Thursday, Dec. 1, 2011 | 2:05 a.m.
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RODEO IN CONTEXT
In 1985, the NFR came to Las Vegas from Oklahoma City and has since gone on to have an incredibly successful run. At the time, however, there were questions and concerns. Here are some key comments from the time, along with some commentary:
“It might be very glamorous that first year, but what happens after that? There’s no place like Las Vegas in the world. The NFR would be treated as just another convention or event.” — Stanley Draper Jr., director of special events for the Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce, Oklahoma City Times, Dec. 8, 1983.
That didn’t happen. The NFR, which is held at a slow time, gets great play in Las Vegas.
“The thing that we have going for us here is a proven record for success, sold-out performances, and the fact the public here takes the Finals into their arms as the most important thing going on in the city for those 10 days. — Ray Ackerman, advertising executive and general chairman of the NFR when it was in Oklahoma City, the Daily Oklahoman, Nov. 9, 1984.
Las Vegas officials can now say the same thing about Las Vegas being the right home for the NFR. There’s a long track record of success, and with many resorts offering parties, country acts and deals, the rodeo has been warmly welcomed.
“If we leave Oklahoma City, it’s going to be a big bad mistake to go out to Las Vegas.” — Country singer Reba McEntire at an NFR event, the Daily Oklahoman, Dec. 7, 1984.
It turned out pretty good for the rodeo, although not so good for Oklahoma City.
“From a business point of view, it’s the best thing that could happen to rodeo. Any businessman who could cut his expenses in half and double his profits would make the move.” — Rodeo competitor Charlie Needham, the Houston Chronicle, March 1, 1985.
Someone once said that cowboys will follow the money and would rope on asphalt if the money was right. The competitors didn’t have to pay for rooms and saw prize money increase in Las Vegas. What could be better?
In the opening sequence one night at last year’s National Finals Rodeo, one of the announcers at the Thomas & Mack Center greeted the crowd in a conversational tone.
“All right, my friends, we know where we are: A $5.8 million rodeo, the crowning event for a season of professional rodeo. It could be held anywhere, couldn’t it? No it couldn’t.”
Then the announcer’s conversational tone quickly turned to excitement to rally the crowd.
“It belongs right where we’re at right now — this is the home of the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo. Let it be here for forever,” he declared before roaring, “Viva Las Vegas!”
It was a rousing proclamation that boomed across the arena, but the future home of the rodeo, which opens today, isn’t certain. The NFR’s contract expires after the 2014 rodeo, and Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones is said to be interested in bringing the NFR to his new stadium. Oklahoma City is also expected to be in the bidding, and why not? It hosts the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association’s semipro series final and has an NBA arena.
Both Texas and Oklahoma have rodeo pasts. Dallas hosted the NFR for its first three years before the rodeo left for Los Angeles and then settled in Oklahoma City for two decades. Las Vegas tourism officials brought the NFR to Las Vegas in 1985, pledging free rooms for competitors, more prize money and greater amenities.
Las Vegas might have sounded like an odd pick for the largest rodeo in the nation instead of Oklahoma City, which is in the heart of cowboy country and the home of the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum. At the time, critics questioned the move, complaining about the size of the Thomas & Mack Center and the potential distractions for competitors. They also said the rodeo would be lost in Las Vegas.
However, the NFR has seen incredible success here. For Las Vegas, the event has been a boost for what had normally been a slow time. And the NFR has benefited from being in Las Vegas, which brings more attention to the rodeo, as well as a unmatched atmosphere.
The question is whether either Texas or Oklahoma City will be able to match the deal the NFR gets in Las Vegas. Jones’ stadium is mammoth, which could be a draw and a financial benefit — a Professional Bull Riders event this year had an announced attendance of 38,641 people.
Las Vegas tourism officials say they will have a strong proposal and note the long ties the rodeo has here. However, officials in Oklahoma City said the same thing before the rodeo moved west.
Still, the NFR and Las Vegas have been great partners, and no matter what any other city says, we don’t think the rodeo will find another home quite like Las Vegas. Nor should it.
WHAT DO YOU THINK? Send your thoughts in a letter — no more than 250 words. Include the writer’s name, address and phone number. Anonymous letters will not be considered. E-mail: [email protected].
MUST READS: Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority chief Rossi Rolenkotter was part of the team that helped bring the rodeo to Las Vegas. Read about it here. South Point owner Michael Gaughan, a member of the Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame, talks about the NFR in Las Vegas here.