Maybe The Only Semi-Positive Review of PBR on TV in 2011
Sunday, 30 January 2011 23:27

monitor wall inside a remote truckSince the Twenty-Eleven Professional Bull Riders Season kicked off their PBR Built Ford Tough Series in New York City, the UBER-FANS have been upset over the new changes to the coverage of the Toughest Sport on Dirt. Now though I conquer with some of the fan opinion, I will attempt to create the only blog posting on the entire Internet that mentions the positive changes.

First, the set-up is as such: I'm not an uber-PBR Fan, by choice and lack of opportunity. I watch as much PBR on television as I do other sports, and I'm not really a sports buff by any means. I like the story lines of almost any sport, and love to analyze strategies. I have been known to even lock myself in on a weekend to watch every hour of a National or International Curling Tournament. Secondly, since the transition of Canada's OLN from a carbon-copy of USA's OLN/Versus to a true Outdoors station, there is no PBR on Television in Canada. The ONLY way to watch it is the once-in-a-while 1.5 hours of NBC Coverage of a last go and short go (i.e. NYC a few weeks ago, and Indianapolis this past weekend). And at this point, according to, Canadians can look forward to a quick visit to Tampa, FL in April and Las Vegas, NV in October. That's it remaining for 2011.. So, to be an UBER-FAN, one is stuck to forums, fan sites, blogs...all things designed to enhance a sport's fan experience, not encompass it.

So far, all of New York City, Anaheim, Sacramento and Indianapolis have been broadcast on Versus and NBC to its American Audience. Canadians, myself included, saw only the 3rd Go's and Short Go's from NYC and Indianapolis. The Fans have been complaining about a lot:
- a "Truth Booth" a la Bachelor, resulting in missing a lot of rides.
- Third Commentator Justin McKee, resulting in a missing "energy"
- missing sideline reporter Leah Garcia, replaced by a non-experienced in bull riding sideline reporter
- a drier delivery
- an over-explained package
- other things...

It is an ongoing struggle for every sport to balance the package to their audience. Pick any sport on Television, live in-person or even Internet coverage, and you can analyze who they are "working on". There is the UBER-FAN that knows more than the Commentator and is tuning them out, and there is the NEW-FAN-PROSPECT who is just "checking it out". The Producer (and something like the PBR has several: TV Producer, Live Production Manager, Overall...etc.) has to make an Executive Decision on the focus or goal. It is either to introduce and develop new fans, or to engage and continue the relationship with the existing fans. UBER-FANS are awesome in the way that Sponsorship Executions are based on the UBER-FANS; demographics in the sales packages and the actual people that will show up at 9:15am to get a free ketchup packet with their half-price Johnsonville Sausage (old sponsor). However, the painful thing for the UBER-FANS to accept is that they are in essence taken for granted, i.e., "they already have you". Commentators? You already know as much as them, you tune them out anyway. Inside Reviews and uber-action replays? You already caught the wreck in twitch when you see a live ride on the replay screen over the shoulder of the marquee rider that the camera and director is focusing on...

Now the best of the best Producers of Sports Entertainment do a fantastic job of engaging their UBER-FANS in other means. Like with NASCAR, instead of listening the DW and his "Boogity", you can tune in online and hear Kyle Busch's crew chief and team on radio, flip cameras to onboard and pit cameras, start a chat in a forum, tune in to XM Satellite Radio's coverage, and so forth...

The main purpose of the Commentators, reviews and "over-explaining" is to develop the NEW-FAN-PROSPECT. They need a reason to develop a passion for the sport. New prospects are introduced every minute, and they need to be engaged. Why did the rider fall off? That bull didn't look rank, why did he score so high? Bull Riding (and of course Rodeo) is a Sport that very few can relate to (to instantly tune-in and be an UBER-FAN). Baseball, Football, Soccer - everyone played these growing up...they understand the mechanics of a throw, a kick, a block. However, the mass audience has no idea what the difference between a spinner and a jump-kicker is, not to mention their difficulty to ride, compounded with their score values.

For a majority of the PBR Fans, they have learned their extensive knowledge by listening to these commentators over the years. They miss the eliminated ones, i.e. Justin McKee, because they've been watching them for so long, they're like family. But, the point is, they don't hang onto the words any more. They've lost their "training wheels".

In my short exposure to the new production changes made by Executive Producer David Neal and his team, I actually like most of them.

Starting off the Broadcast on NBC in Indianapolis, I really liked the Craig Hummer opening script, other than they wrote the word "manhandle" into it. It was a little less Name-Dropping, which was OK, the UBER-FANS knew Luke Snyder had a few covered and the Brazilians were leading it...and it was pretty riveting. On the other hand, though, a movie-trailer type voice said, "...previously on the PBR..." which was odd. In hindsight, it kind of enhances that the event is about story lines, however, at the moment, it made an assimilation to a soap opera, which even as an educated viewer caught my attention as a potential that the ENTERTAINMENT was outweighing the SPORTS portion.

