Ready for the next go-round
Las Vegas happily welcomes the National Finals Rodeo back to town
It’s that time of year when UNLV’s basketball Rebels are running at the Thomas & Mack Center. Pretty soon, the ponies, steers and bulls will be, too.
The National Finals Rodeo reconvenes next week for its 27th season here since we grabbed it from Oklahoma City in 1984. Casino mogul Benny Binion and Herb McDonald, then the head of Las Vegas Events, lassoed it to Las Vegas.
Ours is a city of large events, but few leave a bigger hoofprint than the annual cowboy competition, which offers a much-needed seasonal boost to our local tourism industry. While New Year Eve’s is a success story of its own, it would nevertheless be tough to rustle up tourists in December without the rodeo.
Appropriately enough, it was a cowboy who helped us corral the event.
After Binion and McDonald made their pitch to the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association, doubling down the amount of the winners’ purses to get everyone’s attention, the group’s board remained split on the decision. Pro Rodeo Hall of Famer Shawn Davis, president of the PRCA at the time, broke the stalemate with a vote for Las Vegas.
The valley has been riding high ever since, measured by booming business at Thomas & Mack, hotels, casinos, restaurants and bars. There’s even a bustling cowboy karaoke scene.
Las Vegas Events, the entity that puts on the rodeo, has taken the event a step further this year with Cowboy FanFest at the Las Vegas Convention Center. It will fit in nicely with the hugely popular Cowboy Christmas Gift Show, which over the past 26 years has attracted almost 3 million people. This year, like the rodeo, it runs Dec. 6 through Dec. 15.
Organizers have put much effort into planning it, and the show floor will offer 300,000 square feet of almost anything rodeo fans could want for their saddlebags. FanFest will include a live music stage to showcase artists, an interactive rodeo, a venue for specialty acts, and an Old West area with rodeo highlights and exhibits.
“Our goal each year is to grow the NFR experience,” said Las Vegas Events President Pat Christenson. “FanFest was created with that in mind.”
The NFR appears poised to grow even more. A ticket to the rodeo already is among the more coveted in sports, with 260 consecutive sellouts — not a surprise for an event that attracts top competitors who battle for more than $6 million in prize money.
Should you want to show some love for the NFR, why not sign up as an ambassador with the Host Committee of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority? They’ll provide a cool tool kit to help you saddle up.