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Written by: Siri Stevens< Back to Articles
Randy Bernard has paid out over 100 million dollars in the rodeo world throughout his career as a sports executive. Bernard grew up wearing a cowboy hat while working on his family’s ranch and farm in central California. Born in Paso Robles, Calif., he attended Kindergarten to eighth grade in a small town named San Ardo where there was never more than 18 classmates. Bernard studied at Cal Poly and in 1988 interned with the Calgary Stampede gaining valuable experience that set the course of his future career path.
Bernard came back from the Calgary Stampede to work for the California Mid-State Fair, where one of his responsibilities was making the rodeo profitable. “I believed that we could help it significantly with guaranteeing the best in the world. I created a match with Ty Murray and Cody Lambert who were sitting number one and two in the PRCA all around world standings,” stated Bernard, “The rodeo attendance increased from 3,400 to a sellout crowd of 7,500 the first year. I knew then that our sport was no different than any other sport. People want to see the best in the world.”
Bernard, had no idea that years later Murray, Lambert and Tuf Hedeman three of the Professional Bull Riders, Inc. (PBR) founders, would ask him to run the PBR. “In the early board meetings of the PBR it was about who yelled the loudest and fought the hardest for their vision,” stated Bernard.
“We were all cowboys when we hired him. Randy’s ideas and work ethic took a group of the best bull riders in the world and built the PBR. Rodeo people weren’t ready for Randy. He is a cowboy and his ideas were coming from his background working on his family’s ranch,” stated Cody Lambert, PBR co-founder, 3x PBR World Finals qualifier and 6x NFR qualifier.
Ty Murray, 9x World Champion Cowboy and PBR co-founder said, “Randy Bernard is a natural born promoter. He was a good honest person, really smart and had big ideas. That is the premise that we hired him to come run the PBR. We worked together for 15 years at the PBR. We’ve still remained really good friends and talk on a regular basis.”
Under Bernard’s leadership, the PBR became one of the fastest growing sports properties in North America, providing opportunities to bull riders that only existed in the imaginations of the founding members. In April 2007, Bernard successfully executed a merger between PBR and Spire Capital Partners, a New York-based private equity firm. The merger allowed the founding members and other bull riding shareholders to capitalize on their vision, dedication and commitment, while maintaining a significant equity stake in the organization.. (Time magazine listed Bernard as one of the top sport executives in 2008. The PBR was named a finalist for the 2010 Sports Business Awards presented by Sports Business Journal and Sports Business Day in the Professional Sports League of the Year category with the MLB, NBA and NFL.)
Bernard decided to leave PBR and emabark on a new venture, as CEO position of INDYCAR. He was instrumental in creating the new DW12 car introduced in 2012, which critics have said brought the best open wheel racing in over two and half decades. Add to that, changing the name from INDY Racing League to INDYCAR, creating a successful ladder series, implementing double file starts, and the first to develop double header races in a weekend. Under his leadership turbo charged engines returned along with manufactures Chevrolet and Lotus.
“He helped come up with the most competitive car we’ve had in 20 years. He reintroduced double headers and the triple crown (three 500 mile races at Indianapolis, Pocono and Fontana ) and tried to light a spark under a series that had pretty much fallen off the map,” stated Robin Miller, racing writer and television analyst for Racer Magazine and NBC Sports Network.
Miller recalled his first meeting with Bernard being six hours long. “The best thing about Randy is he’s a great people person. He is smart, knows marketing and leadership. I asked him if he hit his head in rodeo to take this job,” Miller mentioned, “Bernard was the best thing in INDYCAR management in three decades. He has friends in all these different fields of entertainment. He is a genuine guy and doesn’t have a phony bone in his body.”
“When I left the PBR I wanted to see if I could capture lightning in a bottle twice. My life changed and I had to become a racing fan to understand their lifestyle. I ate, breathed and slept INDYCAR. I moved out of the western lifestyle for three years to wear suits and work on a different sport, but soon realized that my true passion is the western lifestyle,” stated Bernard.
Randy came back to his western roots in 2012 when he joined Rural Media Group (RMG) as the President & CEO. On Sunday, March 2 2014, he produced the richest one-day rodeo in western sports history with RFD-TV’s THE AMERICAN paying out $2 million dollars. “I had the concept in the back of my mind, Patrick (Gottsch, Founder of RMG) asked for some big ideas and Jerry (Jones) always wanted me to do it. I’ve never had the opportunity to produce the event due to my commitments with PBR and INDYCAR,” he said.
“I presented THE AMERICAN model to Patrick due to the tremendous potential for growing RFD-TV, western sports and rodeo in a very positive way. RFD-TV is the perfect vehicle to develop this concept and grow the sport” stated Bernard.
Bernard feels he is sitting in the perfect position to continue to advance the viewership and monetary opportunities for rodeo athletes. “RFD-TV has a management team in place that loves western sports and understands it and wants to see it grow,” commented Bernard.
THE AMERICAN focuses on developing stars and showcasing the elite athletes in rodeo while rewarding the best on a given day. “Professional rodeo is unfortunately one of the most faceless sports in America. It needs more media coverage that can help develop stars. If we can help build superstars it helps everyone in the sport. It is my personal belief that all you have is a club if you aren’t always building and showcasing the best in the world,” he explained. Bernard’s goal is to build THE AMERICAN into a $5 million purse.
“I’d like to say I’ll have this done in five years, and to do that, a lot of good things have to happen,” Bernard admitted, “We aren’t a bunch of television executives who sit in an ivory tower in New York or Los Angeles that only appreciate stick and ball sports. Not one national network gave any news coverage to THE AMERICAN, which proves my point if they truly loved the sport they would give credence and provide coverage to showcase these great athletes.”
“Our goal was to create the Super Bowl of the western industry and I have some other strong goals. I want to reinvigorate the rodeo fan from the 1980’s into today. I felt that we needed major events in this sport to engage our youth as we see youth rodeo participation declinging. When I was a kid, I roped the dummy countless times dreaming of winning the tenth round of the NFR and the Bob Feist Invitational. There is not enough of those events in my opinion. We want to help our grass roots by building awareness of our sport. We have the best athletes and personalities in the world, but there’s never been a way to showcase them. Even the rural world – if you don’t read the magazines, there’s no way to become familiar with the stars. That’s what we’ve done with Western Sports Roundup on RURAL RADIO and during the Rural Evening News segment.” Rural Media Group commands an audience of 26 million listeners on RURAL RADIO Sirius XM channel 80 and 60 million on RFD-TV and FamilyNet.As for the future of THE AMERICAN, “I want to continue to make cowboys wealthy just like we did Richmond Champion. I’m more passionate now than I ever was.”