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November 23, 2014

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Forget Dallas — NFR is most likely staying put in Las Vegas

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Sam Morris

Cowboys wait to move out bulls for exercise Friday, Nov. 30, 2012, on UNLV intramural fields as preparations continue for the 2012 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo.

The History of the NFR

Jack Brown on One Step, Rocky Ford, Colorado, 1921. Launch slideshow »

Thomas & Mack Center Prepared for NFR

8:00 a.m. - Workers start spreading dirt in the east tunnel as they prepare the Thomas & Mack Center for the National Finals Rodeo Sunday, Dec. 2, 2012. This year's NFR begins Thursday, Dec. 6 and runs through Saturday Dec. 15. Launch slideshow »

2011 National Finals Rodeo: Night 6

The sixth night of the 53rd Wrangler National Finals Rodeo at the Thomas & Mack Center on Dec. 6, 2011. Launch slideshow »

Cowboys like stuff that fits. Same for cowgirls.

Comfy attire. Boots that conform tightly to the feet. Snug jeans. Form-fitting hats that no one else is allowed to wear. Button-snap shirts that wear easily on the torso.

And Las Vegas fits the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo just fine. Since 1985, it’s been: Real. Comfortable. Rodeo.

This is the cowboy way, and that affinity for the familiar expands to how Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association officials determine where to hold their showcase event. This year’s NFR begins tonight and runs through Dec. 15 at the Thomas & Mack Center.

Looming off the horizon like a sunset on the ponderosa is the end of the current 10-year contract that the PRCA, the rodeo’s sanctioning body, holds with Las Vegas Events. It times out after the 2014 event.

PRCA and Las Vegas officials have never allowed a contract to expire. They don’t plan to let this one go dark, either. To state it simply: Unless there is a rift that no one in either camp can foresee entering this year’s rodeo showcase, the NFR will stay in Las Vegas for a long spell.

“We have a great relationship with Las Vegas. To look at the NFR and to see how successful it has been out there, you ask, ‘Would it be foolish to end it?’ It would absolutely be silly,” PRCA Commissioner Karl Stressman said during a phone interview last week as he prepared to make his annual drive from his home in Colorado Springs, Colo., to Las Vegas for the NFR. “We have a very good working relationship with Las Vegas Events. They are our friends as well as our partners.”

Though a formal announcement likely won’t be made until January at the earliest, expect a lengthy contract keeping the NFR in Las Vegas for several years beginning in 2014.

Those who have negotiated the deal are not specifying the terms just yet, but concerns that the rodeo might bug out of Las Vegas after 2014 can be allayed. It’s not moving; not to Dallas, not anywhere else. The NFR is a Las Vegas event.

“I think we’re all right,” said South Point owner Michael Gaughan, who is the top Las Vegas official on the NFR Committee and the city’s lead negotiator in current contract talks. “There is talk about an increase in prize money, bigger jumps for the contestants. But we want it here, and the PRCA wants it here. We started negotiations early to get on top of this.”

Talks began in earnest last fall, when Stressman and PRCA chairman Keith Martin traveled to Las Vegas to begin discussions with Gaughan and Las Vegas Events representatives.

The urgency in arriving at a formal commitment became twofold in 2010. The opening of Cowboys Stadium in Dallas brought what was perceived to be daunting competition for the NFR after its contract with Las Vegas expires, and no one interested in the economic health of Las Vegas was interested in saying goodbye to an annual event that brings in more than $60 million in nongaming revenue each year, according to a study commissioned by the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.

It is time to shelve discussion of the rodeo moving to Dallas. Cowboys owner Jerry Jones has never moved from his original statements — that he respects the NFR’s history and heritage and recognizes its wide appeal, but he is far more interested in Cowboys in helmets than cowboys in hats. He has entertained Professional Bull Riders events at Cowboys Stadium, and there have been exploratory discussions about how the NFR might play out at Cowboys Stadium, but Jones would never book a rodeo during the NFL season.

The NFR is held every December, during the NFL season. And the PRCA is not moving its own Super Bowl off the dates it has been held for, oh, 80-something years. One theory was that if the NFR were to move to June, it would widen the field of potential suitors. But don’t count on it.

“We have had some conversations with others, but it would absolutely be a real stretch to try to work with a venue that has an NFL franchise,” said Stressman, who has said the NFR is set on its traditional December schedule. “It would be really difficult.”

The NFR is enormously popular as a live event and a communitywide spectacle in Las Vegas. It has sold out every performance, 260 in all, since it was moved to Las Vegas from Oklahoma City in 1985. Resorts up and down the Strip and all over the valley hold events and parties tied to rodeo.

“The NFR stands on its own feet. There is no reason to add anything to the NFR, as far as the rodeo itself goes,” Gaughan said. “We have the best cowboys and the best stock, and it’s over in two hours. My dad (casino legend Jackie Gaughan) said, ‘When people come to Las Vegas, no show should run over an hour and 40 minutes.’ ”

Stressman is mum on much of the contract talk until after this year’s NFR but does say the key negotiating point is money for contestants. Last year, prize money awarded surpassed $6 million, and the PRCA has sought more reward for athletes whom many say are the toughest individuals in all of sport.

“Our objective is to give as much back to our members as possible. We want to make sure our athletes are properly compensated, and we’re asking for as much as we can,” Stressman said. “If we were at odds with LVE or Las Vegas, that would be one thing. But that is the furthest thing from the truth.”

All that’s left, then, is to buckle up and enjoy the ride.

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

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