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The Marketing Of The Bulls

NEW YORK -- Perhaps it was the 20-degree temperatures and the skyscrapers that made it more of a lope than a run, but bulls -- bovines weighing more than a ton, not stockbrokers -- were moving alongside Madison Square Garden Thursday morning.

This "ambling of the bulls" kicked off the "Ford Trucks PBR Invasion of the Bulls" on Jan. 3, the centerpiece of marketing and publicity efforts aimed at generating awareness and driving ticket sales for the Versus Invitational at Madison Square Garden this weekend. With sessions scheduled for 8 p.m. on Jan. 4 and 5 and a 1 p.m. matinee Sunday, this marks the second straight year the Professional Bull Riders and Comcast Corp.-owned Versus have brought the bull-bucking action to the "world's most famous arena."

The beasts' migration near 33rd Street and Eighth Avenue was followed at noon by 10 of the top PBR riders and some of the circuit's rankest bulls in an exhibition within a specially constructed corral.

During the bucking event, PBR announcer Brandon Bates, Ford Trucks marketing manager Todd Eckert and Justin McBride, the 2007 PBR champion, currently on the shelf following shoulder surgery, talked up the toughness of the riders, the power of the bulls and the action that would unfold inside MSG over the weekend.

Ford also got plenty of plugs for how its trucks hauled 125 tons of dirt and fencing that were used to create the bull paths and assemble the temporary corral.

Moreover, Eckert also told the media and the lunch-time crowd that Ford, which gained added exposure with Built Tough signage and the front of a F-Series150 model within the assembled arena, had the top-selling trucks over the past 30 years.

Eckert and Bates also encouraged attendees to visit www.Invasionof, where they could find some initial images and footage from the event and register to win drawings for a 2009 model of the 150 and a VIP ticket package to the 2008 PBR Finals in Las Vegas this November.

Eckert noted similar events would be held on other PBR tour stops.

Last year, Versus offered free rides in a half-dozen PBR-wrapped cabs in Manhattan. The vehicles sported faux horns, while a number of manhole covers reflected the faces of bulls, with the "snort holes" allowing for the streets’ subterranean steam to escape.

At the event Thursday, Versus senior vice president of marketing and promotion Bill Bergofin said "we knew it was going to be a tough act to follow from last year, but the 'Ford Trucks PBR Invasion of the Bulls' is creating a lot of excitement and awareness."

To that end, the stunt has roped news segments on local stations like WPIX, the CW affiliate here.

National attention is in the offing Friday morning when McBride and fellow rider J.B. Mauney discuss the tour and the event on CBS's Early Show, with a live bull and a mechanical one on the scene to boot.

Also, PBR CEO Randy Bernard was slated to appear on Fox Business Network Friday morning.

On Thursday, Bernard, Versus president and COO Gavin Harvey and three-time PBR champion Adriana Moraes, who is retiring after this season, rang NASDAQ's opening bell.

Versus also set the stage around town via wild postings with copy reading: "There are 5,489 doctors in New York. What better place to kick off the Professional Bull Riders season."

The network also handed out T-shirts, with the event name on the back and "Real Men Last 8 Seconds" on the front, and distributed placards, replete with a $5 discount ticket offer, during the Jan. 3 activities outside MSG.

Versus officials said sales were outpacing last year's inaugural bovine Garden party, which drew some 30,000 fans to three sessions.

On the small screen, Versus will present a pair of 2.5-hour shows at 8 p.m.: the Jan. 5 telecast will capture Friday's primetime session, while the second will be a same-day delay on Jan. 6 encapsulating all the stomping and twirling that occurred earlier. NBC is also in the mix Jan. 6 at 4:30 p.m.