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Cowboy vibes: During NFR, there’s nothing quite like the South Point

“I can’t keep this place in Coors beer. The Coors people have to give me a full truckload of Coors every day. That’s how loyal fans are to NFR and PRCA sponsors.”

So said South Point owner Michael Gaughan, during the 2017 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo. It’s an intriguing anecdote for a few reasons.

First, the South Point is normally an all-Budweiser shop. So for 10 days each December, there’s a quantum beer shift. Second, as Gaughan’s quote notes, it demonstrates the loyalty rodeo fans have to the brands that support the sport.

Then there’s the third reason: It’s not just rodeo fans’ loyalty to sponsors that causes Coors products to run dry each day. Equally so, it’s those fans’ intense loyalty to the South Point.

During the NFR, there’s honestly nothing quite like the South Point. It’s got an unmatched cowboy/cowgirl vibe.

“Everyone knows we’re the No. 1 spot during the NFR, and the reason is that we’re a cowboy spot year-round,” South Point general manager Ryan Growney said. “We’ve got 42 weeks a year of equine events, so people are accustomed to it being a cowboy spot.”

Many of those events, held at the South Point Arena, are rodeo-related, including the Indian National Finals Rodeo and Pro Bull Riders competitions. Plus, literally during the NFR, the South Point Arena hosts the World Series of Team Roping. More on that in a bit.

The fact of the matter is that, during the NFR, one could literally never leave the South Point, yet could take in practically every element of the Super Bowl of Rodeo, short of attending at the Thomas and Mack Center.

“That’s correct. There’s almost nothing you can’t do, and that’s probably the biggest draw,” Growney said. “Day or night, you’re gonna have action. There’s just always something happening here, and people have figured it out.”

And in 2022, there’s something happening even before the NFR officially opens with the first go-round on Dec. 1. By that point, among other events, the South Point will have already hosted the Miss Rodeo American Convention and Fashion Show; awarded NFR back numbers to the 120 NFR qualifiers; and held the annual PRCA Awards Banquet.

Perhaps best of all, before a single contestant rides, ropes or wrestles on the Thomas and Mack dirt, the South Point will have hosted the National Finals Rodeo women’s breakaway roping and crowned the next world champion. Breakaway roping moved to Las Vegas in 2021 — taking place at Orleans Arena — to give it a much more substantive tie to the NFR, and this year gets a big boost by moving to the South Point.

For Gaughan, that’s all part of a plan coming together.

“When I built the South Point, I was looking for something that no other place had,” Gaughan said. “I had a ranch, and my wife talked me into building a horse arena out here. And it’s been a huge success.”

Indeed, and not just with the women’s breakaway event, but the World Series of Team Roping. The event features all levels of competitors, from weekend rodeo warriors to professional ropers, grouped according to skill level, with millions of dollars on the line. It runs for eight days during the NFR, and the South Point Arena is sold out every day.

But all that barely scratches the surface of why the South Point is Cowboy/Cowgirl Central during the NFR. There’s the CINCH Western Gift Show expo on site, to satisfy all your shopping needs — just in time for the holidays, no less. There’s the annual Benny Binion Bucking Horse and Bull Sale, for rodeo animal contractors looking to beef up their stock.

Then you get to nighttime, which is no doubt the right time. All three convention rooms are packed for free nightly NFR go-round viewing parties, starting at 5:45 p.m. Likewise, the Showroom hosts a viewing party, as does the Grandview Lounge. And if that’s not enough, well, there’s the whole casino floor, too.

“Every single TV has the NFR on, and every bar, every viewing area is full of people watching the rodeo,” Growney said.

When each go-round ends, usually by 8 p.m., even more rodeo fans flood to the South Point for the 9 o’clock nightly go-round buckle presentations, honoring each night’s winners in the seven NFR events. That’s also at the Showroom and is always a raucous time.

In fact, as difficult as it is for Growney — a member of the NFR committee — to narrow it down to just one thing he likes best, he said it just might be the nightly buckle awards.

“With 15 full days of activities, to pick one would be impossible,” Growney said. “But at the buckle awards, you get the superfans, and you get up close and personal with the cowboys and cowgirls. Joe Beaver and Flint Rasmussen do such a good job with the storytelling. It’s an absolutely fantastic event.”

Plus, with last year’s move to start the NFR an hour earlier, at 5:45 p.m. each night, that allowed the buckle presentations to start an hour earlier as well — and to have the awards air on live TV, via The Cowboy Channel.

“The buckle awards are probably my favorite. I’ve hosted those for 32 of the 37 years the NFR has been in Las Vegas,” Gaughan said, noting that prior to the South Point existing, the buckle presentations were at the Gold Coast. “Pro rodeo is primarily family, and for the nightly winners, they pack the whole family onstage, and the families love it. And now that it’s on live TV, I can’t tell you how many calls I get from people across the country. They love it. It’s a fun time for me.”

So let’s see, when the buckle presentations wrap up, that puts us at about 10:30 p.m. or so. Time to call it a night at the South Point, right?

Uh, wrong. It’s then time to kick out the country jams, with a live concert taking over the Showroom stage, and a dance floor plenty big enough for everyone to scoot their boots.

“As fast as we can turn the stage over, we have a country music concert every night,” Growney said.

Perhaps the best part of a full NFR night at the South Point: It won’t break your bank account.

“We cater to the cowboys and cowgirls. I keep the price of beer low,” Gaughan said, while again noting it’s a fiercely loyal beer-drinking crowd. “Every day, the cowboys drink Coors and Coors Light. They’re very loyal to the Coors brand over those 10 days. And Coors has to give me a truckload of beer every day.”

Growney then put a bow — or rather, tied a loop — on the whole South Point NFR experience, going back to the fact that his property is dedicated to the rodeo/Western crowd 24/7/365. He and his peers just take it to another level for the NFR.

“There are always horses at this property,” Growney said. “So when the Super Bowl of Rodeo comes to town, the cowboys and cowgirls are going to gravitate to the spot that does it year-round.”

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