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September 19, 2014

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It’s been a long ride for the Wrangler NFR to renew its commitment to Las Vegas

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L.E. Baskow

Steers are recorded for future study as team ropers get in some practice for the upcoming NFR at the Thomas & Mack Center on Tuesday, Dec. 3, 2013.

2013 NFR Preparations Begin

Riders warm down their horses after a roping session for the upcoming NFR at the Thomas & Mack Center on Tuesday,  Dec. 3, 2013. Launch slideshow »

At this writing, the Kats Report Bureau it the Thomas & Mack Center and the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo. This is when we bust out (our cowboy gear) and take part in a Las Vegas cowboy tradition dating to 1985.

By “take part in” I mean, “watch,” of course.

The event features some of the toughest individuals on the planet. These are the types of competitors who will get thrown to the dirt and be stomped upon by a 1,000-pound bull and treat the injuries with a shot of Pendleton blended Canadian whisky. Then, it’s off to the Justin Boots training center (every facet of the WNFR – including the “W” – is sponsored by some cowboy-related company).

The rodeo is the most organic sport, its format, rules and equipment largely unchanged over the past 150 years. It’s also a great fit for Las Vegas’ own wild-west heritage, as this was really a cowboy town before all the casinos cropped up. The WNFR will sell out each night from Thursday through Dec. 14, the live attendance inching toward 180,000 over 10 nights (with about 45,000 fans visiting from out of the Las Vegas area). Remarkably, the event has sold out the T&M 270 straight nights. The economic impact from last year’s event, as tabulated by the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, topped 60.1 million. Forty hotels are beaming the event live, and the Cowboy Fanfest (100,000 square feet of Wild West-themed entertainment the Las Vegas Convention Center) is in its second year, and the Cowboy Christmas shopping center (filled with items ranging from furniture to jewelry to recreational vehicles) features more than 400 vendors.

It’s a fantastic scene, even if you’re one of these “drugstore cowboys.” But one niggling detail is that the contract between Las Vegas Events and the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association, the umbrella organization that promotes the WNFR, has not been renewed. The two sides are still working on specifics of that contract, but before the 2013 event officials from both organizations said there likely would be an announcement of some new commitment for the event to remain in Las Vegas over the next several years.

Two realities: PRCA President Karl Stressman has long said that prize money for NFR contestants is his top priority in negotiating a contract extension. And, the PRCA and Las Vegas officials have never allowed a contract to expire. And Las Vegas has proven, every year, a better than suitable host for the event, inside the arena and around the city.

Wait. That’s actually three realities. Whatever, thanks for keeping pace.

• Staying on the cowboy-town medley, the Las Vegas Elks Helldorado Days announced this week it has a new staging area for its annual rodeo, which is the highlight t of the long-running western-themed festival dating to 1934. The event is moving to the patch of land east of the Smith Center for the Performing Arts at Symphony Park from May 14-18. One day has been tacked on to the schedule, a Hispanic-themed rodeo called Fiesta del Charo. That competition is set to start the rodeo-a-thon on May 14.

Also announced is that Lee Butts is taking over as the event’s executive director for next year’s Helldorado Days, replacing Duane LaDuke. Butts has been involved in the event for 20 years. Helldorado Day is being presented as an official event of the Nevada Sesquicentennial Celebration, as chosen by the Nevada 150 Commission. What that means is Helldorado Days holds a strong cultural history in our state, and any event in our neighborhood dating 80 years is worth honoring.

• We took notice of the construction of Cowboys Stadium in 2009, wondering how that variable-domed facility and its gargantuan LED screen would at all effect events held in Vegas. There was concern about the relocation of the WNFR, specifically, as Cowboys Stadium (now known as AT&T Stadium) seats about 80,000 and happens to be located in a state where Cowboys and cowboys are really popular. But the timing of the WNFR falls during the NFL season, and Cowboys owner Jerry Jones will not move his team out of its home stadium for any reason and the PRCA won’t budge on the dates for its own Super Bowl event.

But Cowboys Stadium has signed a rodeo event, and instead of moving an existing event its staging one customized for the stadium.

Dubbed The American Rodeo and already famous as the largest single-day rodeo in history, the event offers a total of $2 million and is expected to be held each year beginning March 2. The event is to be backed by RFD-TV, the rural cable outlet that is also broadcasting the WNFR. The top 10 contestants in each of the seven events – bareback riding, bronc riding, team roping, tie-down roping, barrel racing, steer wrestling and bull riding – will compete in a single day.

Jones once said that he was more interested in Cowboys in helmets than cowboys in hats, and had said he was not interest in bringing the NFR into Cowboys Stadium if it meant disrupting his team’s schedule, but has made some noise in the world of rodeo by staging an event that is a microwave version of the WNFR. We’ll see how she plays.

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

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