A lot of Fans have been complaining about the lack of Leah Garcia (though according the press release, she's a revolving reporter), the inexperience of Erin Coscarelli the new sideline reporter, but this afternoon's guy (Kenny?) was more intense than insider focused, and seemed to be asking the questions or sharing the stories that a medium-level fan would be looking for: update on McKennon Wimberly, if a rider was injured but still riding; with a more upbeat delivery.

The production itself had a crisper HD delivery than the PBR World Finals. The "X-Mo" Slow Motion Replays were so intense, that even in the replay you could make the outline of a Built Ford Tough Patch on a vest of a rider on the back of the chutes during the replay of a fellow rider. It was intense, and visually had a "Wow-Factor."

The most noticeable change, of course: the removal of Justin McKee. I am a huge McKee fan, mostly developed when I learned of his being a Steer Roper winning the 1st go of Cheyenne Frontier Days in 2004, whilst setting an arena record in the process, and on-scene as the CFD Announcer (I announce and compete myself...). He brought to the broadcast an upbeat energy. He would be the most intense of all of the commentators, and in my opinion, the most knowledgeable of the breeding of bucking stock. Every Commentator could go on and on from the stats available, but, McKee could go on and on and on about not only the Contestants, but the Bull, its history, its "outs", its Sire and Dam, the Breeder, the Hauler, etc. Definitely his relative strength lied with the Bulls, but his unique offering was the energy, which complemented the serious Craig Hummer set-ups, the dry Ty Murray analysis, etc.

Now, he's gone. It was noticeable, and I would love to see him back...however...

I like the new 2-man commentator set-up because of the "quietness" during the action. One of the other new changes is the addition of wireless mics on about 12 different riders, plus one of the bullfighters. Now, during that eight-second ride, the viewer at home can hear the rush of the crowd, the slam of the hooves, the clang of the chute gates, the grunts of determination by the Rider, the coaching and cheers from the other riders, "MOVE!", "RIDE!", the taunting of the bull by the bullfighters; and two big things I heard this afternoon: the impact as Austin Meier landed on the head of Teague's Cracker Jack, or the "that was disappointing" - type comment from Brendon Clark after being bucked off Jeff Robinson/Cunningham's Sleeper.

When the gate opens, the commentators are quiet, and the Fan is exposed to all of this audio that really takes them into the experience. As a Live-Event Announcer, I often remain quiet myself during the "ride". My feeling is that everyone is watching, so we know the bull is going left, we know it's going into the Rider's Hand (the ones that would be interested in it), we know that was a big "Rare", etc. I've been coached by others to be more audible during the ride (which adds to ambience and energy), but it all comes back to "other sports"...we see what's going on, we don't need to go over the "here's the wind-up, it's down the plate," etc. At baseball games, they announce the hitter as they approach the plate in the Stadium. On television, they go into analysis, but skip the basics.

But with this growing sport of Bull Riding, it's about the set-up and the back sell/replay, thus really allowing the viewer to experience the heart of the action, and I think this new strategy is down the right path. I think Ty Murray has become more upbeat, and his telecaster explanations hit both ends of the spectrum for fans: some extreme uber-stuff I found interesting, and some Bull Riding 101 stuff as well. That was probably the most balanced part of the broadcast, in retrospect.

The UBER-FANS will have to go through the growing pains with the Producers as the package is perfected, and the fan base increases. Most people are short-term minded, and I would submit: the sport needs to grow its fan base. Whatever it takes at this point, let them at least try it. Then...more viewers...more demand...more coverage...and more ways to engage (i.e. UBER-FAN Camera Feeds, interviews, chatrooms, audio, etc.)

The new "Built Ford Tough Invasion" piece with Brendon Clark and Friends doing local stuff (he and Luke Snyder did a footrace on a snow-covered NASCAR track) is amazing, and is adding to the story lines: to show that behind the tough exterior, there are some great personalities. UBER-FANS know that by following the Twitters, etc., but NEW-FAN-PROSPECTS have no idea.

Lastly, my only real "gripe" would be the over Gary Allan "countrifying" of the Broadcast. I'm a big Gary Allan fan, love the song, but "Get Off on the Pain" mellow/upbeat instrumentals all show long were much...a lot of these big changes are to appeal to the mass audience: more Timberlake, less Allan. The old broadcasts had the techno-rock instrumentals, so, I can see their desire to "change" everything, but, it's a bit over the top.

Yeah, I missed Justin McKee again. But, I could easily recognize the overall direction they are taking it, and appreciated it. The HD was glorious, the set-ups were intense. It was a little dulled down on %-ages and histories, but it was still interesting. It needs more work, obviously. The UBER-FANS need to keep contributing to assist in that perfection, and the PBR will need to continue that dialog I'm sure. My biggest hope is when I get to watch it again two and a half months from now, the great PBR will be even a little better. C'mon April!


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