Team bull riding makes its Nashville debut this weekend

Friday, August 19, 2022, Vol. 46, No. 33
By Tom Wood

Ryan Dirteater attempts to ride Cliff Hanger during the first day of the Kansas City PBR Teams event.

-- Photo By Andy Watson / Bull Stock Media

There’s a stampede coming to Bridgestone Arena this weekend – and that’s no bull. Well, actually, it’s a lot of bulls – and bull riders – who are in Nashville this weekend for the inaugural PBR Stampede Days at Bridgestone Arena.

After decades as an individual sport, the Professional Bull Riders organization has gone all-in on a flashy Team Series concept designed to mimic other pro sports leagues.

After announcing the eight founding franchises (two of which are operated by PBR), a draft was held in late May to stock teams’ rosters, followed by a couple of preseason matches. The 10-stop regular season launched in Cheyenne, Wyoming, in mid-July followed by events in Kansas City and Anaheim before heading to Nashville today through Sunday.

The playoffs, featuring all eight teams, will be held Nov. 4-6 in Las Vegas, where the top two teams will receive first-round byes.

One of those teams belonging to PBR’s version of “The Foolish Club” – as late Oilers/Titans owner Bud Adams and his fellow businessmen called their 1960s founding of the AFL to compete against the NFL – is the Nashville Stampede.

Media company Morris Communications, based in Augusta, Georgia, owns the Nashville franchise. Tina Battock is CEO and general manager of the team, while Justin McBride, a two-time PBR World Champion and Bull Riding Hall of Famer, serves as the team’s coach.

Battock notes the new team series isn’t replacing the individual competitions that longtime fans love, but is an expansion.

“We’re planning on putting on a really good, attractive event – both outside the arena beforehand and then giving the fans a really great experience inside,” Battock says. “Because it’s new and it’s a team event, PBR has done a phenomenal job of reworking the presentation inside.

“So it’s going to be unlike any bull riding anyone has ever seen there. It’s really a feast for the eyes, it’s exciting and there’s a ton of energy and it will be very entertaining. I don’t think anyone will walk away disappointed.”

Team bull riding 101

In short, here’s how this new-fangled team series concept works:

The basic tenet of bull riding is unchanged – the chute gate opens, the bull bucks and the rider clings for dear life. If he stays aboard the 2,000-pound animal for eight seconds, the rider receives a score from the judges – typically somewhere in the 70- to 90-point range.

What’s changed is that it’s no longer individuals battling for a title. Each team fields five athletes per game against their opponents’ riders, points are compiled and the team with the highest aggregate score wins the game.

There are four games per night. Friday, the Stampede (2-5) will meet the Carolina Cowboys (3-4) at 7:45 p.m. Saturday at 6:45, the Stampede will meet the Texas Rattlers (2-5). Then, at 1:15 Sunday, Nashville closes out against the Kansas City Outlaws (2-5). The first two nights will air live on Pluto TV streaming network, and CBS will carry Sunday’s action.

The bulls that each team rides are selected randomly every Tuesday. Then it’s up to the coaches to decide which rider is matched against which bull.

McBride, 43, likes the new series concept, saying it is similar to other team sports – but isn’t.

“I love the team concept,” he says. “I love other sports from football to baseball to you name it. I love all sports.

“I’ve always thought bull riders could be better in a team environment because it gives you the opportunity to coach guys, to give guys some structure during the week, to get guys to ride for something more than themselves, for teammates to hold each other accountable.

“So there’s a lot of great things that can come from this. At the end of the day, it can make the sport better or can be a contributing factor to making this sport better.”

McBride says as loud as the three previous team events were, he expects Nashville fans to roar this weekend.

“Nashville is gonna blow them out of the water. That’s gonna be the event that you don’t want to miss,” McBride says. “(Nashville’s) got great sports there – from the football to the hockey, baseball (and) soccer … they’ve got it going on in Nashville.”

It’s still man vs. beast

Where bull riding differs from other sports is that instead of settling the issue mano y mano, it’s a battle of mano y beasto.

“It’s a little bit different than other sports, where I’m not so much game-planning for the team we’re facing. I’m game-planning for each bull that we face,” McBride explains. “Because if our guys can ride their bull, it doesn’t matter what team we’re facing, you know what I mean?

“Our guys aren’t going out there and try and push their guy around or trying to throw him on his back and pin him (like in wrestling).

“That’s where it differs from other sports. We have to ride our bull. If Kaique (Pacheco, team captain and a future Hall of Famer) doesn’t ride whatever bull he’s matched up against (for eight seconds), then he just goes away. He doesn’t have any competitive role against that other team.”

Despite the team’s recent struggles, McBride says he’s focused on the big picture –peaking for the playoffs.

“There’s some strategy there, like some teams … might match their best rider up against their weakest bull. And when I say, ‘the weakest bull,’ it’s still a good bull, but he might be the weakest one in that set. So you’re seeing teams try to do that,” McBride points out. “They’ll throw away some of their weaker riders against the toughest bulls because they want that high percentage of riding with their best guy.

“We take a little different approach than that with the Stampede. We match it up (as) best guy (versus) best bull, right on down the line, is how we’re trying to match up every week. So like I said, with that comes a few lumps and bruises along the way.

“It’s a learning curve, but when the boys get that, and when they can handle that, that’s gonna make them a very, very tough team to deal with.”

Bull riding vs. Titans

GM Battock has faith in her coach’s method amid the short-but-chaotic battles with the bulls.

“(Justin) was my first phone call as the GM. I thought, ‘Well, I don’t know a lot about bull riding, but I know somebody that does,” she recalls. “I think our approach to the sport, our approach to management, our personalities just really clicked together.

“He’s the one making all the decisions about who’s on the team, who’s riding, who’s riding what. And that’s why he’s here. “He is the best and we have an advantage because riders want to ride for Justin. They know he will make them a better rider – and he already has. So I couldn’t be happier that the best thing we’ve done so far is get Justin McBride.”

Like McBride, she hopes fans turn out in droves even though they go head-to-head with the Tennessee Titans Saturday night when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are in town for a preseason game on the east side of the Cumberland River.

“I just hope everyone comes and takes a look at what we’re doing and if folks haven’t witnessed bull riding in person that they should really come because it’s really exciting – the most-exciting eight seconds in sports,” Battock says.

McBride agrees, though he says singing on the stage of the Grand Ole Opry was scarier than any bull he rode during his career.

“Well, I tell you what. Bull riding is physically much harder, right? It’s dangerous, it’s physically demanding. But I got to play on the Opry a couple of times and walking out on that stage might have been the scariest thing I’ve ever done in my life,” he says with a laugh.