5 things you didn't know about the National Finals Rodeo

Tyler Corrington of Hastings, Minn. competes in the saddle bronc riding during the fifth go-round of the National Finals Rodeo at the Thomas & Mack Center on Monday, Dec. 8, 2014, in Las Vegas. (David Becker/Las Vegas Review-Journal)

 Caitlin Lilly

As the toughest cowboys and girls from across the country make their way to Sin City this week to compete in the National Finals Rodeo (NFR) here are five facts about the world's richest rodeo that you may not be aware of.


Barrel racer Lisa Lockhart from Oelrichs, S.D., rides to a sixth place time of 14.02 seconds during the tenth go-round of the National Finals Rodeo at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas, Saturday, Dec. 13, 2014. (Josh Holmberg/Las Vegas Review Journal)

NFR is considered the "Super Bowl" of rodeo

Each December, the top 15 bareback riders, steer wrestlers, team roping competitors, saddle bronco riders, tie-down ropers, barrel racers, and bull riders qualify to compete in the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas. 

In order to house all of the competitors, a crew of 175 put in approximately 28 hours to transform the Thomas & Mack Center from a basketball arena to the home of the world's biggest rodeo. The set-up requires the use of 2,500 tons of dirt, 1,500 metal panels and 250 bow gates and frames inside and outside the arena, officials said.

Much like the always-sold-out NFL Super Bowl, NFR has sold out 290 consecutive performances.

PRCA bull rider Joe Frost rides Powder River Rodeo‘s Artic Monkey to a score of 78.0 during the eighth go-round of the National Finals Rodeo at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas, Thursday, Dec. 11, 2014. (Josh Holmberg/Las Vegas Review Journal)

NFR contributes a lot to the Las Vegas economy

According to the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association, the economic impact of the 10-day rodeo is estimated at around $90 million annually. 

Last year, 177,565 rodeo enthusiasts decked out in Wrangler jeans, Justin boots and cowboy hats attended events at the Thomas & Mack with an additional 40,000 fans who watched at the 40 hotels who hosted watch parties. It's also one of the only times of the year that you will see marquees across the Strip flashing the names of the "toughest" bull riders and barrel racers rather than nightclub DJs.

Over the course of the 10-day festivities at the arena, NFR fans consume an estimated 75,000 beers, 15,000 bottles of water, 26,000 sodas, 5,000 pizzas, 4,500 nachos, 6,800 hot pretzels and 7,000 bags of popcorn, officials said.

Expectedly, the rodeo draws a lot of animals to town

Along with the hundreds of thousands of people that flock to Las Vegas, the event also brings almost 700 animals to town — 300 bucking stock (horses and bulls), around 120 horses ridden in the timed-events, 150 steer, 75 calves and about 50 more horses that are used by contestants in the nightly Grand Entry, as well as flag girls, pickup men and steer wrestling hazers.

The five acres behind the Thomas & Mack Center are turned into a small ranch complete with stock pens. Led by a Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association Board member, a team of 11 people is tasked with making sure every single animal receives top of the line care while they're staying at the Thomas & Mack.  

NFR prize money has increased substantially since its first year in Las Vegas

In 1985 when the rodeo moved from Oklahoma City to Las Vegas, the prize money awarded to competitors totaled $1.79 million. Under the terms of a new 10-year contract, the participating cowboys and cowgirls will now be competing for $10 million. 

This increase in prize money helped Las Vegas beat out strong bids from Dallas, Texas and Kissimmee, Fla. 

Over the past 30 years NFR has been held in Vegas, it has paid out a total of more than $172 million in prize money to contestants and compensation to stock contractors, an official told the Review-Journal. 

When the NFR first touched down in Las Vegas, the city boasted 53,000 hotel rooms and attracted over 14 million visitors. Now, there are currently more than 150,000 hotel rooms and the city attracted a record 41.1 million visitors in 2014.

The animals used in the rodeo are the true centers of the show

Along with being kept safe by 24-hour security on the "ranch," officials said, each animal that is set to participate in an event is inspected by rodeo judges before the night's competition. If an animal is found to have a health issue, it is immediately pulled from the line up. 

From the tie-down roping steers to the horses, the animals participating in NFR receive top-of-the-line care. Due to the tie-down roping calves being more fragile and susceptible to the elements than some of the bigger and tougher, a tent was added to the rodeo grounds to give them more specialized care.

Steer used for team roping are fitted with horn wraps to protect their horns from the headers’ ropes. These team roping steer wear the horn wraps throughout the duration of the rodeo.

Not only do contestants in timed events have different horses to compete with based on the type of arena they're performing in, but they also travel with their own private veterinarians to care for their horses, an NFR spokesperspn said. The animals are also treated to mud and ice packs on a routine basis, provided with specialized feed, equine massages, chiropractic services, and hydrotherapy in pools.

