Luring the National Finals Rodeo out of Las Vegas was going to take one sweet deal.

How sweet? As reported by the Review-Journal’s Alan Snel in a copyrighted story Thursday, an offer to move the rodeo to Florida after next year’s event has so many guarantees that it includes provisions for the end of the decades-long sellout streak achieved at UNLV’s Thomas &Mack Center.

The offer from Florida was officially on the table when the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association board voted Sunday to reject a 10-year extension with Las Vegas Events, which would have kept the 10-day rodeo in Las Vegas every December through 2024. In fact, PRCA Commissioner Karl Stressman had spent months working on the deal, Osceola County Commission Chairman Fred Hawkins Jr. told Mr. Snel.

The PRCA board also voted Sunday to provide Las Vegas Events, an arm of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, with a counteroffer. Negotiating behind a longtime partner’s back to gain leverage is hardly a good-faith strategy (or a new one), but the Florida offer is instructive in the value of the National Finals Rodeo franchise — about $60 million in annual visitor spending.

Consider that Osceola County is required to spend $3 million per year on marketing until a new 24,000-seat arena (yet to be built) sees two consecutive sellouts. Should the arena sell out for two straight years, the county still has to spend $1.5 million on marketing. Then there are hotel proposals and the small matter of a $1.5 billion complex being built around the arena to provide hotels, restaurants, retail space and performance venues.

In other words, Florida would have to build everything the NFR already has in Las Vegas — especially the loyalty of NFR fans. It would be stunning to see the PRCA walk away from a proven partnership, guaranteed sellouts and a first-rate, cowboy-inspired visitor experience for something that doesn’t yet exist. Will many thousands of rodeo fans from across the West, who love to drive their trucks to Las Vegas, be willing to make the same trip to the Orlando area?

The most important part of this deal appears to be the prize money. Osceola County is prepared to boost the rodeo’s annual purse to $16 million per year. Las Vegas offered $6.2 million. That’s a big difference to rodeo talent, and Las Vegas almost certainly will have to come up with more to keep the NFR.

That said, the PRCA would be wise to think twice before walking away from a sure thing.


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