I was in Russia covering the Olympic Winter Games when I heard the news: the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo was staying in Las Vegas.
That was music to my ears, as I can’t imagine the world’s No. 1 rodeo in any other city in the world. I’ve been to 38 U.S. states and nine foreign countries, and I can say without reservation that there is no other city in the world like Las Vegas.
New York City is a close second, but there is not another city that can match Vegas’ entertainment options. Considering how the city has embraced the rodeo, cowboys and the Western way of life since the event came to Las Vegas in 1985, it would have been a shame to erase all that progress by moving the rodeo elsewhere.
The PRCA reportedly received tempting offers from groups in Florida and Texas, opening the door for the rodeo to leave Las Vegas after 29 years. So, when the news broke on Jan. 24 that the PRCA Board of Directors and the Las Vegas Events Board of Trustees had voted unanimously on a deal that extends the Wrangler NFR in Las Vegas through 2024, I was ecstatic and relieved.
I wasn’t the only one.
“It would have been sad to see it leave,” Hall of Fame tie-down roper Fred Whitfield said.
Four-time World Champion Steer Wrestler Luke Branquinho agrees.
“As a fan of rodeo and having been a fan and a spectator, I think Vegas is the perfect fit for it,” said Branquinho, a 12-time Wrangler NFR qualifier. “You have the accommodations, the night life and everything that goes with the NFR, and that’s what is more appealing to me. I’m getting toward the end of my career, but for those young kids coming up, they’re going to be running at almost twice as much money as I did when I started.”
Contestants will now receive $10,000 in guaranteed money on top of anything they earn at the rodeo itself just for qualifying for the Wrangler NFR, and the total purse of the rodeo will go to $10 million beginning in 2015. Las Vegas Events has guaranteed $16.5 million annually to the PRCA for the Finals through 2019, with $3 million of that going to stock contractors.
Those numbers will grow from 2020-24 based on cost-of-living increases.
Hall of Fame bull rider Don Gay, who won all eight of his world championships in Oklahoma City before the Finals moved to Las Vegas, believes the rodeo is staying where it belongs.
“I’m just tickled to death that we’re in Las Vegas and that we have a deal moving forward that guys who are still in high school can look forward to,” said Gay, who is a fixture around town during the Finals every year. “I’ve felt that Las Vegas has so much additional firepower, that we would be making a little bit of a mistake if it moved simply for the money. There’s a reason they have all the big (boxing) title fights in Las Vegas.”
The contract renewal is a win for everyone involved, a point made by PRCA Chairman of the Board Keith Martin in January.
“Perhaps the best aspect of this agreement,” Martin said, “is that it benefits every PRCA member – contestants, stock contractors, committees and contract personnel. There is an investment here to advance the PRCA’s circuit system and help the sport continue to grow.”
The agreement also includes an expansion of involvement between the PRCA and LVE. LVE will have a season-long sponsorship program with the PRCA, presenting sponsorships of the RAM National Circuit Finals Rodeo and 12 RAM Circuit Final Rodeos, as well as the National Finals Steer Roping, if it is held in Las Vegas.
The Wrangler NFR reportedly generates $100 million annually for Las Vegas, and with 270 consecutive sellouts at the Thomas & Mack Center, that number is not expected to decrease anytime soon.
“For nearly 30 years, Las Vegas has built a strong partnership with the PRCA and its contestants,” said Bill McBeath, chairman of the Las Vegas Events Board of Trustees. “This new agreement clearly demonstrates the commitment that Las Vegas has to the PRCA, to the overall growth of the sport of rodeo and to the contestants. We feel that the new agreement is beneficial to all parties, and we’re very pleased to continue to host this iconic event for an additional 10 years.”
It was a long, and sometimes painful, process for those involved.
“We are relieved that we were able to assemble an agreement that both ensures that the Wrangler NFR will remain in Las Vegas for the long term and that all parties will prosper,” said Pat Christenson, president of Las Vegas Events. “We look forward to working with all of our partners in growing the NFR Experience for rodeo fans in Las Vegas.”
PRCA Commissioner Karl Stressman was pleased to help secure the contract renewal for all of his constituents.
“This is truly an historic day for the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association and the sport of professional rodeo,” Stressman said in the Jan. 24 statement. “The PRCA Board of Directors and this administration has been through a long and, at times, painful process of due diligence and careful consideration in looking out for the very best interest of every member of this association and this great sport. It hasn’t always been easy, but what we’re announcing today makes it all worthwhile.
“We could not be happier, and look forward to working with our partners in Las Vegas on continued growth and prosperity for the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo and the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association.”
Now with the future of the event safe for another decade, contestants breathed a sigh of relief and can now focus on returning to Las Vegas to compete in the world’s greatest rodeo.