Updated December 3, 2023 - 11:28 am
When the Oakland A’s make their move to Las Vegas and build their $1.5 billion, 33,000-seat stadium at the Tropicana site, organizers of the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo said they will begin investigating whether it makes sense to move the rodeo from the lower-capacity Thomas &Mack Center to the new facility.
The 65th edition of NFR set for Dec. 7-16, considered the Super Bowl of rodeo, typically sells out months before the 10 days of Western entertainment is staged in early December.
Around 340,000 people come to Las Vegas for NFR, and only half of them have tickets to one of the performances. The others just soak up the Western ambience and attend dozens of other activities, including watch parties at 32 Las Vegas sites and two in Mesquite.
The A’s haven’t publicly released revised renderings of the stadium, but those who have seen them, including Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority President and CEO Steve Hill, say the revisions are spectacular.
There are no guarantees that the A’s have any appetite for hosting NFR when the stadium opens, but it’s something that’s on the mind of Tim Keener, president of Las Vegas Events, whose team does all of the local coordination of NFR and its spinoff activities.
“We’ve talked about that,” Keener said in a recent interview. “Any new venue that comes online, the PRCA (Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association) and LVE will look at.”
Keener said that when T-Mobile Arena first opened in 2016, LVE and the PRCA had talks about possibly moving there. He explained that though T-Mobile stages championship bull-riding events every year, the venue wasn’t suitable for NFR because of the lack of enough tunnels to move livestock in and out of the arena.
“I’ve had conversations with the PRCA about the A’s stadium and probably in 2027, when it gets a little closer to fruition, that’s probably the time to go over and take a look at things and how the seating is set up,” he said. “We’ve got around 17,500 capacity now, and it’s one of the hardest tickets in town to get. It’s definitely one of hardest tickets to get in rodeo, and that could change if we move into a 30,000-something building. You just have to be concerned about making the smart move.”
On one hand, the higher capacity could mean more ticket sales and, as a result, a higher prize pool for contestants.
One of the downsides of having the rodeo at the Thomas & Mack is that the UNLV basketball team can’t play games at home as they prepare for their Mountain West Conference season.
Having the rodeo at the A’s stadium wouldn’t affect the Major League Baseball schedule and there would be plenty of time to prepare for the season’s first pitch in March or April.
The A’s stadium is expected to have climate control with a retractable roof that should protect fans from cool December night temperatures as well as from 100-degree-plus summer evenings.
But moving into a bigger venue isn’t necessarily the best course to take, and NFR has had experience in a baseball stadium.
Experience at Globe Life Field
The NFR has been held annually at UNLV’s Thomas &Mack Center since 1985 — except for 2020, when the rodeo moved to Arlington’s Globe Life Field, home of the World Series champion Texas Rangers.
The 2020 NFR was the first public event staged at Globe Life because of state-mandated COVID-19 health restrictions imposed in Nevada.
Although Globe Life has a capacity of 40,300, not all of the seats were used for the rodeo.
“Our whole team went down and helped manage the front of house and things like that,” Keener said. “In all honesty, you probably had 15,000 to 20,000 decent seats because everything in the outfield was blocked off with bucking chutes. So you’ve just got to look at it and weigh the pros and cons and all that, and we will do our due diligence here. We have yet to have any conversations with anybody with the A’s, but it’s just because they’ve got their hands full doing everything they need to do. At the right time, we’ll reach out to them and congratulate them, welcome them, and say, ‘Hey, when the time’s right, let’s have a conversation to see what’s going on.’”
NFR starts Thursday, and the marketing of the event has been a little different than years past because of the city’s November focus on Formula One.
Bigger and better in 2023
Keener said that hasn’t set the rodeo back — in fact, this year’s event will be bigger and better than last year’s.
Cowboy Channel-sponsored Cowboy Christmas, the huge Western retail event, is expanding from the Las Vegas Convention Center’s South Hall into South and Central halls. It’s open 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily Dec. 7-16 and it’s one of several retail events citywide.
NFR has become a template for Las Vegas Events for the way it creates spinoff events from the rodeo itself.
Among those spinoffs are the National Finals Breakaway Roping competition at South Point; the All-In Barrel Races at The Orleans; the Yeti Junior World Finals at the Las Vegas Convention Center; the Ariat World Series of Team Roping at South Point; and the Bullfighters Only Las Vegas Championships at Resorts World Las Vegas.
With those competitions, there are galas, dinners, luncheons, autograph sessions and public appearances by cowboy competitors, contestant receptions, the Miss Rodeo America Pageant, golf and bowling tournaments and a wide selection of country entertainment and afterparties at several resorts.
Among the performers scheduled in resort showrooms are Garth Brooks, Carrie Underwood, Miranda Lambert, Rodney Carrington, Clay Walker, Kid Rock, Jeff Foxworthy, LeAnn Rimes and dozens more.