The cowboys are heading here. The bull riders saunter in to Nassau Coliseum, when the Professional Bull Riders circuit — PBR as it is known — brings its competition to Long Island this weekend, Sept. 23 and 24.
The riders are back here after a 12-year hiatus. You might not think of the New York as a region that would take to this kind of thing, but New York has in fact become a popular stop on the Built Ford Tough Series tour, known as the major league of bull riding.
Some of the larger audiences for PBR events are in urban areas such as New York (at Madison Square Garden each year) and Chicago, according to PBR CEO Sean Gleason. Now Long Island has been added back into the mix.
“With its tough-as-nails cowboys squaring off against fearsome bulls 10 times their size in epic eight-second bursts of mayhem all night long, the PBR is one of the fastest-growing sports,” Gleason says. “PBR fans in the Northeast have been asking for a fall event, and we’re thrilled to return to Long Island.”
Professional bull riding is a rough, grueling sport with roots deeply imbedded in American culture. Those involved with PBR like to say it’s America’s original extreme sport.
The rules are simple enough. Place a wiry 150-pound cowboy on the back of a hulking, snorting temperamental 2,000 pound bull and see if he can ride the beast for an eternal eight seconds, with one hand strapped to the bull’s massive backside.
That eight-second showdown has found a fan base throughout the U.S. wh o want to check out these cowboys and their bulls to see who has what it takes to outwit those fierce horned animals.
The Professional Bull Riders was created in 1992 by a group of 20 visionary bull riders who were seeking mainstream attention for their sport.
“We wanted to create a better product for the fans, so that when they tuned in they were seeing the best of the best every time,” according to PBR co-founder and nine-time World Champion Ty Murray. “Expectations have been exceeded immensely and the fact that this sport continues to grow is a gratifying notion, one that supports all the hard work and dedication of every member of the PBR.”
The founders believed that bull riding deserved to be in the limelight and could succeed as a standalone sport. Each rider invested a hard-earned $1,000, some borrowing from family and friends to achieve their vision.
The original founders took a serious gamble when they pooled their limited resources to fund the grassroots operation, but the risk has certainly paid off. It is now a prolific event on TV, televised weekly by CBS Sports. Annual attendance at the events has grown from 310,000 in 1995 to more than 3 million fans each season.
“It means a lot to be recognized as a sport, just like every other sport,” says rider Cody Nance, who will be competing at Nassau Coliseum, his first visit to Long Island. “A lot of people think what we do is crazy. It’s real and it is a sport. We’ve been doing this all our lives. We want people to respect what we do.”
He also gives credit to the bulls. “They are true athletes,” he adds.
As another rider put it, “We don’t rope calves, and we don’t chase barrels. This is bull riding, and the first rule is just to stay alive.”
The 30-year--old Nance, from Paris, Tenn., is in his 9th PBR season. He began riding bulls at 14 under the guidance of his uncle and stepfather. He was named Rookie of the Year in his debut year on the elite BFTS tour in 2009, finishing 18th at his first world finals. He has since qualified for the world finals in each of his subsequent seasons.
Like other riders on the circuit, he’s had his share of injuries. But that doesn’t keep him down.
“It gets a hold of you,” he says. “It’s an exciting, humbling sport. I love the challenge of it. I’m going to keep going at it until I feel like I’ve accomplished everything I set out to and then I’ll stop. I’ll keep doing this as long as I’m still healthy. And my body is still in good shape. I’ve been blessed.”
Nance will be up against an elite group that includes reigning PBR World Champion Cooper Davis, who will be competing in New York for just the second time in his career. Davis will be one of four world champions in action, riding alongside two-time PBR World Champion J.B. Mauney (2013, 2015); Silvano Alves (2011, 2012, 2014); Guilherme Marchi (2008); and Mike Lee (2004). Jess Lockwood, the 2016 PBR Rookie of the Year and winner of this year’s Buck Off at the Garden event, which opened the 2017 season in January, will also look to continue his winning ways.
Buck Off the Island
When: Saturday, Sept. 23, 6:45 p.m.; Sunday, Sept. 24, 1:45 p.m. Tickets start at $20; available at www.ticketmaster.com, www.nycblive.com, by calling (800) 745-3000 or PBR customer service at (800) 732-1727.
Where: Nassau Coliseum, Hempstead Turnpike, Uniondale.