Pro bull riders may replace hockey players at Glendale's Gila River Arena

Professional hockey players may be leaving Glendale’s Gila River Arena at the end of the NHL season, but a new team of professional bull riders is coming to town.

The Arizona Ridge Riders is one of eight teams in a league the Professional Bull Riders organization is launching.

The team format is a change for the rodeo sport that traditionally features individual competitions.

The PBR Team series begins in June with a 10-weekend season that ends in a team playoff. Each team will host a bull riding event in their home market and a Western lifestyle festival.

The arena, which opened in 2003 as a hockey and events venue, has long hosted bull riding events. City leaders are looking to pencil in more of these types of events, which they say are more lucrative than hockey.

After Glendale cut ties with the Arizona Coyotes in August, City Manager Kevin Phelps said he wanted to take a new approach with the arena.

Phelps alerted the Coyotes, which aim to build a new arena in Tempe, that it wouldn’t renew the team’s lease after this season. The city and team have had a long and tumultuous relationship.

Phelps said the city was interested in investing millions in renovations to book the venue year-round with more "impactful events," adding events like concerts and different performances would be more lucrative for Glendale.

Phoenix-based consulting firm Applied Economics analyzed tax collections from arena events and concluded hockey-game goers typically spend more money inside the arena while other event attendees tend to spend more on shopping and dining at the neighboring Westgate Entertainment District.

But hockey brought a lot of games to the arena, 40-some each season.

"There is nothing more iconic, more genuine, and more fun than when the PBR comes to town. This event will contribute to the rapid growth of Glendale. Everyone should attend, even if you’ve never been to a rodeo before. You’ll become a fan," Glendale Mayor Jerry Weiers said.

The PBR Team series will build on the existing structure of professional bull riding with the same basic rules for judging and scoring rides.

Most competitions will be three-day events with three games per team. The team with the best results throughout an event will be declared the winner.

Teams will have five riders per team that will square off against a different opponent each day.

Dates for each event have not been announced yet, but the season will end in a team playoff at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas from Nov. 4 to 6.

Riders and team owners will compete for prize pools for team performance at each event and in the final season standings.

The league will host a rider draft on May 23 among Professional Bull Rider members.

Professional Bull Riders World Champion José Vitor Leme, who won the title in 2020 and 2021, will be among the riders in the draft.

"I grew up in the format of team competition when I played soccer in Brazil, and I loved the brotherhood of being on a team and having strategies to beat another team," Leme said. "I’m very excited for the draft and finding out who will be my partners on the team. People cheer for teams. This will bring a lot more fans to this sport."

The other seven participating teams are the Ariat Texas Rattlers, Austin Gamblers, Carolina Chaos, Kansas City Outlaws, Missouri Thunder, Nashville Stampede and Oklahoma Freedom.

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