Thursday, Dec. 1, 2011 | 2 a.m.
Nearly 30 years ago, a group of community leaders formed a partnership that profoundly changed the Southern Nevada landscape during the holiday season. The group included Herb McDonald, Benny Binion, Harry Wald, Jackie and Michael Gaughan, Sam and Bill Boyd, Phil Arce and yours truly. Govs. Bob List and Richard Bryan also played a key role. The concept was simple in nature but complex in execution. Move the National Finals Rodeo from Oklahoma City to Las Vegas.
Today, the NFR is a well-known event throughout the community. Every December for the past 26 years, the NFR and its cowboys have made Las Vegas their home for 10 days. Attendance over that period has surpassed 4.4 million, and nearly 1 million visitors have traveled to Las Vegas to see the event, in addition to the numerous people who have visited to experience the overall western-themed lifestyle while the rodeo is in town. The total economic impact of the NFR during that time is $1.3 billion. The Las Vegas Convention Center has also housed Cowboy Christmas for more than two decades, a show open to the public that offers a variety of western wear and artifacts for sale.
The NFR has been, and is, a great partnership between Las Vegas and the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA), the organization that oversees the NFR. It is a partnership that has evolved and becomes stronger every year.
The initial conversation about hosting the NFR occurred in the early 1980s between Harry Wald of Caesars Palace and Shawn Davis of the PRCA. As the idea gained momentum, business leaders created a new organization — Las Vegas Events (LVE) — in 1983. The original board of directors consisted of Don Ashworth, Al Benedict, Burton Cohen, Jack Petitti, Tom Wiesner, Arce and Wald. The LVE, funded primarily through the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, has the core mission to attract special events. Las Vegas Events led the negotiations to persuade the NFR to relocate, and in 1984, the PRCA invited both Oklahoma City and Las Vegas to present their bids to host the National Finals Rodeo.
The Las Vegas pitch was direct. Bring the NFR to Las Vegas and the event will be on the national stage. The NFR will attract more media, more fans and more prize money. Las Vegas even guaranteed the prize money. Still, the final vote was uncertain, and the 12-member board of directors of the PRCA ended in a 6-6 tie. As president of the PRCA, Shawn Davis cast the tiebreaking vote.
Everyone who follows the sport has witnessed the success the NFR has had here. For Las Vegas, it has been a bonanza, especially in the early years. Previously, hotels would close for renovations and the town would be dormant in December. Now, resorts are open and have country-western entertainment during the 10-day stretch of the rodeo. Many resorts have fan experiences at their properties, including live television feeds of the rodeo. The NFR has also benefited from Las Vegas. In fact, as promised, the event has generated enormous exposure for the rodeo since relocating to Las Vegas, including Sports Illustrated magazine and national sports television networks.
This year, the LVCVA established the Las Vegas Host Committee, chaired by Oscar Goodman. The committee’s role is to further engage the local business community when major conventions and special events such as the NFR are in town. There will be banners at McCarran International Airport and along the Las Vegas Strip, as well as promotional items including “Welcome NFR” buttons and window decals for use by local businesses and agencies. Approximately two dozen organizations have committed to participate in some way. Southwest Airlines for example, is having a contest among its employees to decorate the company’s gates at McCarran with a western theme.
The National Finals Rodeo and Las Vegas have a contract through 2014. We realize other cities may bid on the NFR when the contract comes up for renewal. Some cities may highlight their venues, others may offer more money, but no city can match the experience the fans and cowboys have in Las Vegas, our world-class resorts, entertainment, restaurants and proximity to the airport.
Las Vegas has never shied away from competition. Historically, it has made us better — more innovative, more creative, more focused. Negotiations with the PRCA will begin next year. South Point owner and LVE board member Michael Gaughan will lead the negotiations. This town is the only destination that has evolved to host people and events, including cowboys and rodeos. Las Vegas is the best city to host the National Finals Rodeo, and no one does special events better.
Rossi Ralenkotter is president and CEO of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.