NFR viewing parties shine brightly on and off Las Vegas Strip

When the sun goes down, the lights turn up for what the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo appropriately terms NFR After Dark. And while those lights certainly shine bright at viewing parties, after-parties and concerts up and down the Strip, there are plenty of great gatherings all around town.

To put it succinctly: You can let ‘er rip away from the Strip, too.

For example, the Silverton, just a couple miles south of the Strip, holds an all-ages nightly viewing party at its Veil Pavilion. Kimiko Peterson, director of communications at the Silverton, noted that with TV screens around the entire room, patrons have a 360-degree view of all the Wrangler NFR action. Host Justin Frazell keep things lively the first four nights and last three nights of the Wrangler NFR, and there are food and beverage specials and nightly prize giveaways.

Word certainly got around in 2017, and the Silverton expects good turnout this year, as well.

“Last year, we had so many rodeo fans telling us how much they loved our room and the setup of our viewing parties,” Peterson said. “We’re excited to see the viewing parties and after-parties grow to become the place to watch the NFR for rodeo fans of all ages, and enjoy the nightly entertainment and activities after the rodeo.

The Silverton’s after-party includes free live entertainment and, for those who dare, a mechanical bull.

“This is our favorite time of year here at the casino, and our team members love having the rodeo fans on property,” Peterson said. “The energy at the resort during these 10 days is something that rodeo fans and casino guests alike will enjoy.”

Hard Rock gets in the act

With big hats and boots dominating the scenery over the 10-day Wrangler NFR, even the Hard Rock Hotel gets a little bit country. Ann Lackomar, director of brand marketing at the Hard Rock, said the hotel will have live viewing parties and nightly food and beverage specials.

And what’s the Hard Rock without music, right? The hotel will roll out several no-cover-charge concerts over the course of the week inside Vinyl. The Joint also will host the Gary Allan Show on Dec. 14-15.

A few blocks west of the Strip, on Tropicana Avenue, The Orleans has long been a do-drop-in during the Wrangler NFR. Owner Boyd Gaming transforms The Orleans from the Big Easy into the Big Country.

“Boyd Gaming loves the rodeo,” said Jackie Ferrando, event marketing director for Boyd Gaming. “We’ve been a major sponsor for the last 30 years and have organized a number of nightly events and activities that have become staple must-attends for rodeo aficionados.”

Each night of the Wrangler NFR kicks off at 5 p.m. with Rump’s Rodeo Party, a pregame/live viewing party hosted by PRCA barrelman Justin “Rumpshaker” Rumford inside The Honky Tonk Saloon. The hotel also hosts family-friendly viewing parties in the Showroom tonight and from Sunday through Dec. 15, and in the Honky Tonk Saloon on Saturday night.

As the rodeo action wraps up, 21-and-older patrons can head to the Bourbon Street Lounge for the Buckin’ Bash, where they can party and dance until 2 a.m., with live music and drink specials.

Nightly show returns

The National Finals Tonight Show takes place each evening at 10:30 p.m. at the Honky Tonk Saloon, with hosts Don Gay, Joe Beaver and Dan Miller recapping the highlights and moderating Q&A sessions with rodeo standouts.

“The National Finals Tonight Show is the perfect event for those looking for a fun party vibe, as well as a recap of the day’s events. It’s really the best of both worlds,” Ferrando said.

Of course, the South Point is a key cog to the Wrangler NFR machine. The evolution of the nightly viewing party over the past several years has been tremendous, and the go-round buckle presentations in the main showroom — with live entertainment following the awards — turn into a nightly late-night party.

“It started as five days, in the second-largest ballroom. Today, we do it in all three ballrooms, all 10 days,” said South Point owner Michael Gaughan, who has long been heavily involved in the Wrangler NFR. “We get 4,000 people in the ballrooms, plus there’s viewing in the showroom, and I’ve got the three lounge bars. They’re packed, too. And in the non-lounge bars, the NFR is on the TV sets.

