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New Las Vegas Events president starts job with a ‘bang’

Tim Keener likes to joke that Southern Nevada celebrated his promotion to president of Las Vegas Events with a fireworks show.

Keener started his new role Jan. 1 and was previously vice president of ticket operations for the event planning organization that is behind the National Finals Rodeo. He succeeds Pat Christenson, who retired but is staying on as a consultant through the 2023 NFR.

Keener, a West Virginia native and graduate of West Virginia University, first began coordinating Las Vegas events in 1988 while working for ESPN Regional TV in Charlotte, North Carolina. While at ESPN, he met Christenson, and their partnership eventually brought him to Las Vegas Events in 2001.

Since then, Keener has helped produce some of the largest sporting events that run, skate and ride through town, including the organization’s signature event, the National Finals Rodeo.

The Review-Journal sat down last week with Keener in LVE’s new office suite — down the hall from its former space, in a building near Harry Reid International Airport — to discuss the organization and the evolving sports entertainment industry in Las Vegas. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Review-Journal: How has the new position been treating you so far?

Keener: We got through rodeo and (New Year’s Eve) fireworks. I was on top of the Rio doing the fireworks show at midnight. So right when that show started, I took over the new position. I feel like I came into the new job with a bang. I had an eight-minute fireworks show to celebrate me taking the new job.

How does Las Vegas Events fit into the events industry here?

We’re funded through a bed tax allocation from the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority. We work hand in hand with them on a monthly basis. We meet with the LVCVA, go over new events that we may be interested in bringing to our board, hopefully for approval, and then go to the LVCVA for final approval. We’ve been in operation since 1985, and we’ve been working with LVCVA from the get-go. We got a good process working with them, and we look forward to continuing on assisting them where needed on some of those big events like the Super Bowl and F1. The NFR is our core event that we work on year-round, as well as the fireworks show. But you look at some of the events that the LVCVA has brought in — (NCAA) regional (men’s) basketball in March; we got Super Bowl in 2024; Formula One racing this November; and Final Four in ’28; then the Frozen Four (collegiate) hockey event, that we brought in in 2026. So it’s a lot of big events coming to town, and the new stadiums at Allegiant Stadium and T-Mobile Arena has really opened the door. Any event is possible here now, based on the facilities.

Tell me about your history at the company.

I came here in 2001, but I had been coming to Vegas (before). I was with ESPN at the time and worked with Pat extensively on quite a few events at the Thomas & Mack Center — that was in the mid-’90s, into the early 2000s. Pat was leaving Thomas & Mack and coming over here to Las Vegas Events in August of ’01. I was actually his first hire, a week after he started. I started here with event and ticket operations. That’s where I cut my teeth on at ESPN, producing events here in the destination, and that’s where I connected with Pat. When I came here, my main role was event operations and managing the rodeo and New Year’s Eve fireworks. We did USA Basketball for a few years, before it moved over to T-Mobile Arena, Olympic wrestling, the USA Sevens (rugby tournament) and other events. My experience has really been rooted in event operations and dealing with the venues and the promoters, that type of thing.

How does the city’s renaissance in sporting events compare to when you started?

Thomas & Mack is still a great venue — a little aged at times — but it’s a perfect home for NFR. That was really the crown jewel back in 2001. Then all of a sudden, you had other venues come on board. T-Mobile Arena changed things on the Strip, and we knew when Allegiant Stadium was being talked about, having a 65,000-plus(-seat) venue, it opened us up to events we could have never bid on before: the Super Bowls, the Final Fours, large concerts like Garth Brooks and things like that. That stadium has really put Las Vegas on the map to the point where there’s not a whole lot of events that the destination cannot bid on.

Do you find that event organizers were seeking you out even more? Or are you using Allegiant Stadium as a piece of the marketing puzzle?

It’s a bit of both. I would say that LVCVA is very active in reaching out on events, but I’m sure they are taking just as many phone calls on events as well.

With Christenson moving into a consultancy role, how do you see your relationship with him evolving?

It’s really good to know that he’s a phone call away. He’s been in a couple of times over the last week to see the new offices. He walked through here, and you could just feel the pride that we all had in the new office set up here. The fact that he’s a phone call away — I call him on rodeo and I call him on other items that come up — that really gives me a good feeling.

The Cowboy Channel’s three-year sponsorship of Cowboy Christmas was a relatively new addition. How has the sponsorship since 2021 changed the event?

The Cowboy Christmas is such an important part of the NFR experience. We had almost 280,000 shoppers this past 10 days. Our team does a great job when they put on the Junior World Finals at the (Las Vegas) Convention Center. That event really establishes what fans can do during the day. As we move forward with the Cowboy Channel sponsorship the last couple of years, it’s been really beneficial to both parties. Cowboy Channel has really allowed us to market to the rodeo fans pretty much year-round. And those that can’t even come into town, they’re not missing much because most of it is on TV.

Are you expecting any other changes regarding the rodeo?

We’re working with the (Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association), looking to start negotiations on a contract extension, which is very important to all parties. We’ve got three years left, but we’re anxious to get with the PRCA, as they are as well, to try to work out an extension. I know rodeo fans love coming to Vegas. It’s great walking through these casinos and seeing the cowboy hats all around the machines and tables, you just feel like everybody’s back home.

With the different events that come to town, how do you determine the right balance when it comes to scheduling?

When we’re looking at trying to secure new events, we work with LVCVA and there’s a weekend occupancy calendar that we look at. Depending on the occupancy on certain weekends, we’ll try to maybe try to find a weekend — which they’re all very good — but you try to find one it might be in that 90th percentile, where we got a little occupancy to fill and try to find an event that might slip in that weekend. But there’s so much going on in any given week and weekend. It’s a challenge, but it’s a fun challenge.

McKenna Ross is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms. Contact her at mross@reviewjournal.com. Follow @mckenna_ross_ on Twitter.

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