CBS Sports Network Enters Ring With PBR to Present ‘Greatest Sport on Dirt’

New Yorkers walking past Madison Square Garden on a Friday night are long accustomed to the sight of harried commuters hurrying home mingling with the masses emerging from Penn Station ready for a night out. When a third group enters the mix wearing cowboy boots and hats, it can mean only one thing: professional bull riding is back in the Big Apple.

The Built Ford Tough Series came out of the chute at Madison Square Garden last weekend.

This past weekend marked the Sixth Annual Madison Square Garden Invitational and official start to the 2012 Professional Bull Riders (PBR) Built Ford Tough Series. The top 40 bull riders competed against their four-legged foes in a sport appropriately termed “the toughest eight seconds in sports” on Jan. 6-8.

After a successful inaugural season, David Neal Productions returned as producer of the Built Ford Tough Series, showing no signs of sophomore slump.

“It was vital to me going in to make sure that we didn’t lose any of the momentum we had coming out of the [World] Finals in Las Vegas last October,” says Executive Producer David Neal. “I thought all three shows, starting with Friday night, got better and better as we went through them, even got better within the shows.”

PBR Gets a New Corral
On Saturday night, CBS Sports Network officially joined the PBR team, broadcasting the first of 27 PBR events planned this season. With a multiyear deal and a programming slate comprising more than 55 hours of live event coverage and an exclusive weekly highlight show, CBS Sports Network has unseated Versus (now rebranded as NBC Sports Network) as PBR’s primary television home.

“This was a great advantage for us to have the season kick off on our network in New York City,” says Ross Molloy, VP of remote productions, CBS Sports Network. “Bull riding brings a different dynamic to our network; it’s such a different viewing experience from the other sports we cover. It really captivates you. Every single moment, you watch holding your breath, [hoping] for a great ride and that no one gets injured. We cover a lot of physical sports, but this one’s pretty darn tough.”

In addition to the 27 broadcasts on CBS Sports Network, eight events will be carried on CBS, five will air on NBC, and 15 will be broadcast on NBC Sports Network. PBR will broadcast those events not carried live on television on the PBR YouTube channel.

“This is going to be a great year for the PBR,” says PBR President/COO Sean Gleason. “We entered 2012 with one of the best media packages we’ve ever been able to offer to our fans, we’re gong to have more than 500 hours of coverage this year on various platforms, and we’re doing that with two network families: the NBC family and the CBS family. We’re looking forward to serving our 25 million-plus unique viewers with that package.”

From the Truck to the Shark Cage
David Neal Productions will deploy a 12-camera complement for the Built Ford Tough Series, which will make 29 stops in 23 states before the Built Ford Tough World Finals in October.

Operating out of the IMS HD2 truck, David Neal Productions uses a jib to deliver the primary look and supplements this feed with a variety of handhelds on the dirt, pole cams over the chutes, and hard cameras backstage.

Once again, the central caged-in area affectionately known as The Shark Cage will house a brave camera operator and an Inertia Unlimited X-Mo high-speed camera.

“The X-Mo really captures the sheer magnitude, the G forces put on these riders when they’re on top of these bulls,” says Neal, “which is what it’s all about: making our viewers understand just how dangerous this is. The X-Mo does a wonderful job of getting that point across.”

Molloy also touts the X-Mo’s impact: “It can make an eight-second ride feel like an eternity. To really see the matchup between the bull and the rider out there going head to head was sensational.”

Sound Reigns Supreme
In addition to the visual experience, Neal continues to emphasize audio and natural sound. The series’ A broadcasts will feature up to 12 riders wearing RF lavaliere microphones.

“[With] most of these riders, when our on-air talent lays out and listens, you can just hear the way that they’re practically willing themselves to stay on board,” says Neal. “It’s a combination of grunts and groans, but it comes across pretty powerfully. As you could imagine, when they get bumped off and they hit the dirt, if it’s any sort of a violent collision, the sound of that is much more impactful than anything we could say.”

Boom mics placed over the chutes will be used to pick up the sounds of the riders, handlers, and stock contractors. Noting the “organized chaos” of the chute, Neal praises his crew for their ability to get the shot and pick up the sound without interfering with the scene.

“I’ve never seen a sport that is more TV-friendly than this sport,” he says. “There’s really nothing that they tell us they can’t do, in terms of cameras, camera placement, in terms of microphones, putting microphones on riders. I can’t think of another sport that has that sort of access for reporting, storytelling, [and] capturing what’s going on.”

Luring the Casual Viewer
Once again, David Neal and company plan to emphasize Olympic-style storytelling in every broadcast. Creative Director Cory Kelley will create all teases, openings, bumpers, and billboard elements and will also film longer features ranging from 25-30 seconds to two minutes.

“We want to line each show with little pieces of Velcro,” Neal explains, “because, in the universe we’re all competing in now, you’ve sometimes got a window of 30 seconds when a viewer searching through the channels lands on your show and, if it’s somebody that doesn’t know anything about bull riding, you’ve got that very short window to grab their interest, to give them a reason to care. We try to make sure every show has numerous touch points where we can grab onto those casual viewers who might not have even intended to see us. It’s crucial for us to have shows that are compelling, that have a chance of grabbing a new casual viewer and getting them to stay with us.”

On-air talent includes veteran broadcaster Craig Hummer and nine-time World Champion and PBR co-founder Ty Murray, with PBR Ring of Honor member J.W. Hart working on the chutes and Mark Morgan reporting on the dirt. Shorty Gorham, a bullfighter whose job requires him to keep bulls away from fallen riders, will also provide commentary from the dirt.

“This is probably without question the most knowledgeable group of on-air talent and production folks that you’ll find in this sport,” says Molloy. “They’re not going to miss a thing; they’re going to hit all the major storylines [and] bring you up close and personal. They’re really going to give our viewers a reason to root for a bull or a rider, and I think that that’s what they do better than anybody.”

Getting Back on the Bull
The Built Ford Tough Series travels almost 3,000 miles this week en route to Anaheim, CA, where the Anaheim Invitational will be held Jan. 14-15. Despite the successes of last weekend’s Madison Square Garden Invitational, both Neal and Molloy see room to improve.

“If you ever get to a point where you’re complacent and think that you can’t improve,” says Neal, “then you’re in serious trouble.”

Echoes Molloy, “This is a series. There’s nothing worse than walking out of a truck and saying, ‘I don’t get another crack at it.’ On a series like this, we get many cracks at it, and we’ll never stay complacent. I want the fans that we’ve got already on CBS Sports Network and the PBR loyal fans to know that this is a series, stop to stop, and we want them to jump on for the ride.”

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