This story was reported and written by ESPN’s Malika Andrews, Kyle Bonagura, Jeff Carlisle, Heather Dinich, Dan Graziano, Tom Hamilton, Baxter Holmes, Emily Kaplan, Zach Lowe, Jeff Passan, Marc Raimondi, Kevin Seifert, Ramona Shelburne, Mechelle Voepel and Brian Windhorst.
A SKELETON STAFF of about 150 gathered inside the Infinite Energy Arena in Duluth, Georgia, for the Professional Bull Riders two-day Gwinnett Invitational. It was March 15 — just days after the NBA and NHL suspended their seasons indefinitely and hours after the NCAA canceled the men’s and women’s basketball tournaments. Still, cowboys from around the country would compete before a television-only and digital streaming audience in one of the last professional sporting events to be held in the United States before the PBR, too, shut down.
But just 4½ weeks later, the PBR announced it would hold a for-TV-only event April 25-26 at Lazy E Arena and Ranch located on 167 fenced acres near Guthrie, Oklahoma. Just like at the Gwinnett Invitational, no fans would be present. One of the last sports to close would become one of the first to return.
“That’s when the phone started ringing,” PBR CEO Sean Gleason says.