Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2012 | 2 a.m.
But now, fans will have a chance to show off their cowboy skills in a new 800-seat dirt arena inside the Las Vegas Convention Center as part of the new NFR FanFest.
The attraction is modeled after similar fan experiences offered at major sporting events like the Super Bowl and the NCAA March Madness tournament, which offer concerts and such activities as tossing footballs and shooting baskets, respectively. The NFR's version will give attendees a chance to experience the rodeo in a whole new way, with interactive exhibits, live country music acts and plenty of cowboy-friendly food. For those wanting to test their skills, options will include mechanical bulls to ride and stationary targets to lasso.
“What we’ve done is taken all of the typical rodeo experiences and put them into FanFest,” said Pat Christenson, president of Las Vegas Events, which is helping organize the rodeo. “The key for our FanFest is the ability for fans to touch and participate.”
FanFest will occupy 100,000 square feet at the north hall of the convention center and will sit adjacent to Cowboy Christmas, a massive retail showcase where hundreds of exhibitors will sell everything from cowboy boots to custom jewelry.
The centerpiece of FanFest will be the mini-arena, which will host interactive events like Redneck Rodeo, where fans can show off their cowboy skills in a series of challenges to win prizes, and Mutton Bustin', where children will emulate their favorite rodeo stars while riding sheep.
“The course has a rock climbing wall, so competitors climb the wall and then zip line down into the arena. As they’re zip lining down, they have fake guns and they’re shooting at targets,” Bo Gardner, vice president at Las Vegas Events, said of the Zip Line Snake Hunt, one of five events in the Redneck Rodeo.
A 1,278-seat stage sponsored by the Academy of Country Music will feature twice-daily acts from such country stars as Tracy Lawrence, David Nail and Sarah Darling, as well as dancing and a battle of the bands competition.
Other features of FanFest include a bar and barbecue food station and Rodeo Way, a mock city modeled after an Old Western town featuring interactive and historical exhibits from sponsors, including the Helldorado rodeo, Miss Rodeo America and the Reno rodeo.
Christenson said FanFest is part of an effort to continue expanding the NFR experience outside the confines of the Thomas & Mack Center, which has a limited number of seats and is sold out for every night of the rodeo.
“FanFest is part of our commitment to continue to grow the NFR experience and refine it. For Las Vegas, what that means is more people coming in,” Christenson said. “What we’re looking to create is all of these spin-off events tied into the big event. We have room to grow. But we’re not going to grow with just 17,000 seats (at the Thomas & Mack).”
NFR’s FanFest opens on Dec. 6 and will run from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily through Dec. 15. Except for food and drinks, the attraction is free.