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August 28, 2014

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Kats Goes Cowboy: NFR opens, but will it always be a Las Vegas event?

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Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

Fans cheer as the cowboys and cowgirls are introduced at the start of the first go round of the National Finals Rodeo Thursday, December 2, 2010 at the Thomas & Mack.

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Pyrotechnics, lasers and dancers entertain the crowd at the start of the first go round of the National Finals Rodeo Thursday, December 2, 2010 at the Thomas & Mack.

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Country star Reba McEntire sings the national anthem at the start of the first go round of the National Finals Rodeo Thursday, December 2, 2010 at the Thomas & Mack.

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National Finals Rodeo General Manager Shawn Davis talks on a headset during the first go-round of the National Finals Rodeo on Thursday, Dec. 2, 2010, at the Thomas & Mack.

National Finals Rodeo - First Go Round

Steer wrestler Kyle Hughes dismounts during the first go round of the National Finals Rodeo Thursday, December 2, 2010 at the Thomas & Mack. Launch slideshow »

On a night that opened with such revelry that Reba McEntire and Miss Rodeo America Kelli Jackson shared the same arena on the same night, we address the far beyond:

What happens to the National Finals Rodeo after the last night of the 2014 NFR in Las Vegas?

It’s too early to say for certain what happens in four years, other than the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association’s contract to hold the event in Las Vegas expires as soon as the chutes slam shut in December 2014. But there is a very big facility (Cowboys Stadium) in a very big state (Texas) operated by a Cowboy and cowboy with a very big appetite for large events (Jerry Jones).

We’ve written about this threat from Texas before, maybe just short of ad nauseum, but I am asked about it a lot while trotting through my coverage of this year’s NFR. The Vegas-Dallas event climate is largely unchanged from when I visited Cowboys Stadium back in March. There remains a giant facility that can pluck events that were ideally suited for Las Vegas (check on the recent activity of the world’s most dangerous politician, Manny Pacquiao, for evidence of major events moving from Vegas to Cowboys Stadium).

Rodeo fans put all those components together and consider what the 2015 NFR at Cowboys Stadium might look like.

But -- significant qualifier here -- the man whose culture-changing vote brought the NFR to Las Vegas from Oklahoma City in 1984 says the event should not be loaded up and carted away.

“The main reason that I moved it (to Las Vegas), and why I would recommend that we leave it here, is when people come here, the rodeo is the main attraction, but they want to be entertained,” NFR Executive General Manager Shawn Davis said Thursday afternoon, just hours before NFR bucked out at the Thomas & Mack Center. “If they are tough enough to be here for three days, they want to leave satisfied that they were entertained. I don’t know if any other city can provide that.”

It is important to note and remember that Shawn, as big a proponent of Vegas as anyone who does not actually live here, has no vote in the matter today as the GM of NFR. The PRCA decides the fate of its signature event.

Still, Davis is highly regarded and has a time-honed opinion of the sport that anyone who wears a cowboy hat (even if for just a couple of weeks a year) takes seriously.

Davis also said the small size of the Thomas & Mack Center, which seats 17,500 for the NFR, lends itself to rodeo action in a way a 100,000-seat stadium cannot. Rodeos are often held at fairgrounds and field houses; Cowboys Stadium is roughly the size of an international airport and about as intimate as an aircraft carrier.

“Fans like to be able to see the action up close,” said Davis, himself a three-time former champion saddle bronc rider and member of the PRCA Hall of Fame. “We provide screens so they can watch what’s happening, but rodeo is really an intimate sport.” (A spokesman for Jones and the Dallas Cowboys said Jones is not commenting on NFR because it is football season, and Jones is focused on the cowboys who wear helmets, not hats.)

Davis has never set boot in Cowboys Stadium himself, but it sounds like a visit there would not toss him to a different opinion of the rodeo’s future.

“My advice would be,” he says, smiling slyly, “to dance with the one that brought you.”

Follow John Katsilometes on Twitter at twitter.com/JohnnyKats.

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