Las Vegas Sun

September 21, 2019

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Thomas & Mack Turns 25:

No. 3: NFR is Thomas & Mack’s cash cow


Little Yellow Jacket

Special section

Editor's Note: In conjunction with the 25th anniversary of the Thomas & Mack Center's opening on Nov. 21, 1983, the Sun is celebrating the building's colorful history with a top 25 countdown - to No. 1 on Nov. 21, 2008 - of the biggest events held inside the arena located on UNLV's campus.

To say that the National Finals Rodeo has become the Thomas & Mack Center's cash cow is putting it literally, not mildly.

There's nothing mild about the NFR.

The "Super Bowl of Rodeo" made its Las Vegas debut in 1985. Before then, it was held in Oklahoma City.

The rodeo types there were talking about building a $30 million purpose-built rodeo arena to keep all the ridin' and ropin' in Oklahoma. Those discussions fell on deaf ears. The Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association was intoxicated by Las Vegas bright lights and deep pockets. That's why the home of the Rebels smells a little more ... earthly ... each and every December.

The NFR has become the Thomas & Mack Center's major client, attracting more than 170,000 fans during its annual 10-day run. Offspring events, such as the Professional Bull Riders tour, which also holds its finals at the T&M, also have been a big hit with locals and tourists alike.

Even city slickers who have never seen the broad end of a bull agree there's nothing quite like ther NFR. It's the most lucrative rodeo in the world, with more than $5.5 million paid out to cowboys and cowgirls each year in the events of bull riding, bareback riding, calf roping, saddle bronc riding, team roping, steer wrestling and barrel racing.

It's a double-edged spur. Las Vegas scratches the NFR's back, and NFR fans leave some serious scratch in our hotel-casinos during what once was a slow time for local tourism.

The total non-economic annual impact of the NFR on Las Vegas is $60.6 million. Over its 23-year run, the total is more than $708 million. The only sporting event that generates more is the NASCAR race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

While top cowboys such as Ty Murray have made a name -- and small fortunes -- for themselves at the finals, more often than not they wind up sharing center stage with the equine stars of the rodeo.

There were no bigger stars than Bodacious, the baddest bull on the planet, and his contemporary in the PBR, Little Yellow Jacket.

Only 10 cowboys of the 135 who tried were able to stay aboard the back of Bodacious who died in 2000. I know of at least 125 cowboys who sent flowers. Bodacious was such an amazing athlete that has semen was stored and has produced more than 120 offspring.

Little Yellow Jacket was just as ornery. He was ridden just 11 times in 76 times by the PBR's best. And the braves ones who managed to stay upright for the full eight seconds almost always walked away with a big score and a full saddlebag of cash.

Sometimes when you mention a lot of money and a lot of bull it's not a reference to Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban.

That's also the best way to describe the Thomas & Mack Center when the rodeo's in town.

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