PBR Tour Finding Success That Testing, Masks Work

Fans return — on a limited basis — to the stands for Monster Energy Team Challenge

The Professional Bull Riders tour this past weekend was the first pro-sports event in the U.S. to have spectators indoors in the arena, and, according to  Robby Greene, who oversees TV and production for PBR, the trailblazing event went very well for all involved: fans, production team, riders, and bulls.

The Denny Stanford PREMIER Center in Sioux Falls, SD, hosted the playoffs of the new PBR Monster Energy Team Challenge July 10-12.

Wearing masks is a must for those involved with Professional Bull Riding.

PBR’s new fan-safety protocols included limiting ticket sales to 50% of arena capacity and following social-distancing measures in the arena.

“We had pod seating,” Greene explains. “If a family purchased tickets, they could sit together, and, if there were singles, doubles, or three fans together, they would have their own portion of a row as well as an empty space in front and behind. Our closed, TV-only events in April through the end of June worked well, but it was great to welcome back fans and have some crowd noise while being able to hear some music.”

The event with fans capped off a busy period that saw the safety protocols evolve. PBR’s new team tournament had been in Las Vegas for closed events four weekends in June. Early in the season, the production teams were housed in RVs at the arenas in Vegas, but later they were able to stay on a couple of floors at the South Point Casino, where the arena that was hosting the events was located. This past weekend, they also were housed in a hotel.

“We took over a couple of floors and had our own entrance, where we would test the staff,” says Greene. “Everyone on our team was tested, went into self-isolation, and had meals delivered until they were all clear with a negative test.”

The common thread to all the PBR activities, says Greene, is testing. It’s costly and takes a lot of work to organize, including securing a lab that can guarantee test results in a timely manner, but, to date, it has worked flawlessly for the PBR production team.

PBR has had eight events since the pandemic shut down most of the sports world in March, and the league has had no positive COVID-19 tests among production crews at the arena.

The inability to get testing results in a timely manner is making headlines across the country, but Greene reports that PBR has been able to secure facilities that offer the quick-turnaround testing required.

“I am actually feeling bullish as more options are becoming available, including a new process that involves a swab and can give results in 15 minutes,” he says. “Also, there may be more-affordable tests available soon, so we are improving on an already solid plan.”

On Aug. 7 and 8, PBR’s production truck will be in Bismarck, ND, for the PBR Bismarck Invitational, marking the first time that event, which has been elevated to the premier series, will be televised. The trucks are thoroughly disinfected every day during a production.

“With 90% of our TV crew and utilities being the same across events,” says Greene, “it’s a simple, uniform process that people now understand.”

The biggest step in keeping safe is to wear a mask at all times, according to Greene.

“It’s hard to do with the headset,” he notes, “but you have to do it, be self-aware, practice personal hygiene, and wash hands regularly. And there is no community ice chest. Instead, we have one person who is tested before the event who hands out water bottles, snacks, and meals. It’s all about discipline and creating new habits.”

Greene is gratified with the success of PBR’s comprehensive protocols — a result, he says, of constant communication, comprehensive testing, and a smart plan that everyone adheres to: “You also have to get a little lucky, but we spent a solid month coming up with the plan.”

The focus of the plan has evolved since PBR’s return to competition in late April for closed events at the Lazy E Arena in Oklahoma.

“We are continuing to learn,” he says. “The most fluid part is that things can change county by county and state by state. There are a lot of unknowns. But, every day, I wake up and am so proud of the team. There is no quit in them. Each time a challenge comes up, they find a way through it.”