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Viewing parties get special view of NFR from Thomas & Mack

Each night of the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, 17,000 fans jam into the Thomas & Mack Center to take in all the action. But that represents only a fraction of those in town for this annual 10-day event.

For the rest of the rodeo fans — the overwhelming majority — what’s important isn’t found inside the Thomas & Mack, but rather just outside the arena: a trailer manned by a handful of people who have mastered the art of delivering the satellite feed to dozens of viewing parties all around Las Vegas.

Half the trailer holds a crew managing the broadcast for the CBS Sports Network. The other half is a crew of five, overseen by David Glodt, who for more than 15 years has served as producer of the live satellite feed sent to Vegas hotel properties.

The production is titled “Beyond the Dirt,” since those taking in the feed are, well, beyond the dirt of the Thomas & Mack. But it sure doesn’t feel like they’re far away at all.

“The viewers at hotels don’t see all the commercials. We’re always showing the arena, so fans get the experience of being in the arena,” Glodt said. “And instead of having broadcasters, we have the rodeo in-house announcers. That’s what the fans want. The viewers get their own in-house experience, plus some more — our own video replays, cameras on all the time, and our own graphics, giving stats on the cowboys, stuff like that.

“We’re able to promote various things going on in Vegas during the rodeo, like the buckle ceremony each night, what’s going on the next day. Nice nuggets of information. Even during rides, you’ll see stuff on the crawl at the bottom of the screen.”

And fans get all the action — along with those stats and nuggets — in as close to real time as one could possibly expect, much more so than the TV broadcast. It takes no more than 3 seconds to go from Glodt’s truck to the satellite truck, then to the satellite itself way out there in space, then down to all the hotels that subscribe to the feed.

“It’s really live,” Glodt stressed. “It may even be less than 3 seconds. It’s quick. I still think it’s amazing, and I’ve been around this a long time.”

Glodt spent 24 years with ABC News, and during that time, he volunteered each year with the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, aiding that event with its television presentation. When he left ABC News and moved to Houston, Glodt launched his own production company, and the Houston rodeo was his first client.

“I’m actually from Massachusetts, but I fell in love with rodeo,” Glodt said, noting his work in Houston ultimately got the attention of Wrangler NFR officials. “Las Vegas Events asked me do this. But it wasn’t as sophisticated as this back then.”

Indeed, Las Vegas Events — which manages the Wrangler NFR in conjunction with the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association — has made substantial investments in the production trailer during Glodt’s tenure, allowing his staff to consistently deliver a nearly flawless and always-improving product.

“Stuff goes wrong, and you deal with it when it does. I’ve got a team of people who know how to fix it. I’m not a technical guy, I just know who to point to,” Glodt said with a laugh. “But 98.5 percent of the time, it runs well. Las Vegas Events spares no expense in doing this. We just try to make it better every year.”

Sitting next to the production crew as Tuesday night’s sixth go-round got underway, it was organized chaos in the front row of the setup.

In rapid-fire fashion, director Rick Davidson was calling out to all the arena camera operators, letting them know when their angles were going live. Graphics operator Raquel Clendening and production assistant Karlee Peterson queued up graphics and the crawl news and announcements, while Mike Zubek handled all the technical direction aspects.

In the back row, associate producer Maria Prekeges kept a close watch on the schedule and jumped in to assist as needed.

An onlooker in the trailer commented, “I don’t know you guys do all this.”

Joked Glodt: “I’m not sure either. But seriously, like in any media operation, it’s a team effort.”

This isn’t like just any media operation. When you’re watching a football game at home, you don’t feel like you’re in the stadium. When you’re watching the rodeo on a big screen at a viewing party at the South Point’s banquet halls or The Mirage’s sports book, you do feel like you’re in the arena.

“Fans get a great experience here at the arena, but anywhere in those rooms, it’s better than being here,” Glodt said. “You can’t get a ticket as close as those big screens. We have cameras in the chutes and in the runway for barrel racing, and we have microphones in all the chutes.

”You might hear that in the arena, but you really hear it on the live feed — guys talking to each other as they’re getting ready to go out of the chutes.”

That level of quality and closeness is certainly a huge part of the appeal and massive expansion of viewing parties. Many rodeo fans come to Vegas holding Wrangler NFR tickets for perhaps a night or two, then take in the rest of the 10 nights at the hotel parties. Some fans don’t buy tickets at all, preferring the viewing-party route.

“Once upon a time, it was basically on just the TV sets around all the bars in the casinos. It wasn’t such a big deal,” Glodt said. “In the past few years, it’s evolved into these separate viewing parties. We give every bit of the rodeo, every bit of the whole night actually, to the hotels, sometimes even more. We might have an angle on camera that they couldn’t see in the arena. The enhanced experience, I guess you might call it.”

Glodt said that each year, he takes a little time during one night of the NFR to pop into a couple viewing parties, literally for just a few minutes, since he has to race back to the Thomas & Mack and resume his production oversight. But in that short time, he’s seen how well-received his crew’s work is, from thousands of fans.

“The attention of the fans and how they crowd the ballrooms in the hotels, it’s amazing. It’s just growing each year,” Glodt said. “The quality of the video in the properties is better now, too. Most properties have the latest big screens, which really makes it better. High definition makes a big difference.”

But all the HD in the world would make no difference without his astute crew, in the trailer and behind the cameras in the arena.

“I’m always amazed at what we can do and how far this has come. It’s beautiful. It really is,” Glodt said, before summing it up with arguably the most important fact about his Wrangler NFR team’s efforts. “This is the only truly live feed.”

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