Professional bull rider Ty Murray is at the top of his sport. And in many ways, it really is his sport. In 1992, Murray was one of 20 high-ranking bull-riding athletes who founded Professional Bull Riders (PBR), an organization now made up of more than 800 members who compete for top titles in a sporting event that's winning record numbers of fans worldwide.
"Ten years ago, the PBR was just ideas that us guys talked about. Ideas about how things could be better," says Murray. "But then we put our money where our mouth is." Each person contributed $1,000 to form the cowboy-owned and -operated business, which made an independent sport out of bull riding, the most popular event in traditional rodeo. Then the group started searching for sponsors and recognition.
To illustrate how much PBR has grown in a decade, Murray points out that prize money totaled $250,000 the first year; now it's a jackpot of $9 million for winners in the Bud Light Cup Series, which will make a stop in Phoenix on Saturday, March 16.
PBR has dramatically changed the face of rodeo, Murray notes. "It's just the very best guys and the very best bulls -- two hours of nonstop action." Riders are in constant competition to stay in the "major league" of the PBR, which consists of the top 45 riders. At every fourth event, the five lowest-ranking riders are dropped to the "minor league," and the top five from that pool are promoted. "What we've created is a followable sport," says Murray. "People recognize the guys they're seeing, and it's created a lot of fans."