Sunday, Dec. 15, 2013 | 7:52 p.m.
In the end, the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association opted for more money and a bigger arena for its National Finals Rodeo.
Left to watch the cowboys hit the trail is Las Vegas, home to the sport’s prize event for 29 years. It is heading to Central Florida, specifically Osceola County, whose county seat is Kissimmee.
Over the past couple of days, officials there escalated interest in luring the NFR to that region and have approved plans for a $100 million, 24,000-seat arena that would be ready for the 2016 NFR.
This afternoon, Las Vegas Events announced that the PRCA rejected the Las Vegas offer to keep the rodeo at the Thomas & Mack Center beyond 2014, when the event’s current 10-year contract is due to expire. The Wrangler NFR is reportedly headed to Amway Arena in Orlando in 2015.
The event is a big economic driver for Las Vegas in December. Last year, it was responsible for an estimated $90 million in nongaming revenue.
But after more than a year of back-and-forth between the PRCA and the National Finals Rodeo Committee, headed up by Las Vegas Events President Pat Christenson, today’s ruling by the PRCA means Las Vegas will be looking elsewhere for an event to fill the calendar during the 10-day run typically occupied by the NFR.
The offer leveled by officials in Florida was $4 million higher than that of Las Vegas. The usual outlay from LVE was $15 million, counting all peripheral expenses and prize money.
In a statement issued by LVE spokesman Michael Mack, the Las Vegas tourism board said:
“We are disappointed that the PRCA has chosen to pursue a completely speculative offer versus Las Vegas’ proven 29-year track record.”
The higher outlay to keep the rodeo in Las Vegas would have boosted ticket prices, the statement said.
“Adding an additional $4 million to the budget would require a 40-percent increase in ticket prices. That is not sustainable,” the LVE stated. “We have to balance the demands of the PRCA with the consequence of pricing our fans out of the market. In fact, LVE does not generate a profit from the NFR. All revenue generated from the NFR including ticket sales, Cowboy Christmas, local sponsorship sales and a $2 million LVCVA and LVE rights fee, go directly to the contestants and the PRCA.”
PRCA chief executive Karl Stressman indicated last week that other cities were trying to lure the event, though he expressed hope that a deal could be reached to keep it in Las Vegas.
“There are people who have some real interest in our product. As the CEO of the PRCA, my obligation is to look at those offers and see what that is like and take it to the board of directors and say, ‘Here is my recommendation as CEO. It’s your decision to make. Here are the pluses and minuses,’” Stressman said.
Though this year’s NFR had a record payout of $6.25 million in prize money, Stressman has been fighting for at least the past three years to increase the prize pool.
“We’re looking for a higher value on the contestant money, no question,” Stressman said.
What’s next for Las Vegas? Another rodeo-styled event.
“Now that we know the PRCA’s true intentions, we will put our full effort into developing a new Series and Finals,” the statement read. “For almost 30 years, we have developed a loyal fan base that calls Las Vegas home for the first two weeks in December. We are confident our new ‘Finals’ will exceed all expectations.”