By Maria Wyllie
EBS Associate Editor

BIG SKY – The idea to bring bull riding to Big Sky was born at the 2002 Professional Bull Riders World Finals in Las Vegas.

Eric Ladd, CEO of Outlaw Partners (and publisher of EBS) and Andy Watson of Freestone Productions were in attendance discussing how bringing “the toughest sport on dirt” would impact the small mountain community of Big Sky.

Shortly thereafter, Jim Murphy, owner of Continental Construction, saw his first bull-riding event in Bozeman and was immediately hooked on the sport.

Outlaw and Continental partnered as event producers, and hired Freestone Productions – which specializes in organizing western-style events – to host the first Big Sky PBR in 2011.

“Through our vision, and through the initial support of people like Sam Byrne, Loren Bough, and Bill Simkins, we made the first event happen,” Ladd said.

Returning as title sponsors this year are the Yellowstone Club, Spanish Peaks Mountain Club, Moonlight Basin, and Big Sky Resort.

“[We are] excited to be a sponsor of this dynamic and fun event,” said Brandon Bang, Sales and Marketing Director for Big Sky Resort, which is also the lodging sponsor. “PBR brings the community together as well as out of town visitors, and we all look forward to it every year.”

In the first four years, the event raised more than $100,000 for area nonprofits including the Gallatin River Task Force, Big Sky Community Corp., Yellowstone Park Foundation, the Big Sky Food Bank, and Gallant Chance Ranch.

The 2015 Big Sky PBR has grown into a three-day festival with bull riding and free after-party music scheduled for July 30-31, as well as a multi-act concert headlined by Robert Earl Keen on
Aug. 1.

The event also moves up a notch from the Touring Pro Division to the BlueDEF Velocity Tour this year. BlueDEF events allow riders more opportunities to acquire points needed to qualify for the PBR Built Ford Tough Series and ultimately the PBR World Finals.

The Big Sky PBR’s invitation to join the BlueDEF ranks comes after winning Touring Pro Division Event of the Year in 2013 and 2014.

“After a successful launch in 2014, the BlueDEF Velocity Tour is positioned to be everything we intended it to be,” said PBR COO Sean Gleason. “The tour will showcase the top bull-riding talent in the world and be the definitive path to the Built Ford Tough Series.”

Winners of each BlueDEF event in 2015 are guaranteed at least one chance to compete at a BFTS regular season event to rank among the top 35 bull riders in the world and earn a spot on the elite tour.

BlueDEF events will also award increased prize money this year, with total purses starting at $20,000 for each tour stop.

Winning first place at this year’s event is also an incentive for 4X PBR Stock Contractor of the Year Chad Berger and 4-5 of his colleagues, who are providing the bulls. Through Lone Mountain Ranch’s new stock sponsorship, the contractor with the winning bull will take home a $2,000 bonus.

“Rodeo captures the spirit of the American West, and we feel that Lone Mountain Ranch does as well, so it’s a natural fit,” said Paul Robertson, LMR’s General Manager. Robertson added that he looks forward to celebrating the ranch’s centennial with the rest of the community, as their 100-year birthday commercial flashes across the arena’s big screen.

“We think the PBR is hands down the best event of the summer, not just in Big Sky, but in all of Gallatin County,” Robertson said. “It is an honor for us to be a part of it.”

Tickets are still available for all three nights and can be purchased online at bigskypbr.com.