The Thomas & Mack Center holds about 17,600 fans for each go-round of the 10-night National Finals Rodeo. Entering the NFR’s 27th year here, the arena has served both the rodeo and Las Vegas well. But in recent years, a big question has been rumbling in the background, and it’s getting louder: For an event of this magnitude, is 17,600 seats enough?
With the current contract between the Pro Rodeo Cowboys Association and Las Vegas Events expiring after the 2014 rodeo, PRCA Commissioner Karl Stressman says he expects a decision on the NFR’s future to be made early in 2012.
“I don’t think that anybody wants it to go past next year, because at that point in time, we really do have to know where our home is going to be,” he says. “And certainly Vegas needs to know where our home is going to be.”
The reasons for keeping the NFR here are plentiful. Las Vegas has an abundance of flights, hotel rooms, restaurants, shopping and entertainment options to satisfy the thousands of tourists who flock here each December for the rodeo. But Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones has talked about luring the rodeo to his 80,000-seat stadium in Arlington, Texas. And Oklahoma City, which hosted the NFR for 20 years before Las Vegas, could also make a bid.
“We hear some of the rumors out there just like everybody else,” Stressman says. “Very frankly, I’m not even interested about listening to anything else at this point in time until we meet with Vegas and really get down to serious negotiations.”
Las Vegas Events President Pat Christenson says he is optimistic that the NFR will remain here, especially with the total prize money increasing 600 percent since the NFR moved to Las Vegas in 1985, but he does believe the stadium issue could eventually become a problem.
“If they want to keep the tradition of the NFR,” he says, “then I don’t think there’s another place but Las Vegas.”