Arguably the second-most popular building in Las Vegas during this year’s Wrangler National Finals Rodeo will be the Las Vegas Convention Center.
With 300,000 square feet of vendors making the Cowboy Christmas Gift Show a must-see spectacle and another 100,000 set aside for the ever-evolving Cowboy FanFest, rodeo fans will have a huge expanse to enjoy and meander through this year. Whether it’s shopping, visiting with friends, watching in-depth rodeo-themed shows or listening to country music, watching rodeo events in an arena and being entertained by free events, the Convention Center will have it all.
Approximately 350 Western vendors will give shoppers endless holiday gift ideas at their booths, and rodeo fans will be able to find virtually any item their heart desires at Cowboy Christmas Gift Show. Last year, more than 185,000 people attended the Gift Show, a 20-percent increase from 2011, and that number is expected to grow in 2013.
New vendors will be sprinkled in with a multitude of returning vendors that include Wrangler, Resistol, Justin Boots and Montana Silversmiths, just to name a few. The variety of vendors and the items available is seemingly endless.
“Our goal is to maintain the high quality of exhibitors and the amount of unique items that our guests can find only at Cowboy Christmas,” said Anne Aznarez of Las Vegas Events. “A lot of artisans will make their products specifically for Cowboy Christmas, and for 10 days out of the year, people come to our show to find things they can’t get anywhere else. There are products for everyone, even if you’re not a cowboy or cowgirl at heart.”
A new addition to Cowboy Christmas this year is childcare, so moms and dads can drop off their little ones at the Kids Quest area while they make their way through the huge halls of the Convention Center.
“The Kids Quest addition is a plus,” Aznarez said. “It’s in a separate room from the Gift Show, and we’re hoping it entices our guests to stay longer or come multiple days.”
Cowboy FanFest was a huge addition to the Gift Show last year and enjoyed immediate and considerable success. So, this year, organizers are stepping everything up a notch or two as FanFest expands and evolves.
Back is the Lucas Oil Rodeo Way, a set of 12 interactive booths designed to look like an old west town. Fans can visit a variety of booths, from the San Antonio Stock Show & Rodeo and Cheyenne Frontier Days to NFR After Dark and the Indian National Finals Rodeo as they walk through the “town.”
The Wrangler Rodeo Arena – designed as an exact replica of the Wrangler NFR arena from the Thomas & Mack Center – will once again be the centerpiece of Cowboy FanFest, and it will be an extremely busy place. In addition to Guy McLean horsemanship shows and cowboy mounted shooting, ranch sorting, mini bucking bulls and National Cutting Horse Association events, the arena will host a new bracket-style bull riding competition.
Sixteen pro bull riders from across the country will battle 24 rank buckers in the Exclusive Genetics Million Dollar Bucking Bull and Rider Tournament Dec. 5-7 and 9-13, with a champion being crowned and taking home a big-time payout. The five-figure competition will make FanFest the place to be and give bull riding fans a great precursor for the Wrangler NFR action that awaits later each of those nights.
“It’s definitely one of our key enhancements for our programming for the arena this year,” said Chase Boberg, event development coordinator for Las Vegas Events.
The 1,300-seat arena will also host the Miss Rodeo America Auction on Dec. 7, the Miss Rodeo America Horsemanship Competition on Dec. 8 and the Flag Girl Competition on Dec. 10. In addition, the Wrangler NFR Exceptional Rodeo – a mainstay at the Wrangler NFR for more than 30 years – will move to the Wrangler Rodeo Arena for the first time and will be held on Dec. 9.
And that’s not close to being all that’s planned for this year’s FanFest.
Fans can enjoy a cold beverage at the Boot Barn Saloon or eat their fill at the Rodeo Round Up concession area, which will feature two new additions: Lbs. – a popular Las Vegas burger joint – and Capriotti’s – one of the city’s top sandwich shops that I visit multiple times every time I’m in town for the Wrangler NFR. FanFest visitors can also enjoy four of the seven official Wrangler NFR contestant autograph sessions throughout the 10-day event, sessions that were customarily held at various casinos in town.
FanFest will not be short on live entertainment, either.
RFD-TV is building a state-of-the-art studio at FanFest and will broadcast daily programs live from the Convention Center that will include special guests and in-depth reports about the previous nights’ performances.
The Ram Rodeo Live stage and its 800 audience seats will once again be a hotbed of activity as well. Not only will Flint Rasmussen be back to host his highly popular “Outside the Barrel” show at noon each day, but there will also be daily Alexis Bloomer Live shows at 10:30 a.m., cowboy poetry, the “Not So Newlywed Game” and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation Calcutta entertaining fans on the stage as well.
Visitors will also be able to kick back and enjoy some acoustic country music from some of the industry’s top up-and-coming artists at 1:15 p.m. each day on the Ram Rodeo Live stage. Acts will include recording artists such as Josh Thompson (Dec. 6), Damsel (Dec. 7), Daryle Singletary (Dec. 12) and Aaron Watson (Dec. 14), and the performers will interact with fans and talk about their paths to success.
“It’ll really be a chance for fans to know the artists and ask questions,” Boberg said.
Rodeo celebrities, from world champions — Hall of Famers and current Wrangler NFR contestants — will also be mainstays at Cowboy Christmas, as many of the VIPs visit the Convention Center to sign autographs at their sponsors’ booths. You may see Don Gay one minute and Luke Branquinho the next!
With its plethora of new features and beefed-up schedule, FanFest helps make Cowboy Christmas a place rodeo fans can spend several hours on multiple days and head to the Thomas & Mack Center each night – via a free shuttle, if they wish – buzzing with excitement. A person could go to Cowboy Christmas and FanFest every day of the week and see something new and different, and I know I’ll be there for a great deal of it.
Simply put, if you can’t entertain yourself at Cowboy Christmas or FanFest, there’s something wrong with you. But there’s nothing wrong with visiting these massive entertainment options on a daily basis to get oneself revved up for the Wrangler NFR.
You won’t be disappointed.
Specific schedules for Cowboy Christmas, Cowboy FanFest and all activities and events that are taking place in the Las Vegas Convention Center each day can be found on http://www.NFRExperience.com.