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All eyes on Texas as NFR leaves Las Vegas amid pandemic

The eyes of rodeo will be upon Texas beginning Thursday.

For the first time in 61 years, the National Finals Rodeo is returning to Texas, where it began in 1959. Because of the state’s strict restrictions on crowd size because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Las Vegas will not host the event for the first time in 35 years.

After consulting with local NFR officials, the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association in September announced a change of venue to Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas, the new $1.1 billion, 40,300-seat home of Major League Baseball’s Texas Rangers.

Here are three things to look for at the displaced NFR that will run through Dec. 12 deep in the heart of Texas:

Safety first

Relaxed attendance restrictions in Texas allowed the NFL’s Cowboys to attract a crowd of 30,048 for the team’s Thanksgiving game against the Washington Football Team. Globe Life Field across the parking lot offers a seating capacity of 40,300 but will be configured to host around 17,000 socially distanced spectators.

Seats will be sold in groups of four with separation between groups. Contact-limiting measures, such as mobile tickets, have been implemented. The wearing of masks will be strictly enforced.

Las Vegas’ presence

During the news conference confirming the site change, there was no mention of Las Vegas until PRCA CEO George Taylor’s closing remarks during which he thanked the city for its longstanding commitment to the NFR.

It was almost as if PRCA luminaries were being extra careful not to steal Texas’ thunder after it stepped up to salvage the NFR. That’s understandable, said president Pat Christenson of Las Vegas Events.

His operation will produce Cowboy Christmas and the Junior National Finals in Dallas-Fort Worth before announcing a new marketing campaign trumpeting the NFR’s return to Southern Nevada in 2021.

“When you look at the 35 years we’ve been doing this, you know the stories of what these contestants go through just to get there,” Christenson said in commending the PRCA and Dallas-Fort Worth for stepping up at short notice. “The important thing is the competitors will get paid.”

Championship battles

According to the NFR website, contestants will be riding and roping for $3.5 million in prize money compared to a $10 million purse in Las Vegas. Tuf Cooper leads Trevor Brazile, the 14-time all-around world champion cowboy, by about $17,000 in a race among Texas natives for the most coveted title in rodeo.

Other money leaders heading into the finals are Tim O’Connell, Zwingle, Iowa, in bareback riding; Matt Reeves, Cross Plains, Texas, in steer wrestling; Luke Brown, Rock Hill, South Carolina, and Joseph Harrison, Marietta, Oklahoma, in team roping; Wyatt Casper, Pampa, Texas; in saddle bronc riding; Shad Mayfield, Clovis, New Mexico, in tie-down roping; Brittany Pozzi Tonozzi, Lampasas, Texas, in barrel racing; and Sage Kimzey, Salada, Texas, in bull riding.

Nevada qualifiers Jade Corkill of Fallon and Dakota Eldridge of Elko, stand second and fourth in team roping heeling and steer wrestling, respectively.

Contact Ron Kantowski at rkantowski@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0352. Follow @ronkantowski on Twitter.

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