National Finals Rodeo cowboys are straight shooters — they’re happy to tell you their motivation for wanting to move the Super Bowl of rodeos out of Las Vegas is money.
NFR contestants met Saturday and instructed their representatives on the Pro Rodeo Cowboys Association board to reject a Las Vegas Events offer to keep the NFR in Sin City because the prize money was not enough, said Bret Tonozzi, a cowboy from Grand Junction, Colo., who represents contestants on the PRCA board
“Las Vegas sent them a contract. They read it. They told us, ‘Don’t approve the contract,’ ” Tonozzi said. “There’s not enough money for them. They said they couldn’t survive on that for the next 10 years. They truly want to go back. They can’t afford it. It’s pretty simple.”
The nine-member PRCA board includes four who represent the cowboys — Fred Boettcher, Heath Ford, JP Wickett and Tonozzi. The four voted with members Benje Bendele, who represents the NFR contract staff, and Troy Weekley, a Davie, Fla., rodeo organizer, to reject the Las Vegas offer.
Board chairman Keith Martin, along with stock contractors Hal Burns and John Barnes, voted to accept the Las Vegas offer.
Osceola County, outside Orlando, Fla., is offering more money to the PRCA in hopes of luring the prized rodeo to Kissimmee. On Sunday, when the PRCA rejected the Las Vegas offer, the Osceola County commissioners met to approve an offer that included $16 million and a new 24,000-seat arena that would be ready in 2016. The commissioners authorized their county manager to negotiate a deal with the PRCA within the next 90 days.
The NFR on Saturday completed its 29th year in Las Vegas, which becomes a cowboy town during a seasonal slow period on the Strip. The Las Vegas Events offer included possibly moving the NFR to the new 20,000-seat arena that MGM Resorts International and AEG are expected to open behind New York New York in 2016.
Martin said even though the PRCA board rejected the Las Vegas offer, it also unanimously voted to make a counteroffer to Las Vegas Events, the nonprofit organization funded by the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority that markets the NFR.
Tonozzi said he did not know how much money Las Vegas Events needs to pony up to keep the NFR cowboys happy. The top 15 cowboys in each of seven events compete for world titles at the NFR.
Team roper Charly Crawford, who finished 10th in the world standings for headers with $118,168, said if a worker gets a better-paying offer from another company, then it has to be considered. That’s why the Osceola County offer is being considered, he said.
“The cowboys need time to meet with the PRCA board and the commissioner,” Crawford said. “We need to get in there and try to get our association on track and where it needs to be going for our industry, our fans and our competitors. Now is the time. This is the first time the cowboys have actually been informed. We need to get our association together.”
Las Vegas Events President Pat Christenson said his organization’s $15 million per year proposal included $6.2 million in prize money for the contestants. He said the Osceola County offer was $4 million a year more than the Las Vegas Events offer.
“Everybody wants to stay in Vegas, but we have a better offer,” Weekley said. “It’s a whole lot more. It’s a legitimate offer, and we’ve had offers that were not legitimate.”
Former PRCA board member Bob Thain, a Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame inductee from Reno, said that if Las Vegas doesn’t come up with more money, he doesn’t see the NFR staying in Sin City.
“I don’t see any of these guys (who voted against the Las Vegas Events offer) changing their minds,” Thain said.
Martin said the next step is for PRCA Commissioner Karl Stressman to make a counteroffer to Las Vegas Events. Stressman could not be reached for comment Tuesday, but said last week that a final decision would be made by early 2014.
Alan Snel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-5273. Follow Snel on Twitter at @BicycleManSnel.