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EDITORIAL: Rodeo has funny way of showing it wants to stay in Las Vegas

Maybe the marriage between Las Vegas and the National Finals Rodeo isn’t as strong as we thought. Maybe, like so many partners who’ve been together nearly three decades, they’ve forgotten how to talk to one another.

That’s an obvious takeaway from this weekend’s strange developments in the campaign to keep the “Super Bowl of Rodeo” in Las Vegas beyond 2014. Both the rodeo and the valley’s tourism industry have too much at stake to forget how to pick up a phone.

The Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association board, which oversees the rodeo that sells out the Thomas &Mack Center for 10 days every December, voted 6-3 Sunday to reject a 10-year extension with Las Vegas Events — a promotional arm of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority — worth $15 million per year.

That same day, the Osceola County Commission met to approve a memorandum of understanding with the PRCA that would move the National Finals Rodeo to the Orlando area for 20 years (either party could opt out after 10 years). The Florida county offered $16 million per year in purse and administrative subsidies and promised to build a new 24,000-seat arena.

The signal to Las Vegas Events could not have been clearer: The rodeo, which has anchored a traditionally weak spot on the tourism calendar and turned the Strip and downtown into cowboy and country heaven, was moving on. So Las Vegas Events President Pat Christenson, clearly surprised by the vote, fired off a statement Sunday announcing his organization would create a new, competing rodeo event to take NFR’s place.

But on Monday, PRCA Board Chairman Keith Martin revealed another vote took place Sunday — not to accept the Florida offer, but to present a counteroffer to Las Vegas Events that might keep the NFR in Nevada. As reported Tuesday by the Review-Journal’s Alan Snel, Mr. Christenson said Mr. Martin told Las Vegas Events board member Michael Gaughan of the Sunday vote to reject Las Vegas but not Sunday’s unanimous vote to continue negotiations. Mr. Gaughan, having no good news to report, then told Mr. Christenson the bad news.

Mr. Martin, meanwhile, admitted to having no contact with Mr. Christenson on Sunday, instead reading the Las Vegas Events statement in Monday’s newspaper. “We want to stay in Las Vegas,” he said. As for the coincidence of Sunday’s Osceola County Commission vote, Mr. Martin said, “The timing — I’m not sure about.”

“We didn’t know they wanted to counter,” Mr. Christenson said.

The PRCA has no shortage of interested suitors for the NFR. How it chooses to negotiate the best possible terms for the National Finals Rodeo is its own business. However, considering the overwhelming success of the Las Vegas-NFR partnership, perhaps the PRCA brass could do lunch with Las Vegas Events. Maybe an email or text message would do.

Better communication on the part of the PRCA would go a long way toward preventing divorce.

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