EDITORIAL: NFR not leaving Las Vegas

They flirted. They formed contingency plans for the breakup. And at one point, they pretty much had broken up. But once they got down to talking, once they had a good look at the grass on the other side of the fence, they realized anew they were perfect for each other.

And so Las Vegas and the National Finals Rodeo will remain partners through 2024. It’s a testament to the power of the Las Vegas brand, the incomparable visitor experience offered by the Strip and the ability of the tourism industry to work together to keep one of the city’s signature events.

The contract for the lucrative series, which has sold out the Thomas &Mack Center for 10 days every December for nearly 30 years, was to expire after the 2014 rodeo. The Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association spent 2013 figuring out just how much the attraction was worth to other cities anxious to host it. The answer: lots.

In December, the Orlando, Fla., area emerged as the most serious competition for Las Vegas, offering rodeo competitors a sizable boost in prize money and a new arena, among other guarantees. On Dec. 15, the PRCA board voted to reject Las Vegas’ offer for a contract extension, the same day the Osceola County (Fla.) Commission approved a memorandum of understanding with the PRCA. That prompted Las Vegas Events, which promotes the National Finals Rodeo and other events on behalf of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, to issue a statement that took a swipe at the PRCA’s negotiating tactics and announced the agency’s intent to create a competing rodeo circuit.

But the PRCA board had also voted to present Las Vegas with a counteroffer. And after weeks of work, Las Vegas Events announced it had boosted its previous offer by about $5 million per year, to a total of $16.5 million in annual purse and sponsorship guarantees. The agreement on a 10-year extension was announced Friday.

The NFR was simply too important to the Las Vegas economy to let it get away. It brings tens of thousands of visitors to the valley during the otherwise slow period between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Their nongaming economic impact approaches $90 million, a lot of jobs in a town that desperately needs them. For the PRCA, meanwhile, it made no sense to leave the place that has allowed the NFR to grow, the place that turns into a country and western mecca. NFR fans could not get a remotely similar experience elsewhere.

Thanks to Las Vegas Events and the PRCA for recognizing the value of their partnership.

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