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 over town.
To put it succinctly: You can let ‘er rip away from the Strip, too.
For example, the Silverton Casino Hotel, 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. Hosts Chad Prather and Justin Frazell keep things lively, and there are food and beverage specials and nightly prize giveaways.
Word certainly got around in 2016, 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. “By the end of the NFR, we had guests telling their friends and bringing them to the nightly events inside Veil Pavilion. ”We have already had so many inquiries about our viewing
parties for this
year, and we’re excited to see the viewing parties and after-parties grow to become the place to watch the NFR and enjoy the nightly entertainment and activities after the rodeo.”
The after-party includes free live entertainment and, for those who dare, a mechanical bull.
Hard Rock goes country
With big hats and boots dominating the scenery over the 10-day Wrangler NFR, even the Hard Rock Hotel gets a little bit country. Drew Varga, vice president of group sales and operations at the Hard Rock, said foot traffic and hotel occupancy are up during the WNFR, thanks to live viewing parties at Goose Island pub and in casino bars. Varga said a plethora of food and beverage specials — along with close proximity to the main event right down the street at the Thomas & Mack Center — make his property appealing to rodeo fans.
And what’s the Hard Rock without music?
“The nightly concerts have become so popular that we’ve expanded our offering for WNFR guests,” Varga said. “They can now enjoy an elevated entertainment offering with the programming of country music at Vinyl and at Culinary Dropout, a second venue we’ve added this year.
“The entertainment lineup is spectacular, with the likes of such well-known artists as Daryl Singletary, Mark Willis, David Ball, Andy Griggs and Ricochet on differing nights throughout the 10-day stretch in the aforementioned venues. And the biggest benefit to our guests is it’s free.”
“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 Orleans Showroom. As the rodeo action wraps up, 21-and-older patrons can head to the Bourbon Street Cabaret for the Legendary Buck’N Ball, at which they can party and dance until 2 a.m., with live music drink specials.
Highlight show hits rodeo
The National Finals Tonight Show takes place each night at 10:30 p.m. at the Bailiwick Gastropub this year, 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. “This year is the first time we’re hosting the event at Bailiwick, which offers up a more intimate setting that will allow attendees to be in the center of all the action and get up close and personal with their favorite rodeo stars.”
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.”
What about downtown?
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 kitty-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.”
Events 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 embraces joining everyone else as Vegas transforms into Cowboy Town. Bill McBeath, president and CEO of The Cosmopolitan, said his property live-streams the Wrangler NFR each night at the sports book and hosts its Boots on the Boulevard concert series, featuring high-profile country artists including Dwight Yoakam and Dierks Bentley.
“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.
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 conference center fills up nightly with raucous rodeo revelers watching the action on multiple big screens, with plenty of food and drink offerings, and even an elevated VIP area.
And when competition ends, the party really begins.
“We’ve got a nice big bar, music playing, people coming back from the rodeo,” Sibella said, noting Wrangler NFR contestants also take in the late-night fun. “With our relationships with the cowboys, the fans come out on top.”
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.