Thomas & Mack Center bolsters National Finals Rodeo fan experience

Nearly two years ago, a massive renovation project began at the Thomas &Mack Center, the home of rodeo’s biggest annual event. Since the Oct. 1, 2014, groundbreaking, fans of the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo have been able to take advantage of some of the amenities and changes, slowly but surely.

This year, fans will enjoy a whole new experience — with emphasis on “new,” as the $72.5 million project, overseen by Thomas &Mack Executive Director Mike Newcomb, has left no stone unturned.

“Everything the guest will see is all brand new — all new seating, new concourse, new concession stands and restrooms,” Newcomb said. “Additional points of sale for concessions and additional restrooms were added.”

Still more enhancements: Newcomb said the number of seats in accordance with the Americans with Disabilities Act was nearly quadrupled, from 26 to 98. This includes new ADA-compliant sky decks that have been built into the balcony.

As cool as the sky decks are — and fans will no doubt fall in love with the unbelievable views offered of the arena floor — they aren’t the most spectacular component of the renovation. That honor goes to a 36,000-square-foot addition off the northwest end of the arena. During the 10-day WNFR, the space will be known as The Shoe and will feature interactive areas, the Walk of Champions, saddle displays and a 2,500-square-foot, glass-enclosed balcony with Strip views. The Shoe will also be the site of CBS Sports Network’s rodeo pre-show.

All the arena upgrades are certain to make the already-incredible WNFR experience that much better.

“This year, fans will have the benefit of the renovation being 100 percent complete,” said Pat Christenson, president of Las Vegas Events, which produces the WNFR. “There is no bigger priority for LVE than that of the fan. There are improvements fans will see from the time they arrive until they depart.”

Perhaps as important, there is a new way to enter and exit the arena adjacent to The Shoe. Between expanding the concourse and the new entry point, the flow getting into, around and out of the rodeo on a nightly basis will be greatly improved. Also new this year, tickets include the recommended entry location to help fans get to their seats as quickly and efficiently as possible.

“Outside, as fans arrive, there will be an enhanced plaza experience on the northwest side, and there will be an improved NFR Fan Zone,” Christenson said. “In addition, all of the added space provides fans with more interactive opportunities, but also greatly reduces congestion on the concourse. In the past, a half-hour before the rodeo and a half-hour after, you couldn’t move on the concourse.”

Meanwhile, on the arena’s southeast side opposite The Shoe, fans can enjoy all the activities and amenities of the returning Cowboy Corral, which takes over the adjacent Cox Pavilion with live music, a huge bar and plenty of space to sit and relax or kick up your heels. A new, similarly named space, The Corral, which is ostensibly an extension of the Cowboy Corral, will offer its own bar and food service.

Further enhancing the fan experience, two new outdoor video boards were added to the face of the arena and will broadcast WNFR moments, highlight videos, interactive content and contestant interviews. And this being the digital age, fans can stay better connected with free WiFi in both The Corral and The Shoe, and Christenson said the entire building will have improved cellular service and charging stations.

But as is the case every year, the best part of the 2016 WNFR will be what happens on the dirt in arena. The fans’ ability to see as much of the action as possible, unobstructed, has been paramount for Newcomb, Christenson and all involved with the WNFR.

“If you look at what has made the Thomas &Mack a great venue for the WNFR, it’s the sightlines,” Christenson said. “The fans (will still) have excellent sightlines, but now with an upgraded building and upgraded concessions.”

And if you can’t secure a ticket for a seat in the arena, or if you just want to enjoy the festivities at The Shoe or the Cowboy Corral, you can take in nightly action there, as Christenson notes that all TVs will have live feeds of the rodeo action.

Indeed, the mission to create a bigger, better WNFR Experience has been accomplished.

“The whole experience of watching, being a part of the WNFR, is more convenient, seamless and entertaining,” Christenson said.

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