When Professional Bull Riders announced its decision to move the World Finals Championship from Las Vegas to Fort Worth in 2021, PBR CEO Sean Gleason said the move was “about taking advantage of the cowboy renaissance that is going on in Fort Worth.”
Two years later, PBR announced it is moving the last round of the finals to AT&T Stadium in Arlington – home to the other Cowboys. That move comes even though Fort Worth committed to paying incentives to PBR through 2024.
As part of that agreement, Fort Worth will now pay the national organization to have its 2024 finals in its neighboring city. The amount Fort Worth pays is dependent on additional state funding.
“I’d like to thank the city of Fort Worth and Mayor Mattie Parker, Visit Fort Worth and the Fort Worth Sports Commission because they really were on the front lines of getting us to the state of Texas,” Gleason said during a May 17 press conference alongside Arlington Mayor Jim Ross.
The city knew that PBR would eventually move the finals to Arlington, but officials didn’t expect it would happen as early as 2024, Visit Fort Worth CEO Bob Jameson said.
“The anticipation was that there would be three years in Fort Worth, depending upon how the event matured,” Jameson said. “Our interest is making sure that they’re holding their events in the right places to help them be successful and create the foundation for a long-term presence in North Texas.”
The decision to move the finals to AT&T Stadium in 2024 “came to fruition quickly,” PBR spokesperson Andrew Giangola said in a statement. The city of Arlington and the Arlington Sports Commission did not contribute any incentives to attract the finals to Tarrant County or Arlington, city spokesperson Susan Schrock said.
Fort Worth will still be home to several events associated with the finals, including a weekend of qualifying rounds hosted at Dickies Arena and rodeos in the Stockyards during the duration of the tournament.
The move will allow PBR to “ratchet up the Western sports, entertainment, and festival aspects of World Finals in Fort Worth and AT&T Stadium,” Giangola said.
PBR’s pivot to AT&T Stadium was always a part of Visit Fort Worth’s plan, Jameson said. The larger venue hosted PBR in 2020 after COVID-19 restrictions prevented it from being held in Las Vegas. The stadium also hosted PBR’s most-attended event in 2018.
“The plan was for both cities to take advantage of this amazing stadium (AT&T) and an amazing arena (Dickies), and all of the Western experiences that exist in Fort Worth, as well as Dickies,” Jameson said.
PBR’s initial proposal to the city was holding all rounds of the World Finals at Dickies Arena, supplemented by events in the Stockyards and Cowtown Coliseum, Giangola said.
“Then, in a year to be determined, we’d adjust the schedule to begin the championship at Dickies and crown a new World Champion inside AT&T Stadium,” Giangola said. “It was always our intention to include AT&T Stadium along with Dickies to host PBR World Finals to create the most exciting and robust experience for fans.”
The Report reached out to Dickies Arena for comment about the move. Officials declined to comment, citing ongoing negotiations with PBR.
Dickies Arena can hold 73,500 fans throughout the finals — or 14,000 on a single day. In 2023, 63,050 people attended the finals, according to PBR. AT&T Stadium can hold up to 80,000 for a single event.
In making the deal with PBR, Visit Fort Worth used federal dollars from the American Rescue Plan Act. The Biden administration passed the billion-dollar stimulus package in 2021 to help cities recover from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In exchange for their investment, Tarrant County and Visit Fort Worth would reap the benefits of PBR’s commitment to the region, a 2022 resolution passed by the county said. County leaders said the event would bring visitors to the region and provide “valuable marketing exposure.”
Fort Worth will now share that marketing space with Arlington, Jameson said.
PBR to seek state funding to stay in Texas
Visit Fort Worth’s investment in PBR increased again after the organization had to make up a budget shortfall created by the Texas State Event Trust Fund. The state fund provides up-front money to host events in Texas cities.
As a result of the shortfall, Visit Fort Worth paid an additional $250,000 in 2022 after the state funding formula changed again. The city of Arlington said it plans to seek money from the state fund in 2024.
Any additional payments beyond the previously promised $3.25 million will depend on how much money the state contributes to PBR, Jameson said.
The state initially promised about $839,000 to the event in 2023, about $639,000 less than the amount the state contributed in 2022. The state could increase the contribution amount after calculating the full economic impact of the event, Jameson said. The city does not have a legal obligation to make up any shortfalls from state funding.
“That was part of the financial risk PBR faced by moving here, and we will do everything we can reasonably to support that,” Jameson said. “Honestly, I don’t know what that number will be this year.”
The county expects the event to bring $28 million in economic impact over three years. On May 11, six days before PBR announced its move to Arlington, Jason Sands, vice president of sports for Visit Fort Worth, told the Report that Visit Fort Worth was working to extend its agreement with PBR beyond 2024.
PBR hopes to secure additional state funds by 2026, solidifying its long-term presence in Tarrant County.
The event qualifies for the state’s Major Events Reimbursement Program, which is the next level in state support, Jameson said. Professional Bull Riders Inc. is working to be added to the list of eligible events during this legislative session.
The event will likely qualify for more state funding because of increased visitor capacity at AT&T Stadium, Jameson said.
“Tarrant County, we’re better together,” Ross, Arlington’s mayor, said at the May 17 announcement. “We are thrilled to have the championships right back here in Arlington.”
Disclosure: Mitch Whitten, chief operating officer of Visit Fort Worth, is on the board of directors at Fort Worth Report.
Editor’s note: The story was updated May 30 to clarify the role of state incentives in the deal.
Rachel Behrndt is a government accountability reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.