Professional Bull Riders

This ain't a one-time rodeo

January 27, 2012: 12:33 PM ET
Professional Bull Riders CEO Jim Haworth

Professional Bull Riders CEO Jim Haworth

Professional Bull Riders CEO Jim Haworth aims to turn what most people think of as one event at the rodeo into a modern, mainstream sport.

FORTUNE – When it comes to executive experience, this is not Jim Haworth's first rodeo. The Professional Bull Riders CEO was an executive vice president at Sears (SHLD), chairman of Chinese retail company Chia Tai Enterprises International Ltd., and spent 20 years at Wal-Mart (WMT) before that.

Haworth took the reins at PBR in 2011 with the aim of turning what most people think of as one event at the rodeo into a modern, mainstream sport. Things are looking up, he says, "What's exciting about the PBR is that we're a profitable sporting event. If you go out and look, there's not that many of those."

Still, Haworth has his eyes on bigger things -- more networks broadcasting bull riding and an expanded global fan base. He spoke to Fortune about marketing to "buckle bunnies," taking the New England Patriots' Chad Ochocinco up on a challenge, and pleasing the Facebook fans of a bull named Bushwacker. Here is an edited transcript of our conversation.

Fortune: How did you go from retail to the bull riding business?

Jim Haworth: I grew up around cattle and I have a ranch in Oklahoma where I raise cutting horses, quarter horses, and cattle. This job is the first time that I've been able to put my business savvy and acumen towards what I would say is a passion for me -- the Western lifestyle. So it's been a dream job.

I got involved as an advisor with the PBR back in 2005. In 2011, Spire Capital Partners asked me if I'd like to take on this challenge, and I said absolutely.

How do you modernize a sport like bull riding?

We have to think about how to create a mainstream sport that has a history embedded in a Western lifestyle from years ago. One of the things we learned is our fans want more bull riding. So we've got to deal with different TV networks. We're doing our first YouTube launch tonight. If you look at our website, we actually have a live event center where we broadcast behind the scenes of events….

The other key piece of our strategy is international growth. We have good U.S. riders, but we also have Brazilian riders, Canadian riders, and Australian riders.

Not only is Australia a good business for us, it's a good strategic spot as we think about Asia and other places where we might want to transport bulls. You can't necessarily bring bulls from the United States directly into China. You would have to bring them from Australia.

How important are the individual bulls to the business? Is one bull the same as any other?

The two things we've got are great riders and great bulls. Bushwacker last year was our PBR world champion bull of the year. He was in the Wall Street Journal twice last year; he was in the New York Times, and on ESPN.

If you look at our exposure, Bushwacker by far gave us more publicity than any of our riders did. In some cases, bulls have a larger following on Facebook than some of our riders.


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