Friday, Jan. 24, 2014 | 3:42 p.m.
Man, that was a wild ride.
A little more than a month after it seemed the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo was leaving Las Vegas for the backyard of Disney World or even Dallas, it was formally announced today that the rodeo would remain in Las Vegas through 2024.
That is a 10-year extension over the current agreement between Las Vegas Events and the WNFR’s governing body, the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association.
The National Finals Rodeo debuted at the Thomas & Mack Center in 1985 and has grown to an event that consistently sells out the 17,500-seat arena. Rodeo’s premier event, which runs for 10 days in December, draws more than $90 million in nongaming revenue to Las Vegas.
Other suitors to wrestle the WNFR from Las Vegas were Osceola County, Fla., and the city of Dallas. But in the end, both the PRCA and Las Vegas Events voted unanimously to keep the rodeo here.
As part of the new pact, LVE is guaranteeing $16.5 million annually in purse and sponsorship dollars to the PRCA, including a total contestants’ purse package of $10 million and another $3 million to the event’s stock contractors from 2015-2019. The previous offer by the LVE, which was rejected by the PRCA Board of Directors on Dec. 14, was for $11 million to $12 million to extend the WNFR’s contract. The reported offer from Osceola County, which was in the midst of a 90-day memorandum of understanding to negotiate with the PRCA, was $16 million.
“To Orlando’s and Dallas’s credit, they came forth with some real credible offers,” LVE President Pat Christenson said today. “We knew all along that the PRCA wanted to be in Las Vegas. We weren’t sure how far Dallas and Orlando were willing to go, and we came up with an aggressive offer to keep the WNFR here.” The event will return to the Thomas & Mack Center, but with multiple arena plans in various stages of development in Las Vegas (most notably MGM Resorts' 20,000-seat arena on the Strip), it is not guaranteed the WNFR will be held at the Thomas & Mack through 2024.
The new WNFR contact satisfies the long-stated wishes of PRCA officials that its contestants receive a significant boost in prize money. Under the new pact, WNFR contestants will be guaranteed at least $10,000 each year in prize money, which will not be offset by contestant winnings. For instance, if a contestant now wins $10,000, he or she will take away $20,000; before, if he or she won $10,000 in prize money, the takeaway would be that $10,000. And from 2020-2024, a built-in cost-of-living increase will be attached to purse and guaranteed payments.
Additionally, as the statement notes, the agreement includes a seasonlong Las Vegas sponsorship program with the PRCA, presenting sponsorships of a dozen RAM Circuit Finals Rodeos and the single Circuit Finals Rodeo event, and also the National Finals Steer Roping Competition if and when it is held in Las Vegas.
Today’s announcement was a complete turn afield from the events of mid-December, when it seemed the WNFR would be moving to Osceola County in 2015. On Dec. 14, the PRCA board turned back LVE’s offer, just as the Osceola County Commission was meeting to approve its 90-day MOA agreement with the PRCA. That led to a hasty announcement by LVE that the rodeo was, in fact, heading to Florida. But PRCA Commissioner Karl Stressman swiftly stepped in and said his group still wanted to negotiate with Las Vegas officials, who subsequently set a deadline of Tuesday of this week to receive the PRCA’s counteroffer.
Meantime, Dallas emerged as a third contestant in this WNFR go-round, with Mavericks’ owner Mark Cuban saying he wanted to lead an effort to bring the rodeo to his Team’s American Airlines Center. PRCA reps visited Osceola County and Dallas in the weeks leading to today’s announcement.
In today’s statement, PRCA Chairman Keith Martin said: “Perhaps the best aspect of this agreement is that it benefits every PRCA member — contestants, stock contractors, committees and contract personnel. There is an investment here to advance the PRCA’s circuit system and help the sport continue to grow.”
Las Vegas Events Board of Trustees Chairman Bill McBeath stressed the long relationship between the PRCA and Las Vegas.
“For nearly 30 years, Las Vegas has built a strong partnership with the PRCA and its contestants,” McBeath said. “This new agreement clearly demonstrates the commitment that Las Vegas has to the PRCA, to the overall growth of the sport of rodeo and to the contestants. We feel that the new agreement is beneficial to all parties, and we’re very pleased to continue to host this iconic event for an additional 10 years.”
Stressman, who in December had noted the challenges of attempting to rebuild the success of the WNFR in a new locale, referred to the process as “long” and “at times, painful,” but ultimately rewarding.
"This is truly an historic day for the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association and the sport of professional rodeo," Stressman said. "The PRCA Board of Directors and this administration has been through a long and at times painful process of due diligence and careful consideration in looking out for the very best interest of every member of this association and this great sport. It hasn't always been easy, but what we're announcing today makes it all worthwhile. We could not be happier, and look forward to working with our partners in Las Vegas on continued growth and prosperity for the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo and the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association."
Christenson had also referenced the enormous task of rebuilding the WNFR brand in a city beginning in 2015, and in the days after it appeared the rodeo would be heading to central Florida, the LVE board was already working on a rodeo event that would have run in direct competition with the WNFR in December. That rodeo in Las Vegas would likely have significantly cut into the audience and scope of the WNFR.
As it happened, the WNFR is staying in its Vegas home, and next year marks the event’s 30th year at the Thomas & Mack. With a string of 270 straight sellouts intact and upwards of $100 million in revenue to be gained, all that’s left to say is, “Saddle up.”