“Ladies and gentleman,” booms the arena announcer. “The top 35 bull riders in the world are in Sacramento!”
It’s opening night for the 2018 Professional Bull Riders tour and the 21st century version of your father’s rodeo unfolds on the dirt-covered floor of Golden 1 Center on Jan. 26.
Animals, cowboys and clowns all seem in constant motion, working in tandem to keep the show rolling. A steel gate is pulled open and the real action begins — a 150-pound rider attempts to hang onto an unaccommodating 2,000-pound bull for 8 harrowing seconds — and often failing. Barrel men and ropers are right behind, chasing down any wayward bulls and separating the participants from injury. Rodeo clown Flint Rasmussen narrates the activities live to the capacity crowd.
The pyrotechnics start early with the opening flag ceremony and are triggered again whenever a rider hits the magic 8-second mark. The constant thumping of classic rock and country tunes selected by the riders provide the soundtrack of the night.
For 16 consecutive years, first at Arco/Sleep Train Arena and now the Golden 1 Center, Sacramento fans have made it a ritual of grabbing their cowboy hats and heading to the home of the Kings to welcome the best talent the bull riding world has to offer. The streak should continue in 2019. PBR officials say Sacramento set an attendance record over the Jan. 26-28 weekend for this year’s 25th anniversary edition of the PBR tour, the Unleash the Beast: Wrangler Long Live Cowboys Classic.
Ramon de Lima of Sao Paulo, Brazil, went went 4-for-4 over the three days (which meant he rode all four of his bulls at least 8 seconds) to earn the championship trophy and collect a paycheck of $40,625.
Sacramento is one of the few stops on the tour to host a three-day event, a show of confidence that appears to be paying off.
“Sacramento has always been a great tour stop for us,” Casey Lane, PBR’s senior vice-president of partnership and marketing, says during the first night of the Golden 1 Center run. “It’s the right kind of market for PBR, a mix of urban-suburban, but close-enough-to drive-country. It’s a super educated and passionate audience for us. That was true at Arco Arena and is true in the new building.”
Those demographics fit well into the long-term plans of the Golden 1 Center, says Vivek Ranadivé, owner and chairman of the Sacramento Kings.
“Events like PBR, Monster Jam and family shows, combined with Kings basketball and world-class concerts, reflect the taste of our community — reaching across all genres — and igniting a new sense of culture and entertainment for the region and beyond,” Ranadivé said in a recent statement after the local arena was named by industry magazine Pollstar as the 15th busiest venue in the nation.
Started by 20 pro circuit riders in 1992 who put up $1,000 each, the PBR was purchased by media giant William Morris in 2015 and has a long-term TV contract with CBS and its affiliated sports networks. The tour will stage 17 major events in 15 states during the first half of 2018, with each event featuring the top 35 riders in the world, competing for a portion of $11 million in prize money.