The Thunder is coming! Bass Pro-owned franchise is part of PBR’s new venture into team bull riding competition

Published: Jan. 17, 2022 at 6:37 PM CST|Updated: Jan. 17, 2022 at 7:46 PM CST
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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - The Springfield area is about to get its second professional sports franchise.

The Springfield Lasers of World Team Tennis will soon be joined by the Missouri Thunder of the Professional Bull Rider’s new team competition.

When PFI Western Wear owner Randy Little lured the Professional Bull Riders circuit to JQH Arena in 2009, Springfield was the smallest market ever to host a PBR event.

And now, as the PBR is expanding to a team competition starting this June, southwest Missouri is one of only eight places to get a franchise. The team will be known as the Missouri Thunder and will be owned by Bass Pro founder Johnny Morris and co-coached by former Hall of Fame riders Luke Snyder and Ross Coleman. Snyder, a former Rookie of the Year and World Finals Champion who competed in a record 275 consecutive events over nine seasons, is a Missouri native now living in Ozark and isn’t surprised that the PBR is putting a franchise here.

“Missouri has the biggest PBR fan base you can imagine,” Snyder pointed out. “That’s why Springfield is always sold out.”

“You may have the smallest market in terms of numbers but you have the biggest heart and spirit in terms of love for PBR and the western sport lifestyle,” added PBR Chief Marketing Officer Kosha Irby from the organization’s home in Pueblo, Colorado. “So it was a natural fit for us to put a team in this locale.”

It was also a natural fit to get Johnny Morris involved considering he’s already a major player in other big time sports sponsorships from NASCAR to professional fishing.

Irby, whose previous experience included eight years as a regional director for World Wrestling Entertainment, compared Morris to his former boss Vince McMahon.

“Both of those guys kept going even in the face of insurmountable odds,” Irby explained. “When you start talking about the Bass Pro name and what he’s built there it’s amazing. And when you get guys who know how to build things from the ground up, that expertise will allow for us to have a longer runway than some other start-up leagues.”

The team concept first arose during the pandemic when PBR sponsored a team event without fans.

“We had been tinkering with the team concept for a while,” Irby said. “We’ve had a Global Cup which is basically the Olympics of bull riding where each country competed with their top riders. But during the pandemic last summer we launched a team challenge in Las Vegas. We didn’t have fans in attendance, they could only watch on TV, but it was the best bull riding you’ll ever see. What we realized very quickly was the level of riding went up and the level of camaraderie went up. When they started having to ride and lean on one another it just created an element that we couldn’t replicate.”

And the five-man teams (with two alternates) that will be competing in this new league will involve some game-planning.

“We’ll have to be very strategic in who we draft,” Snyder explained. “And once we get the guys and bulls determined, we’ll have to decide who should be on a particular bull. This bull might spin to the left and this guy rides better to the left, that kind of thing. So it’s going to come down to some strategy. But the positive thing is when you have five guys it really adds some accountability because they don’t want to let each other down. They’ll compete harder which generates much better rides for the fans to watch.”

All that might lead you to wonder, considering some of the bulls are as well known as the riders, will the bulls ever have their team?

“I wouldn’t put it past this group to come up with a way that bulls could create their own franchise and monetize it,” Irby said with a laugh.

“I remember when I was riding looking up in the stands and seeing somebody rooting for the bull and you’re like, ‘C’mon now!’ but these are animal athletes,” Snyder added. “That’s exactly what they are. The breeding program for these animals is getting just like the Kentucky Derby and they all have their own personalities which will be appealing to fans.”

The 10-event schedule will run from June-November with the team championship in Las Vegas November 4-6. The Missouri Thunder will have only one home match in its first season (date still to be determined) but that will be at the Thunder Ridge natural amphitheater at Bass Pro’s Shooting Academy near Ridgedale, Missouri which has hosted several events in the past like concerts.

But this time the “thunder” will be provided by the bulls.

“We’re going to turn the whole thing into something like the NFL’s game day experience,” Snyder said. “There will be a whole bunch of events and attractions around that and really blow it out for Missouri fans.”

The new PBR team franchises are the Carolina Chaos, Oklahoma Freedom, Austin Gamblers, Kansas City Outlaws, Texas Rattlers, Arizona Ridge Runners, Nashville Stampede, and Missouri Thunder.

The PBR’s individual competition series, which consists of several tiers, will continue with that season wrapping up in May before the team competition starts in June.

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