When Kate Harrison speaks later this month, everyone interested in the Professional Bull Riders league will hear her.
Harrison will be the face of the league’s new effort to get more fans to consider bull riding as a sport worth watching over the long haul. Later this month, the Endeavor-backed league launches its PBR Team Series, in which eight teams with names like the Nashville Stampede and the Texas Rattlers compete in a ten-event regular season of five-on-five bull riding games, all leading up to a November championship that will be seen via CBS, Paramount+ and Pluto TV.
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Even in modern sports, says Harrison, her presence might be seen as risky, despite a greater preponderance of female announcers leading sportscasts streamed by Amazon and Apple. A woman at the helm of a sports broadcast, she says, “is not what fans are used to seeing when they turn games on. For PBR to stand by me and want to take that jump with me I think speaks volumes about where they want to go as a sport.”
PBR hopes the new concept will wave a flag in front of new audiences. Bull riding has long been an individual pursuit, notes Sean Gleason, PBR’s Commissioner and CEO. But if one rider gets injured, fans are left without a favorite to latch on to for the season. Having teams “gives fans a chance to engage with a hometown team, a regional team, something that we’ve not had before: multiple riders in a team format.”
While the bulk of the sports world’s attention tends to focus on football, basketball, hockey and baseball, there is a legion of other properties vying for the spotlight – and which may just get more of it as sports content solidifies its status as one of the few things that still brings in the outsize live TV audiences that advertisers and distributors still crave. ESPN, CBS and others are working to burnish European soccer for U.S. audiences, while Fox and NBC are making the media industry’s latest attempt to spark spring football with the USFL. Disney will try its hand at something similar next year when it launches a season of the new XFL backed by noted entrepreneurs Dwayne Johnson and Dany Garcia.
“We have won our fans one at a time,” says Gleason. “This is going to open the door for more casual fans to experience the sport.”
Paramount Global is counting on it. The Teams season will include 112 games, with a “Game of the Week” slated for carriage either on CBS or CBS Sports Network, and streamed on Paramount+. The inaugural Teams season also features a “RidePass” on PlutoTV that brings with it 60 live bull-riding games.
PBR’s chief has been dreaming of team play for more than a decade. “I wrote the original plans in 2007,” Gleason says, acknowledging that bull riding is typically seen as something that comes down to the individual participants. With team play, he says, there will be coaches and aggregate scores that will add new dimensions to competition. “I’m not sure if any sports as individual as ours has been able to introduce a team concept, but that’s where we are.”
PBR hopes to change the fan experience as well. People who go to see the team competitions live will see new lighting and digital signage. “We will have the ability to change the environment at a moment’s notice with colors and lights and sounds,” says Gleason, “and we have redone our bucking chutes so each team comes out of their own side of the arena.”
Fans won’t be able to miss Harrison, either. “Not only is she going to be front and center in our broadcast, but she will be perched dead center in the middle of the arena, and the live audience is going to hear her calls as well,” says Gleason.
Harrison isn’t just dipping her toes into a new sport. She has hard-won experience with horse riding and stunts in Western-themed material. “I’ve always been in the dirt,” she quips.
Her father enjoyed a career as a team roper and a stuntman, and, as a child, she did similar work. At the age of seven, she worked as a stunt double on a TV series based on the popular movie “The Magnificent Seven.” She also did stunt work in TV series and movies such as “Charmed,” “Bernie Mac” and “Hollywood Homicide.” After studying broadcast journalism at the University of Southern California, Harrison worked with Nike Women, the Los Angeles Clippers, and the USC Trojans. She hosted shows for the PAC-12 Network and a USC Football pregame radio show for ESPN’s Los Angeles operations, as well as a morning show for Radio Disney. In 2016, Harrison joined the PBR on CBS as sideline report
But that isn’t enough to call a new iteration of a long-running sport, Harrison says, noting that over-preparing helps create a path to success. “I’ve been reliving and rewatching PBR shows, putting my own voice to them.” She’s conscious that her opening call for the first PBR Team Series will be a heady moment. “I understand the weight of it,” she says.
There will be other things to carry ,as well. Harrison had a baby just a few weeks ago and intends to have both the newborn and her brother with her during parts of her PBR travels. “Flying around with a toddler and a newborn – there is no manual for that,” she says. PBR is clearly trying to write a lot of new rules for its game.
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