It’s time to rodeo!

Can you feel it folks?

At long last, the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo is finally here! In two days, the dust will fly in the Thomas & Mack Center as 119 of the world’s best cowboys and cowgirls take center stage and compete head-to-head at the planet’s richest rodeo in the hopes of achieving fame, glory and big-time pay days.

Thousands of rodeo fans are converging on Las Vegas for the 10-day spectacle, and the Vegas Strip will soon be flooded with cowboy hats, Wranglers and cowboy boots as far as the eye can see. It’s one of my favorite times of year, and I can’t wait for it to begin.

Once again, the Thomas & Mack Center will be the center of the ProRodeo world for 10 days this December.

Once again, the Thomas & Mack Center will be the center of the ProRodeo world for 10 days this December.

Since this will be my 10th Wrangler NFR, I thought it appropriate to give fans – both those who will travel to Las Vegas and those who will watch the rodeo on GAC – a look at 10 things to look for at this year’s Finals.

1. The NFR Express

Fans in Las Vegas don’t have to battle for cabs or worry about the hassle of finding parking thanks to the NFR Express, the event’s fleet of free shuttle buses that will take them to and from the Thomas & Mack Center each night. Rodeo enthusiasts can load up on one of these luxury buses at any of the host hotels or catch them at the Las Vegas Convention Center after enjoying Cowboy Christmas and Cowboy FanFest. Here is the main link for the shuttle buses, and here is the detailed list of where to find the buses.

2. Full schedule of events

There is something going on in Las Vegas literally every second, and rodeo fans in the “Entertainment Capital of the World” have plenty they can enjoy when they’re not at the arena watching their favorites compete. Click here for the Wrangler NFR’s “9 to 5” schedule, here for the “After Dark” events and here for a look at entertainment that will be available around town throughout the rodeo’s 10-day run.

3. Contest winners highlight nightly anthem singers

For just the second time ever, rodeo and Western fans had the chance to enter a contest to compete for a spot as part of the Wrangler NFR’s nightly National Anthem singers. Four talented individuals sang their hearts out and earned the right to be part of this year’s opening ceremonies. Rylee Werth, Jackie Schmillen, Lexi Larsen and Emily Faith Wilson will perform at the Thomas & Mack Center this year. Here is the full press release about them and a schedule of the Wrangler NFR’s anthem singers.

4. Opening acts will entertain attendees

In addition to the anthem singers, each night’s opening ceremony includes the Grand Entry and an opening act. Simple, classy and entertaining the rodeo’s opening lineup gets fans excited and ready for the action. Here is a comprehensive list of each night’s opening acts.

5. Satellite feeds help others view Finals

Not everyone in Las Vegas is able to watch the rodeo at the 17,000-seat Thomas & Mack Center, but there are more than enough places for them to catch the rodeo live and enjoy it with friends. Nearly 40 Clark County hotel properties will utilize the rodeo’s satellite feed and will show the Wrangler NFR in their casinos and sports books. For a complete list of options, click here.

In addition, if you can’t make it to Las Vegas, check out all the action on GAC from the comfort of your own homes. Here is a complete TV schedule for this year’s event.

Rodeo fans everywhere can more fully enjoy the Wrangler NFR from their mobile devices by downloading the Wrangler NFR Mobile App.

Rodeo fans everywhere can more fully enjoy the Wrangler NFR from their mobile devices by downloading the Wrangler NFR Mobile App.

6. Wrangler NFR Mobile App is good option for ‘techies’

Living in the “digital age” as we do, nearly everyone has a smartphone or mobile device these days. To utilize the technology that’s available, the Wrangler NFR has once again developed a free mobile application for fans to enjoy. From an interactive map of the Las Vegas Strip and downtown areas to up-to-date schedules and daily photo and video galleries, the Wrangler NFR mobile app will have it all. It’s a great way for rodeo fans in Las Vegas and at home to more fully enjoy the event.

For iPhone users, they can find the app by searching for “NFR 2013” at the iPhone App Store, Droid users search for “NFR” in the Google Play Store, and Blackberry and other phone users should go to NFRApp.com from their mobile device.

Here is the full release about the mobile app.

Thousands of rodeo fans file into the Las Vegas Convention Center each year for Cowboy Christmas.

Thousands of rodeo fans file into the Las Vegas Convention Center each year for Cowboy Christmas.

7. Christmas for cowboys

More than 185,000 people filed into the Las Vegas Convention Center last year to check out Cowboy Christmas, one of the most massive and interesting aspects of the rodeo’s stay in Las Vegas. Fans can visit the booths of more than 400 vendors in the 300,000-square-foot area and get their Christmas and holiday shopping done in no time. From 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day, there is everything a fan could want – shopping, food, live entertainment, autograph sessions and demonstrations, just to name a few, and admission is free.

Child care has been added for 2013, and parents can enjoy the festivities while their children run off energy and occupy themselves in a safe and fun environment. Click here for a map, exhibitors list and everything you need to know about Cowboy Christmas.

The Lucas Oil Rodeo Way, designed to look like an old West town, will once again be a big part of Cowboy FanFest.

The Lucas Oil Rodeo Way, designed to look like an old West town, will once again be a big part of Cowboy FanFest.

8. FanFest to be bigger, better in 2013

Last year, Cowboy FanFest was a huge addition to the Cowboy Christmas scene at the Las Vegas Convention Center. Not only will it be back this year, but it will be bigger and better, and admission is free. From stage shows and live entertainment to quality grub and a top-notch bull riding competition, FanFest will have it all in 2013. It occupies another 100,000 square feet of space adjacent to Cowboy Christmas, so visitors can take in both attractions on the same day or on multiple days.

Here is a great link that outlines everything that will be going on at FanFest this year. I will be there Thursday morning at 10 a.m. to cover the Opening Ceremonies, which will feature appearances by world champions Trevor Brazile, Cody Teel, Mary Walker and Kaycee Feild. The first 100 fans to make it to the Boot Barn Rodeo Saloon in FanFest’s Rodeo Way will receive posters signed by the four world champs. Check out NFRExperience.com on Thursday evening for my column about this kickoff event.

9. Can I have your autograph?

Sports fans attending the Super Bowl or World Series usually don’t get the chance to get autographs from their favorite players, but that is not the case at the fan-friendly Wrangler NFR. Las Vegas Events and Finals organizers have annual autograph sessions that feature Wrangler NFR contestants, and they are spread out across town. Here is a complete list of when and where the autograph sessions will take place, so be sure to get there to see your favorite contestants!

The Wrangler NFR always features autograph sessions with the contestants throughout town, which are a great chance for fans to get up close and personal with their rodeo heroes.

The Wrangler NFR always features autograph sessions with the contestants throughout town, which are a great chance for fans to get up close and personal with their rodeo heroes.

10. Get social with the Wrangler NFR

There’s no better place to get everything Wrangler NFR-related than the rodeo’s social media platforms. Whether it’s NFRExperience.com, the NFR Experience Facebook page at Facebook.com/LasVegasNFR or Twitter account (@LasVegasNFR) or the aforementioned Wrangler NFR Mobile App, rodeo fans are blessed with a variety of ways to follow the world’s grandest rodeo.

As you can see from these “Top 10” aspects of the Finals, the 10-day extravaganza is one heck of a spectacle to behold. I can’t wait to help you enjoy it with daily looks behind the scenes.

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