Las Vegas lost the prized National Finals Rodeo when the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association board voted 6-3 Sunday to reject Sin City’s offer to keep the NFR past 2014 and to pursue a more lucrative offer to move the Super Bowl of rodeo to Central Florida near Disney World and Orlando.
Less than 24 hours after the NFR completed its 29th year in Las Vegas, the Osceola County Commission met at noon Sunday to approve a memorandum of understanding with the PRCA.
The county near Orlando, which is the gateway to Disney World and home to the biggest rodeos east of the Mississippi River, will provide $16 million in annual purses and administrative costs as well as a new 24,000-seat arena. The board of the Colorado Springs, Colo.-based PRCA voted to pursue the Orlando area as the NFR’s new home.
In a statement, PRCA Commissioner Karl Stressman said, “The PRCA Board did not vote to leave Las Vegas; the vote was made strictly on the content of the current offer. The PRCA continues to carefully consider offers from all potential WNFR hosts.”
Pat Christenson, president of Las Vegas Events, which is funded by the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority and promotes the NFR, called the move “a big mistake.”
“There’s not another market for the NFR like Las Vegas,” Christenson said. “It’s difficult to go further than what we’ve given them. We gave them everything there is.”
In a statement about the PRCA board decision, Las Vegas Events said, “Osceola County exceeded LVE’s offer by more than $4 million. We are disappointed that the PRCA has chosen to pursue a completely speculative offer versus Las Vegas’ proven 29-year track record.”
Christenson did not appreciate PRCA’s saying it did not reject Las Vegas.
“At some point, they have to decide they want to be in Las Vegas and that was today,” Christenson said. “They have a MOU (memorandum of understanding) with another market. Our interpretation is that they rejected our offer, and they’re moving on.”
Christenson said Las Vegas Events already is working on its own championship rodeo event to be held in December 2015.
“We will not give up the two weeks in December that we have held for the last 29 years,” Christenson said.
In a statement, Las Vegas Events said, “Now that we know the PRCA’s true intentions, we will put our full effort into developing a new Series and Finals. For almost 30 years, we have developed a loyal fan base that calls Las Vegas home for the first two weeks in December. We are confident our new ‘Finals’ will exceed all expectations.”
Meanwhile in Osceola County, county commissioners voted 5-0 on the financial package to lure the NFR from Las Vegas.
“We put together a package we thought would be very competitive,” Osceola County Commission Chairman Fred Hawkins, Jr. told the Review-Journal. “We’d love to have them.”
Hawkins said the NFR’s new host county is a “family-oriented area” and “our county does not have gambling.”
The PRCA deal with Osceola County is a 20-year agreement but either side may pull out after 10 years, with three years notice, Hawkins said. The 2015 NFR is to be held at the Orlando Magic’s NBA arena in downtown Orlando, and at a new arena built near the Gaylord Palms Resort and Convention Center in Osceola County in 2016, Hawkins said.
The memorandum of understanding allows 90 days to close the deal.
The loss of the rodeo is a major blow to Las Vegas because hundreds of thousands of visitors fill hotel rooms and restaurants in December when business slows down on the Strip and around Sin City. The 10-day event pumps at least $60 million of spending into the Las Vegas economy each year.
Christenson said NFR fans will have to pay about 40 percent more for tickets in central Florida than they have paid for the 10 days of rodeo at the sold-out Thomas & Mack Center at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
The average NFR ticket is about $75 each for a lower bowl seat and about $55 for an upper bowl seat, Christenson said.
“Adding an additional $4 million to the budget would require a 40 percent increase in ticket prices,” Las Vegas Events said in its statement. “That is not sustainable. We have to balance the demands of the PRCA with the consequence of pricing our fans out of the market.
“In fact, LVE does not generate a profit from the NFR. All revenue generated from the NFR including ticket sales, Cowboy Christmas, local sponsorship sales and a $2 million LVCVA and LVE rights fee, go directly to the contestants and the PRCA.”
The NFR’s daily Cowboy Christmas/FanFest event at the Las Vegas Convention Center drew record attendance for the 10-day run as 196,698 people checked out exhibits and cowboy displays. The attendance at the convention center during the Dec. 5-14 NFR was more than 10,000 higher than last year’s 186,100. The NFR fanfest event debuted alongside the retail Cowboy Christmas in 2012.
The Cowboy Christmas/FanFest total attendance of 196,698 at the convention center exceeded the 10-day attendance of 176,558. The NFR set an event attendance record on the final night Saturday, when 18,242 fans packed the arena.
Alan Snel can be contacted at email@example.com or 702-387-5273. Follow Snel on Twitter at @BicycleManSnel.