When It Comes to Keeping the Rodeo, Money Talks

Las Vegas has the best environment for the NFR—but in the end it took cash to keep the cowboys coming back.

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Photo by Tom Donoghue

In what came as a surprise to some (especially those Chicken Little news organizations that frantically reported otherwise back in December), the National Finals Rodeo is not leaving Las Vegas. Not in 2015, nor for at least nine years afterward, according to a new contract signed last week between the rodeo’s local producer, Las Vegas Events, and the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association.

In the face of what may ultimately have been trumped-up bluffs by competition from Orlando (as well as a more realistic threat from Dallas), Las Vegas Events twice revisited its original offer—the one that failed to impress the PRCA—and finally came back to the table with a winner.

Back in December, many folks were freaking out at what may happen if Las Vegas lost the PRCA’s business. After all, the rodeo’s almost 200,000 butts-in-seats are responsible for $88 million in non-gaming revenue during what was once a slow season for Las Vegas. But after 30 years of hosting the rodeo, was Las Vegas really ever at a disadvantage, especially to Orlando? Probably not. After all, what cowboy wants to truck hundreds of animals from the West (or Midwest) all the way across the country to Florida, and then halfway down the peninsula, just to arrive at a humid, family-friendly retirement community?

From this vantage, the NFR negotiations appeared to be little more than a classic poker game: Orlando threatens to raise the stakes, PRCA honchos visit Florida, Las Vegas says it will manifest its own 10-day rodeo to replace NFR, PRCA says, “Hold on a minute.” Raise, bluff, raise, bluff, raise, call. We can chalk it to long list of advantages: our city’s combination of hospitality and events experience, superior facilities and our adult, all-night atmosphere. But it also helps that Las Vegas Events reportedly upped the ante of its original contract renewal by more than 33 percent to beat Orlando’s original $16 million offer.

Said LVE President Pat Christenson in a prepared statement, “We are relieved that we were able to assemble an agreement that both ensures that the Wrangler NFR will remain in Las Vegas for the long term and that all parties will prosper.”

Prosper is the key word. Yes, we’ve got spurs that jingle, but it’s the money in our pocket that ultimately jangled the right tune. Well, you know what they say on the ranch: Cash talks; that other stuff walks.