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WME/IMG Buys Professional Bull Riders, Expanding Live Events Reach

WME/IMG’s expansion into the world of sports continued Wednesday with the announcement that the agency had bought Professional Bull Riders, the rodeo-style event that bills itself as “the fastest-growing sport in America.”

A source close to the deal said the Beverly Hills-based percentery paid about $100 million for ownership of the bull-riding circuit, extending its reach into the live-events space.

PBR stages more than 300 events globally a year, with attendance of more than 3 million people. The sport’s reach via television and the Web — aided by a long-term contract with CBS — extends to more than 550 million households in more than 40 countries.

WME had already made a major move into the sports field last year with its merger with athletics giant IMG. A joint statement from WME/IMG co-CEOs Ari Emanuel and Patrick Whitesell said: “We’ve worked closely with the PBR for the last several years and share their passion for expanding the sport of bull riding globally. The resources across WME/IMG make the partnership a perfect match, combining top quality event production and broadcast rights.”

The Pueblo, Colorado-based organization is run by chief executive Jim Haworth, who said Wednesday he was “thrilled” to join WME/IMG.

“The acquisition will allow our organization to continue its expansion worldwide, and bring our top-quality events to the masses,” Haworth said.

Haworth noted that the organization’s fans follow the bulls sometimes more closely than the riders. He noted that in ESPN the Magazine’s “body” feature last year that a bull named Bushwacker was touted as possessing “the Baddest Body in Sports.”

Last October, about 5,000 people turned out at Huntington Beach, Calif., for an event in which PBR brought its “bull athletes” to the beach. The event drew considerable television viewership, as well, thanks in part to an NFL game lead-in, Haworth said.

The tour was founded in 1992 by 20 riders, breaking away from the traditional rodeo circuit. The organization now holds several tours, including the elite PBR Built Ford Tough Series, the BlueDEF Velocity Tour, the Touring Pro Division, and circuits in Australia, Brazil, Canada and Mexico.

Haworth noted that the Professional Bull Riders are not entirely newcomers to Hollywood. Organization members served as advisers on the recently released Scott Eastwood starrer “The Longest Ride.”

WME/IMG is purchasing the PBR from controlling shareholder Spire Capital Partners, a New York-based private equity firm and from other shareholders.

The Raine Group and Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison served as WME/IMG’s financial and legal advisers, respectively. PBR was advised by financial advisers Evercore and legal advisers Dentons.

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