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Texans celebrate NFR’s temporary move from Las Vegas

Updated September 9, 2020 - 3:18 pm

You knew it was coming.

Midway through Wednesday’s announcement confirming the 2020 National Finals Rodeo will be temporarily moving from Las Vegas to Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas, amid the coronavirus pandemic, Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price made it official.

“Not everything that happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas,” she said gleefully while standing on a makeshift dais overlooking the playing field at the Texas Rangers’ new ballpark.

Regulations in Las Vegas limiting ticket sales to live events during the COVID-19 threat bucked the 2020 National Finals Rodeo back to where it started in 1959.

The first NFR sanctioned by the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association was in Dallas in 1959 before it moved to Los Angeles, Oklahoma City, and finally to Las Vegas in 1985.

The “Super Bowl of Rodeo” now offers $10 million in prize money, sells out 10 performances, fills local hotels and generates an annual economic impact estimated at $200 million.

Although the NFR and Las Vegas seemingly were made for each other, the city was mentioned only in passing during the news conference.

“Las Vegas Events and Las Vegas during this very challenging year have allowed us to go forward so we could have an event with fans where everybody could participate,” PRCA CEO George Taylor said in closing the 35-minute presentation. “So we thank them as well.”

Losing the NFR to the Dallas-Forth Worth metroplex even for one year is a major blow, according to local tourism officials. But holding the rodeo without a full arena of spectators and tens of thousands of visitors who supplement the $10 million payout with their pocketbooks simply isn’t viable.

“The Wrangler National Finals Rodeo is part of Las Vegas and a long-standing fixture for our visitors and locals since 1985,” said Steve Hill, president and CEO of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority. “Over the course of the 10-day series, Las Vegas transforms to the ultimate country western destination, with A-list entertainment, viewing parties, multiple cowboy gift shows and 24-hour excitement.

“While we will miss them this December, we understand the Professional Rodeo Cowboy Association’s decision to move their championship events to Texas in 2020. We look forward to welcoming both the NFR and rodeo fans back for an ‘Only Vegas’ experience in 2021 and beyond.”

Las Vegas Events, the nonprofit organization that coordinates big events for the city, concurred.

“It is unfortunate that Las Vegas is unable to host the Wrangler NFR in 2020 with fans,” said Michael Mack, vice president of marketing for Las Vegas Events. “We congratulate the PRCA for finding a home in 2020 that will allow fans to attend, which in turn generates prize money for the contestants.

“In exchange for allowing them to move their event in 2020, an extra year has been added to our contract. We look forward to hosting the Wrangler NFR in Las Vegas, December 2-11, 2021, and continuing through 2025.”

Las Vegas loss is Texas’ gain, according to PRCA staff, civic officials, dignitaries and cowboys who spoke during the announcement.

“It’s been a really challenging year for everybody in every walk of life,” Taylor said in reference to COVID-19. (But) our fans told us overwhelmingly that they wanted to have a rodeo they could participate in.

“We did a survey and within three hours we had 20,000 responses. And within eight, 40,000. And 80 percent of the people said they wanted to participate in the rodeo experience.”

The NFR is much more than a rodeo. The 10-day event is a celebration of the Western lifestyle that includes the fan-favorite Cowboy Christmas as well as the PRCA National Convention and ancillary events such as buckle presentations, bucking horse sales, an awards banquet and a women’s style show and luncheon.

Noting his surroundings Wednesday, Taylor quoted Hall of Fame pitcher Nolan Ryan, who starred for the Rangers and Houston Astros, and said he hoped the NFR would “hit a home run” in Globe Life Ballpark that has a 40,300 seating capacity for baseball.

Seats will be limited for the rodeo and sold in groups of four with separation between groups and masks being required inside the ballpark.

“I read a quote from (Ryan) that really typified where we’re at,” Taylor said. “You take a negative and turn it into a positive. I am thankful our board of directors gave us the ability to start working, and in a little over three weeks, that allowed us to turn a negative into a positive.”

Added Rangers chief operating officer Neil Leibman about making the new ballpark available to the cowboys and cowgirls and rodeo fans: “It’s more than a stadium; it’s a setting for the world’s best events. When we heard the National Finals Rodeo was looking for a place to have their best event, we couldn’t wait to get in front of it.”

Native Texan Trevor Brazile, who holds the PRCA record with 14 all-around cowboy titles, earned fame and fortune under Las Vegas’ bright lights but said the sport is almost synonymous with the Lone Star state.

“So many of them are right here in Texas,” Brazile said of rodeo fans. “You’re going to see some new faces, and we’re going to expose more people to the sport I love.”

While many of those fans posted messages of support during the video presentation of the news conference on the PRCA’s Facebook page, more than a few indicated they are happy the move is only temporary. Several complained about the quality of the audio and noted a lone folding chair that was conspicuous in the foreground.

“If this is an indication of the event itself, I’ll just go to Vegas,” wrote one.

Contact Ron Kantowski at rkantowski@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0352. Follow @ronkantowski on Twitter. Review-Journal staff writer Richard N. Velotta contributed to this report.

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