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October 22, 2014

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NFR wraps with an injury that could’ve been worse and exciting plans for the future (maybe even legal wagering)

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Leila Navidi

Bullrider Shane Proctor of Grand Coulee, Wash. is carried out on a stretcher after being stepped on by the bull during the final round of the National Finals Rodeo at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas Saturday, December 10, 2011. Proctor broke his left arm.

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Pat Christenson, president of Las Vegas Events, does an interview in the media room before the final round of the National Finals Rodeo at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas Saturday, December 10, 2011.

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Trevor Knowles of Mount Vernon, Ore. tips his hat to the crowd after his final round of steer wrestling during the National Finals Rodeo at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas Saturday, December 10, 2011.

2011 NFR: Final Round

The opening ceremonies of the final round of the National Finals Rodeo at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas Saturday, December 10, 2011. Launch slideshow »

When Shane Proctor boarded the bucking bull Black Attack near the end of the 2011 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, the event was already an unqualified success. Even before the 10th and final night wrapped at the customarily sold-out Thomas & Mack Center, fans were jubilantly telling Professional Cowboys Rodeo Association chief Karl Stressman that this year’s NFR was the best ever.

Proctor’s ride in the seventh and last event of the evening and of the rodeo would help put an exclamation mark on the wild and wildly successful event. He entered the NFR atop the world standings, having earned more than $200,000 for the season and was the only cowboy to surpass that mark entering the sport’s Super Bowl.

But the thing about bucking bulls is: They don’t always follow protocol. They are 1,400 pounds of stubborn, and Black Attack, a free-thinking sort, pitched Proctor on his butt moments into his ride. Then the bull crashed down on Proctor as he lay prone in the dirt, and the audience fell silent.

Announcer Boyd Polhamus asked the crowd to pray as members of the Justin Sportsmedicine team raced to the champion cowboy, who was motionless and facedown on the arena floor. Proctor was swiftly strapped to a stretcher and carefully carried to the medical center in the bowels of the Thomas & Mack, where, for the next hour or so, friends and family lurked, anxiously awaiting a report about his condition. NFR chief Shawn Davis and Polhamus were two officials who stopped to check on Proctor. So was bullfighter Dusty Tuckness, one of the sport’s greats, still wearing his face paint.

When it was finally announced that Proctor had suffered a fractured left humerus and not something more serious, such as a back injury, there was a collective sigh of relief. Proctor seemed aware of his good fate, grinning sheepishly at his mother, Kathy, and wife, Jessi, as they entered the treatment room. Later, he said, “I’ve always said to either be a 90 or be in the highlight reel, and I guess I made the highlight reel tonight,” and even made the official post-event party at the Mirage, his left arm cased in a bulky splint.

The rodeo culture often applies the term “blessed” to such incidents. It could be said that the NFR itself was blessed, or charmed, in 2011. Las Vegas tourism officials and rodeo organizers were unified in their satisfaction with this year’s event, a suitable launching point for negotiations between the city’s own rodeo committee (headed up by Las Vegas Events President Pat Christenson) and Stressman and his team, or if you will, posse.

“We’re already looking at next year, but it really isn’t as if we have to dramatically improve the formula. The formula is solid,” Christenson said during an interview before Saturday’s final night of action. “The formula has worked for 27 years, and that is, you’ve got the best contestants against the best stock going for the biggest prize money in rodeo for the world championship.”

The sport’s blossoming popularity in the city is reflected not necessarily inside the arena — where it has sold out 18,000 seats for more than 260 consecutive shows — but in the viewing events across the city.

“It used to be that we had the live feed into the hotels, so people would be hanging around the bars and the blackjack tables and watching the rodeo,” Christenson said. “Now you have organized viewing parties, and there are a couple of them that are turning people away. What they are doing is using the attachment to different contestants to their promotions, their autograph sessions at their hotels, and they are doing giveaways, and they have become big events themselves. You get the announcers’ commentary, which is such a big part of the rodeo, and if there is anything that more of the hotels will grab onto, it’s going to be viewing parties.”

Christenson said one way to expand the potential fan base of the NFR would be to allow for wagering. As is commonly accepted, any form of sport or activity is more interesting if one wagers a dollar on it (this could be called the Oscar Goodman Theorem), and the NFR would not be an exception. The concept of open betting on the 10 nights of NFR action was discussed at length among Las Vegas officials before, but has never been enacted.

“We’ve been toying around with a ‘bucking form,’ much like a race form, where you have the information, you have the stats year-round, on the stock and how they buck, and all the cowboy scores. So you take those two things and you can create odds, in terms of the likelihood, of the top 15 finish in any event, much like racing,” Christenson said. “How we do that is something we looked at this whole year, and decided not to do. Whether we’ll do it again next year — I think we’re in the starting gate, so to speak.”

Why wasn’t this option provided for this year’s event? The clock is ticking here.

“We wanted to make sure that the stats were thorough enough, that the system in place to get all of those stats in order was credible enough to make it work,” Christenson said. “The form is only as good as the system we set up, and we would then need to test it.”

Rodeo officials have not said “no” to betting on the sport in Vegas.

“We’ve talked about it in the past a little bit, and we need to look at it and see if, going forward, it makes sense for us,” Stressman said. “We haven’t talked about it too much with LVE or LVCVA, but I don’t think anything is off the table. Everything is open to conversation until we figure out that it won’t work.”

Somehow, the PRCA will be seeking more money for contestants, which has been a consistent message from Stressman for at least the past two NFRs. That will be the first order of business after the two sides convene in the spring to start negotiating a contract that would replace the current agreement that times out after 2014.

Christenson says the current financial model will need to change to pay for additional prize money. That figure surpassed $6 million this year, an all-time high for the NFR. And the cowboys are asking for more scratch.

“Is that possible? Yes. But how we do it is something we haven’t even begun discussing,” Christenson said. “So the question then, is, ‘What is it they want?’ You have to start with that, and then you go with, ‘How do you get there?’ You can’t do it without cutting or increasing something.”

But the talks are to be one-on-one between Vegas and the NFR reps. Those discussions would have to reach impasse for a third party to enter the scene as a viable suitor. As Christenson says, “The good news is, we want ’em back and they want to be back.”

That includes you, Mr. Proctor.

Follow John Katsilometes on Twitter at Twitter.com/JohnnyKats. Also, follow “Kats With the Dish” at Twitter.com/KatsWithTheDish.

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