The Rode of all rodeos in Las Vegas ends its annual ten-day run at the Thomas & Mack tonite and it will change everything. The Wrangler National Finals Rodeo (NFR) has been a Las Vegas staple for over 30 years and it will be here for at least another ten years according to the newest contract signed earlier this week.
The average champions’ payout for each event tonight will be somewhere between $76,000-$77,000. That’s not counting the $26,000 the nightly go-around winner gets. Plus the bling. It’s always about the bling! In this case, its gold buckles, a new saddle, and one champ drives away in a new Dodge truck.
Like NASCAR, the event is broadcast live to viewing parties inside many of major casinos and on the big screens over the gaming pits. There maybe 17,000 fans in Thomas & Mack, but there are many more here for the NFR watching it elsewhere. Rodeo fans save up and plan all year to attend this one big event. The one time to see the top 15 riders, ropers, racers and tie-down’ers.
This is when they come to let it all out and party, see the top names in country music in one place and to meet their favorite cowboys up close and personal. Plus do their Christmas shopping at all the shopping sites that pop up for the NFR. Many in the stands have had the same seats for years and have become friends with other annual NFR attendee’s. So this is kind of a family gathering for them as well.
So do the math: Ten days. 17,000 people per night in the stands at the Mack (that’s a lot of tickets). Hotels, food, shopping (lots of shopping) lots of drinking and partying. Not to mention that the cowboy crowd tend to be some of the purest forms of risk takers and gamblers ever. That means non-gaming economic impact of $87 million dollars for the Las Vegas economy when we would otherwise be dead. Yes, we like our cowboys and cowgirls and they like Las Vegas.
Tonight it Ends
Tonight will be a bit different for fans of the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo (NFR). After all the gold buckles have been awarded and the new saddles been put away and a new cowboy is crowned the King of all Cowboys, the world of the NFR Las Vegas will change forever. Some may say that’s a little over-dramatic. But when you look at it, it may not be. The NFR for many, is like any other show in LAs Vegas they see. It’s a form of entertainment. They pay for a ticket, they sit and watch as the performers come out and entertain the crowd. But who will be doing the entertaining is about to change.
Every year, the top 15 riders in 8 different categories, come here to see who is the best in the business. Every year you have about half that are the same from last year, maybe a few who had not been here in a while and a few newcomers. So like any other sport, every year you have some fan favorites showing up mixed with some new blood and sprinkled with a few who come and go.
Next year, many of the top talent we see in the NFR will not be allowed to come here or to compete for the opportunity to be here. They have sworn allegiance to a new start-up called the Elite Rodeo Athletes (ERA). The people who run the sanctioning body for the NFR is the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA), and they have made it almost impossible for anyone who plays in the ERA sandbox will not be allowed to play in the PRCA sandbox. Even if all the cowboys are independent contractors.
What does that Mean for Las Vegas?
Not much. If everything that is scheduled to happen, happens, the only change will be the players in the arena. We will still have one of the largest rodeo events in the nation. Just like a couple of years ago when the PRCA CEO Karl Stressman tried to have the pissing contest with Las Vegas Events and threatened to move it all to the swamps of Florida. It didn’t work. When asked, almost everyone said they would still come to Las Vegas for a rodeo. It did not have to be a PRCA sanctioned event, they would still show up because it’s a Las Vegas event. Like most other big sporting events, we know how to put on the best show around!
Fans of the NFR have been used to seeing the top talent that worked years to be here and they are so good that they keep coming back and we keep coming back to cheer them on. But that talent base will be gone next year and we will have to let what some have called the B-team stand up and show their stuff. Show what they got to be here and if they have the nerves to grind it all out again next year in hopes of being here the following December.
Maybe that’s a good thing. Cleaning the dressing rooms to bring in some well deserving new talent that keeps getting so close, but not enough to be here. They now have the opportunity to really have a chance to be in the Big Game in Las Vegas in December
I think it will be interesting to see if the fans react to the changes and who all will show up for it all. Will the same fans come back to support the new stock or will they forego it all and follow where the regular riders they know and love go? Or will it be a little of both??
The first test will be what happens tomorrow when tickets go on sale for NFR 2016. If the sales will be the usual brisk, hot and heavy? Or will the PRCA have to do some marketing to get the stands filled early??