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Alan Snel

National Finals Rodeo cowboys to make more money at upcoming show

17 November 2015

The most talented cowboys in the country are returning to Las Vegas in two weeks and this time they're going to make a lot more money at the National Finals Rodeo.

Under a 10-year deal that starts this year, Las Vegas Events will be doling out $10 million in prize money to the 120 cowboys competing in seven categories at NFR, considered the Super Bowl of rodeo events and sanctioned by the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association.

That's a big jump from the $6.375 million the contestants split during the 10-day finals in 2014, when tens of thousands of western/country culture enthusiasts and rodeo fans visited Las Vegas and spent $74.5 million on nongambling items such as hotel rooms and food.

Las Vegas Events, the event promotional arm of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA), pumped up the prize money to keep the NFR in Las Vegas and to deter the PRCA from moving it to either the Orlando area or Texas.

With the new Las Vegas Events-PRCA deal kicking in this year, Las Vegas Events will go from making about $1 million on the rodeo to losing about $2 million a year. But the LVCVA will make up the loss to Las Vegas Events, said Pat Christenson, Las Vegas Events president, working on his 31st NFR in Las Vegas.

The annual loss is the price Las Vegas Events has to pay in order to keep the prized rodeo in Las Vegas, which typically experiences slower hotel and tourism industry business during that time of year. The 2015 NFR starts two weeks from Thursday, running from Dec. 3-12.

The $10 million in prize money includes $10,000 for each of the 120 contestants, which means a purse of $8.8 million will be split after $1.2 million is distributed evenly among the cowboys for just showing up.

Under the deal, Las Vegas Events pays the prize money, markets the NFR, sells the tickets and arranges the venue — Thomas & Mack Center on the UNLV campus. NFR fans will enjoy Thomas & Mack's new improvements such as new seats, a wider concourse and more concession stands and bathrooms.

Last year's 10-day attendance at Thomas & Mack was 177,565, a record. Christenson expects another 40,000 rodeo fans every night at some of the 40 hotels in Las Vegas that will be hosting NFR watch parties. In all, there will be 42 NFR satellite feed locations to watch the live rodeo action.

NFR also set an attendance record last year for the country western retail show called Cowboy Christmas with 200,179 shoppers at the Las Vegas Convention Center. It generated $5.72 million in sales.

This year, Cowboy Christmas will be augmented by "Hunter Christmas," an outdoor hunting and fishing show, with the total retail floor space more than doubling to 840,000 square feet on two levels at the convention center's South Hall.

Las Vegas Events recommends rodeo fans take the monorail, use expanded parking or hop on one of the free buses leaving eight NFR sponsor hotels to reach the convention center. Those eight hotels are Aria Resort & Casino, Excalibur Hotel and Casino, Golden Nugget - Las Vegas, The Mirage, Monte Carlo Las Vegas Resort & Casino, The Orleans, South Point Hotel Casino and Spa and Treasure Island.

In all, there are 22 NFR sponsor hotels in Las Vegas, with most visitors last year coming from Texas (12%), California (8%), Arizona, Colorado and Montana (all 6%).

This year, country music legend and rodeo fan Charlie Daniels penned a special song just for this year's NFR. A video of the song, called, "It Don't Get No Better Than That," can be watched on NFR website. The song is available on iTunes and song proceeds will be donated to the Justin Cowboy Crisis Fund and other groups.

NFR tickets cost $58 for upper deck (5% increase over 2014), $85 for plaza and $275 for gold buckle seats (both 10% increases over 2014). For 2016, Las Vegas Events will have to add the 9% Live Entertainment Tax to ticket prices, but Christenson said his organization will not add anything beyond the new state entertainment tax for next year.

With the country western world moving to Las Vegas for 10 days, new ancillary events to NFR have sprung up, such as the inaugural Boyd Gaming Chute-Out that will feature 64 rodeo cowboys Dec. 10-12, from 2-4 p.m. at Orleans Arena. The Chute-Out contestants will include those who just missed out on qualifying for NFR and former rodeo event champions.

And as usual, the World Series of Team Roping — and its $10 million in prize money (the same as NFR) — will be featured at South Point Dec. 7-13.

With the Las Vegas Events-PRCA 10-year deal behind them, everyone affiliated with the NFR was able to move ahead without any stress.

"It was refreshing. It's security for everyone in the industry," Christenson said. "It's a time when we can focus on the rodeo."