BY JOE FAVORITO
ON N.J. SPORTS MARKETING
This weekend the New York area will be without a boxing match, an MMA card, the NFL, the NHL, arena football and indoor soccer. There is a smattering of college hoops and a little NBA, but what can someone with a hankering for some action check out. Well the Professional Bull Riders (PBR) are back for their annual stop at Madison Square Garden. From its bulls (which have been housed in New Jersey for most of the week by the way) to its interactive displays, its riders and its clowns, the PBR experience is certainly a unique one for sports branding coming through New York for what is its only East Coast appearance.
In previous years the PBR has tested jousting, marched the bulls through Times Square and offered up first hand visits to try and distinguish themselves from other events in the area. There is usually a Giants playoff game or some NHL looking to draw attention.
This year, the sports card is pretty much all bull for a weekend which the Tour uses to kick off its season and remind Madison Avenue that its fans and its product are unique to sport.
Why MSG in January? Even with a slower economy than when the circuit first came to MSG, the PBR still pulls some major brands from Ford to Stanley Tools to Wrangler to Cooper Tires, and even a new official chainsaw in Echo Power Tools (try selling that category, MLB). Their exclusive TV partner, CBS, also needs to entertain and engage partners in the buying capital of the sports world, especially since the PBR does not come any closer than Fayetteville, North Carolina at any point in 2013. We do live in a global sports environment now, but being able to experience an event like the PBR for skeptical brand buyers is very important, and there is no better way than hosting a showcase event in their backyard.
Families may be looking for a post-holiday event to attend that is both affordable and a bit different, and the casual sports fan is looking for some live event that is not of the norm and is a ways away from a normal trip to "The World's Most famous Arena." Add in the NASCAR-like appeal of the bull riders, the spectacle and drama of the bulls and you have an event that can actually draw attention and pull in a strong weekend crowd in a very fickle environment.
Aside from the spectacle of PBR, the fact that it is a stand-alone East Coast event for the sport, at the same time every year, can even make the weekend a destination spot for staycationers in the burbs, but also for fans of the sport from up and down the east coast and parts inland. All that works because of the consistency of the calendar, and a willing partner in Madison Square Garden. If the event moved from time to time, or if it had to go up against better weather or any host of other events in the crowded New York schedule, the event would be nowhere near as successful. Casual fans would not seek it out, or be able to circle the date with consistency. Even diehard fans would have to adjust from the rigors of daily life, and any stretch from annual consistency could spell doom.
Consistent and effective year in, year out branding and timing leads to a good churn of the casual fan and builds brand loyalty for the core follower, which translates into three days of an enthused, supportive and engaged fan, which is what all events strive to deliver in these challenging times, especially in the largest media market in the country.
So is the PBR season opener a model for branding success for niche events? It has many of the elements for a good one off, most important of which is exciting live content in a weekend which is as quiet in the area on the sports calendar as any. If it spectacle you like, the PBR certainly delivers.
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Joe Favorito has over 24 years of strategic communications/marketing, business development and public relations expertise in sports, entertainment, brand building, media training, television, athletic administration and business. Visit him at JoeFavorito.com.