PE-Backed Bull-Riding League Signs Red Sox Marketers as Sponsors

CHICAGO (Reuters) – The professional bull-riding circuit has signed a multiyear deal with the group that owns the Boston Red Sox baseball team to boost corporate sponsorships, Fenway Sports Group (FSG) said on Friday.

Financial terms of the Professional Bull Riders Inc’s (PBR) deal with FSG, a unit of Red Sox owner New England Sports Ventures, were not disclosed.

Under the agreement, which begins immediately and runs through 2012, FSG will sign sponsorship deals for PBR, which bills itself as “the toughest sport on earth.”

“We welcome the additional talent FSG brings to our ongoing efforts to partner with prestigious brands,” PBR Chief Operating Officer Sean Gleason said in a statement, citing FSG’s “unmatched list of corporate contacts.”

That reach will be important as many companies, including General Motors Corp (GM.N) and FedEx Corp (FDX.N), have cut back on sports-related spending in response to the recession.

For example, NASCAR has been hit by cutbacks in corporate sponsorships, forcing teams in the stock-car racing circuit to merge and cut jobs.

The weak economy also has led to teams folding in pro lacrosse and women’s basketball, layoffs in the National Football League and National Basketball Association, frozen budgets in Major League Baseball and the Arena Football League canceling its 2009 season.

PBR is no exception as it has cut costs and increased the availability of $10 tickets — one reason a recent event in Baltimore saw the highest attendance in its five years. The Pueblo, Colorado-based sport also has felt pressure on its corporate business, but no major sponsor defections.

Founded in 1992, PBR has more than 1,200 bull riders competing in more than 300 competitions in North America, Brazil and Australia. Current sponsors include Ford Motor Co (F.N), Altria Group Inc’s (MO.N) Copenhagen brand and VF Corp’s (VFC.N) Wrangler jeans.

PBR is owned by New York private equity firm Spire Capital Partners as well as retired star athletes Wayne Gretzky and John Elway.

The sport involves mostly wiry, 150-pound (70-kg) men struggling for up to eight seconds to stay astride bad-tempered, 2,000-pound bulls with names like “Scene of the Crash” and “Chicken on a Chain” looking to throw them off.

It attracted 1.7 million fans to events last year and more than 100 million viewers watched the action on such networks as Comcast Corp’s (CMCSA.O) Versus, News Corp’s (NWSA.O) Fox, General Electric Co’s (GE.N) NBC and Walt Disney Co’s (DIS.N) ESPN.

“The Professional Bull Riders is one of the premier properties in professional sports and has quickly become one of the most recognizable and well-respected extreme sports in the country,” FSG Executive Vice President Brian Corcoran said in a statement.

FSG also owns half of NASCAR race team Roush Fenway Racing. In addition to its work with the Red Sox and the NASCAR team, FSG’s clients include Major League Baseball’s media arm, Boston College athletics and Verizon Wireless. (VZ.N)(VOD.L)

By Ben Klayman
(Editing by Steve Orlofsky)