right there.”
But Neal also said his top priority is to highlight the visceral athletics of the competition.
“At the core of it is this eight-second marvel that these riders go out and routinely accomplish,” he said. “First and foremost, there’s so much to capture there that’s just of an audio and visual nature that needs to be uncluttered. The core event is so dynamic and so impactful, and television, between high definition and sophisticated audio technology, we can really do a lot to maximize the experience.”
PBR exec chairman Jeffrey Pollack believes Neal will help accelerate the rise of the PBR, which was nominated as 2010 Sports League of the Year at the Sports Business Journal Sports Business Awards, alongside the NFL, NBA and Major League Baseball.
“David is one of the best in the business, and his creativity and production know-how will help us better engage our core audience and also reach out to new fans and viewers around the world,” Pollack said. “The PBR is becoming more of a media-forward company, and having David on our team will help us tell our story with even more excitement, precision and style.”
Neal intends for his new production company to work in both the sports and entertainment worlds. Most recently, Neal produced and directed “Backstage Live at the Emmys” the online component to August’s Emmycast.
“This is really nonscripted entertainment,” Neal said of the PBR. “These are 40 or so cowboys, and they genuinely are cowboys … and they’re all characters, and I know we will see two or three of them break out next year under the new structure of the broadcast we are going to bring, where it’s going to allow the breakout person to really shine.”