Updated December 7, 2023 - 5:44 pm
The unprecedented decision to cancel the planned opening night of the National Finals Rodeo Thursday and to add a 10th rodeo session without fans in attendance was the best compromise organizers of the event could reach, according to a man whose family is synonymous with NFR.
Michael Gaughan, owner of the South Point, a popular destination for cowboy competitors and NFR fans, said in a telephone interview Thursday that the decisions reached after tragedy struck at UNLV Wednesday afternoon were difficult, “but made the most sense for everybody involved.”
Three people were killed and one wounded in the shooting at UNLV. The gunman was killed in a shootout with law enforcement officers at Beam Hall at the Lee School of Business, Clark County Sheriff Kevin McMahill said.
Representatives of the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association and Las Vegas Events announced Thursday morning that opening ceremonies would occur Friday evening and on next Wednesday morning, an extra session – known in rodeo circles as a go-round – would occur without fans in the Thomas & Mack Center.
“This was the easiest compromise,” said Gaughan, whose family was among the people who first brought the NFR to Las Vegas in 1985. “The big thing is the fans. The fans don’t get robbed. And the cowboys don’t get robbed.”
Gaughan said he feared that if the death toll had been higher at UNLV, the entire rodeo could have been canceled.
Gaughan explained that fans who had tickets for the Thursday-night session would be fully refunded. The PRCA and Las Vegas Events said Thursday that for NFR season ticket holders, full refunds for the canceled performance would be issued by Las Vegas Events. If tickets were purchased through StubHub, a refund would be issued directly to the buyer by that company.
The additional rodeo performance scheduled at 10 a.m., Wednesday, won’t have fans in the stands.
Gaughan explained that the added Wednesday event will be treated like a “slack round.” That’s a time, usually early in the morning outside a normal performance, when extra contestants compete.
It was added to assure that NFR would continue to have its traditional 10 rounds of competition which would help keep year-to-year comparisons in order.
So why can’t they sell tickets?
Gaughan explained that there were too many logistical issues involved in selling another performance, including how to treat the season ticket holders. But the good news for fans is that the session will be nationally televised on the Cowboy Channel.
The extra round is also an efficient cost-cutting measure.
“There won’t be a grand entrance, we won’t have to have all the personnel that we usually have with a session, no trash pickup, a lot of those kinds of things,” Gaughan said.
But the problem with that is that without ticket revenue from that session, prize money would potentially fall short.
That’s where the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority stepped in. LVCVA President and CEO Steve Hill stressed the commitment LVCVA has to the cowboys and prize money for the event for an emergency contingency. Gaughan estimated the amount at around $800,000.
The PRCA thought about adding a Saturday morning session.
“We figured out that if we would have done an early-morning Saturday session using Thursday tickets, we’d only have two-thirds of the people in town with tickets,” he said.
Why couldn’t NFR be extended a day and wrap up Sunday, Dec. 17?
Gaughan explained that the Thomas & Mack Center will need that Sunday to clear out NFR for the arena to be ready Monday for a December UNLV graduation ceremony.
“We’ve got to get all that dirt out of there,” he said.
With all the compromises that occurred, Gaughan concurred that the only people that may be unhappy are those who only had tickets for the Thursday-night performance and won’t get to see the event in person.
“I think it was the best solution possible,” Gaughan said. “Like I said, the cowboys are happy. The fans, they at least get their money back. The PRCA is happy.”
And what was the mood like at South Point Thursday?
“Most of them weren’t too happy because they wanted to see a rodeo that night,” he said. “But at least we sold a lot more whiskey.”