“The biggest thing I’ve ever done with rodeo is to get the PRCA to give us the live feed. All the live feed did was bring more people to town. They just want to be here for the rodeo. Some people even give their tickets away for one or two nights, just to go to the viewing parties. They’re a lot of fun.”

Downtown action

Fremont Street is fully engaged in the Wrangler NFR, too, particularly with nightly viewing parties at the Downtown Las Vegas Events Center. An enclosed facility takes over the huge lot, just caddy-corner to the rear of the D Las Vegas. The room is split in two, with a 25-foot big screen and a bar on each side and monitors around the perimeter, as well.

“We thought, ‘How can you be different?’” said Jeff Victor, vice president of operations for the events center, the D and the Golden Gate. “We’re doing it as a sports-centric event. The NFR is a great sport, and we cater to it. We approach it differently. It’s not in a ballroom. Customers appreciate that difference. People come back each year, bring their friends, and we expect to see them again this year.”

Event center doors open at 5:30 p.m. each night of the Wrangler NFR, allowing ample time to take advantage of food and beverage specials and take in the pre-event live entertainment.

Finally, it’s impossible to overlook the Strip, where many properties get in on the rodeo act. Even The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas embraces joining everyone else as Vegas transforms into Cowboy Town. Bill McBeath, president and CEO of The Cosmopolitan, said his property livestreams the Wrangler NFR each night at the sports book and hosts its Boots on the Boulevard concert series, featuring high-profile country artists.

“It’s difficult to make The Cosmopolitan and its design aesthetic feel Western, but we believe it has broad appeal across all demographics for people that appreciate great space, great design, great food and beverage and exceptional service,” McBeath said. “We have layered in some of the hottest country-western acts performing throughout the 10 days of rodeo, and based on our ticket sales, the consumer has responded tremendously.”

MGM Resorts hotels aren’t to be outdone, either. Perhaps most interestingly, the sports book at The Mirage clears out all its seating over the entire 10 days, making way for a nightly viewing party. The sports book even converts the elevated VIP area into a stage for post-rodeo concerts, and there’s a huge dance floor on which to scoot your boots.

Urban cowboys at Gilley’s

At the MGM Grand, Scott Sibella has ramped up the Wrangler NFR After Dark offerings in his role as president and COO. The hotel’s nightly viewing party has now moved into the David Copperfield Theater, where fans can catch the action live on big screens and enter to win rodeo tickets and other prizes from Wrangler and MGM.

When competition ends, the party really begins. From 8 p.m.-2 a.m. nightly, the Gold Buckle Zone — near the sports book at The Central at MGM Grand — becomes a party zone, featuring free concerts. Rodeo fans can dance, grab a drink and perhaps even see some of the Wrangler NFR cowboys and cowgirls enjoying the Gold Buckle Zone.

“With our relationships with the cowboys, the fans come out on top,” Sibella said.

And if you’re talking rodeo and the Wild West, you can’t leave out Gilley’s Saloon and Dance Hall at Treasure Island. Gilley’s hosts a Wrangler NFR viewing party every night and will overflow with live entertainment throughout the 10-day rodeo.

“Gilley’s is the best spot on the strip to celebrate the NFR, and we always see fantastic turnout from cowboy hat-clad rodeo fans looking for food, drinks, music and an overall good time,” general manager Jerry Marlow said. “We have something going on every single night during NFR week, and we hope more folks come out to see amazing performers like Reckless Kelly on Monday and Dale Watson on Tuesday.”

So even if you can’t get a ticket to the rodeo, you can take in the action all over town, often with free admission. Whatever your taste in hotel-casinos or viewing parties, you’re sure to find something suitable in what’s become big business for Vegas — catering to the rodeo crowd.

“I’m not impressed by much, but over the last 20-plus years that I’ve been involved in the National Finals Rodeo, I have watched it continue to grow and grow, outside the capacity of Thomas & Mack Center,” McBeath said. “The only way for it to continue with its expansion was to create the mecca for Western cultural events and programming within the city and beyond the Thomas & Mack Center.”

Mission accomplished. Indeed, when the sun goes down, the day is just beginning during the Wrangler NFR.

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