Contact Caitlin Lilly at clilly@reviewjournal.com. Find her on Twitter


Cowboys get ready to ride — and collect richer paychecks


Cody Wright of Milford, Utah competes in the saddle bronc riding during the fifth go-round of the National Finals Rodeo at the Thomas & Mack Center on Monday, Dec. 8, 2014, in Las Vegas. (David Becker/Las Vegas Review-Journal)

By Alan Snel
Las Vegas Review-Journal

The most talented cowboys in the country are returning to Las Vegas in two weeks and this time they're going to make a lot more money at the National Finals Rodeo.

Under a 10-year deal that starts this year, Las Vegas Events will be doling out $10 million in prize money to the 120 cowboys competing in seven categories at NFR, considered the Super Bowl of rodeo events and sanctioned by the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association.

That's a big jump from the $6.375 million the contestants split during the 10-day finals in 2014, when tens of thousands of western/country culture enthusiasts and rodeo fans visited Las Vegas and spent $74.5 million on nongambling items such as hotel rooms and food.

Las Vegas Events, the event promotional arm of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA), pumped up the prize money to keep the NFR in Las Vegas and to deter the PRCA from moving it to either the Orlando area or Texas.

With the new Las Vegas Events-PRCA deal kicking in this year, Las Vegas Events will go from making about $1 million on the rodeo to losing about $2 million a year. But the LVCVA will make up the loss to Las Vegas Events, said Pat Christenson, Las Vegas Events president, working on his 31st NFR in Las Vegas.

The annual loss is the price Las Vegas Events has to pay in order to keep the prized rodeo in Las Vegas, which typically experiences slower hotel and tourism industry business during that time of year. The 2015 NFR starts two weeks from Thursday, running from Dec. 3-12.

The $10 million in prize money includes $10,000 for each of the 120 contestants, which means a purse of $8.8 million will be split after $1.2 million is distributed evenly among the cowboys for just showing up.

Under the deal, Las Vegas Events pays the prize money, markets the NFR, sells the tickets and arranges the venue — Thomas & Mack Center on the UNLV campus. NFR fans will enjoy Thomas & Mack's new improvements such as new seats, a wider concourse and more concession stands and bathrooms.

Last year's 10-day attendance at Thomas & Mack was 177,565, a record. Christenson expects another 40,000 rodeo fans every night at some of the 40 hotels in Las Vegas that will be hosting NFR watch parties. In all, there will be 42 NFR satellite feed locations to watch the live rodeo action.

NFR also set an attendance record last year for the country western retail show called Cowboy Christmas with 200,179 shoppers at the Las Vegas Convention Center. It generated $5.72 million in sales.

This year, Cowboy Christmas will be augmented by "Hunter Christmas," an outdoor hunting and fishing show, with the total retail floor space more than doubling to 840,000 square feet on two levels at the convention center's South Hall.

Las Vegas Events recommends rodeo fans take the monorail, use expanded parking or hop on one of the free buses leaving eight NFR sponsor hotels to reach the convention center. Those eight hotels are Aria, Excalibur, Golden Nugget, The Mirage, Monte Carlo, The Orleans, South Point and Treasure Island.

In all, there are 22 NFR sponsor hotels in Las Vegas, with most visitors last year coming from Texas (12 percent), California (8 percent), Arizona, Colorado and Montana (all 6 percent).

This year, country music legend and rodeo fan Charlie Daniels penned a special song just for this year's NFR. A video of the song, called, "It Don't Get No Better Than That," can be watched on the http://www.nfrsocialarena.com/ web site. The song is available on iTunes and song proceeds will be donated to the Justin Cowboy Crisis Fund and other groups.

NFR tickets cost $58 for upper deck (5 percent increase over 2014), $85 for plaza and $275 for gold buckle seats (both 10 percent increases over 2014). For 2016, Las Vegas Events will have to add the 9 percent Live Entertainment Tax to ticket prices, but Christenson said his organization will not add anything beyond the new state entertainment tax for next year.

With the country western world moving to Las Vegas for 10 days, new ancillary events to NFR have sprung up, such as the inaugural Boyd Gaming Chute-Out that will feature 64 rodeo cowboys Dec. 10-12, from 2-4 p.m. at Orleans Arena. The Chute-Out contestants will include those who just missed out on qualifying for NFR and former rodeo event champions.

And as usual, the World Series of Team Roping — and its $10 million in prize money (the same as NFR) — will be featured at South Point Dec. 7-13.

With the Las Vegas Events-PRCA 10-year deal behind them, everyone affiliated with the NFR was able to move ahead without any stress.

"It was refreshing. It's security for everyone in the industry," Christenson said. "It's a time when we can focus on the rodeo."

Contact reporter Alan Snel at asnel@reviewjournal.com. Find him on Twitter: @BicycleManSnel