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October 17, 2017

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NFR Preview: Something for everyone


Tom Donoghue/

The 10th and final day of the 2012 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo at the Thomas & Mack Center on Saturday, Dec. 15, 2012.

2012 NFR: Final Night

Bull rider Clayton Savage of Casper, Wyo. is nearly stomped on after being thrown from his bull during the final night of the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo Saturday, Dec. 15, 2012. Launch slideshow »

NFR: By the numbers

120 -- Number of National Finals Rodeo competitors

2,000 -- Amount in tons of dirt needed for the arena and the stalls outside

45,000 -- Number of out of town visitors in 2012

$60.1 million -- Estimated non-gaming economic impact of NFR in 2012

700 -- Number of animals at the rodeo, including 300 bucking stock, 75 calves, 120 steers, 90 contestant horses, 50 grand entry and flag horses.

250 -- Amount in tons of food that the livestock eat, including grain, hay and grass

$1.8 million-- Amount of the total NFR purse in its inaugural year 1985

$6.25 million -- Amount of the total NFR purse in 2013

75,000 -- Beers sold during the ten days of NFR

NFR Entertainment

Rodney Carrington. Launch slideshow »

The History of the NFR

Jack Brown on One Step, Rocky Ford, Colorado, 1921. Launch slideshow »

When Las Vegas Events president Pat Christenson gets a call, the Brooks & Dunn song “Cowboy Town" plays as the ring tone on his phone.

“Hard times, high winds can't bring us down. In cowboy town, yeah, cowboy town/

"That's where I'm from, cowboy town."

Every December, Christenson and his colleagues help turn Las Vegas into a living version of the song when they coordinate the National Finals Rodeo competition. Increasingly, they're working on ways to open the event not only to more cowboys but to people who might not know a steer from a bronco.

The Cowboy Fanfest, which debuted last year, packs the “best of the western lifestyle” into 100,000 square feet of the Las Vegas Convention Center with live music and entertainment, food and beverage vendors — including a saloon showing the previous day’s rodeo highlights, a rodeo arena hosting demonstrations and performances, interactive booths, exhibits and other activities. Admission is free. Then there's the Cowboy Christmas Gift Show at the Las Vegas Convention Center, featuring approximately 400 exhibitors from all over the country selling jewelry, shoes, clothing, furniture, original art, handmade crafts and other products.

“The Fanfest is similar to what the NFL does at the Super Bowl, or NBA fan jam or what UFC does with its expo. It’s a huge interactive fan experience customized to rodeo and western culture fans,” Christenson said.

“What’s unique about this, and what I love about rodeo and NFR, is no other sport allows you to touch and mingle among the top competitors in world like this does. There will be four NFR autograph sessions and three more at hotels. You will see all the contestants at Cowboy Christmas and at Fanfest.”

The main event, the 2013 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, is set for Dec. 5-14 at the Thomas & Mack Center and is bigger than ever in its 29th year.

In 2012 the rodeo drew 175,642 people, almost enough to fill Sam Boyd Stadium five times over. Approximately 45,000 are out of town visitors, and the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority estimated the non-gaming economic impact to be $60.1 million last year. The authority estimates that the NFR has injected $1.3 billion into the local economy over the course of its nearly three-decade run.

The rodeo brings in the top 15 contestants in seven categories: bareback riding, steer wrestling, team roping, saddle bronc riding, tie-down roping, barrel racing and bull riding. They will compete for a total of $6.25 million in prize money.

The 17,100 tickets available each night sell out well in advance, but that does not mean procrastinators are totally out of luck. NFR’s Mad Dash 30 ticket option gives spectators access to the concourses and a 30-minute window to find an empty seat in the balcony. If you come up empty, you can either watch the event from the concourse or get a refund for the ticket, minus processing fees. For all ticket inquiries, fans can call the Thomas & Mack Center ticket office at 866-388-FANS. Tickets also can be found through the NFR’s official fan-to-fan ticket exchange.

More than 40 hotels will broadcast the live satellite feed of this year's NFR, with many hosting parties and events featuring appearances by NFR competitors.

“A few years ago there weren’t even viewing parties,” Christenson said. “Some people had screens showing the rodeo in casinos, but it was more of an afterthought. Now there are six or seven viewing parties that are standing room only. Some properties have been very aggressive. Trevor Brazile, the eight-time world champion, will finish his event and go straight to MGM to sign autographs before the telecast is even over.”

Over the ten days of the rodeo numerous ancillary events are going on around town. Several country music stars will perform, including Dierks Bentley at The Pearl, Wynona Judd at The Orleans, Dustin Lynch at the Mirage, and a trio of stars, Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard and Dwight Yoakam, at the Golden Nugget. Click here for a full list of entertainment around town.

The Fremont Street Experience is embracing the country and western theme for the whole month of December. Country Christmas, which will be staged through Dec. 25, is a free musical revue offering such holiday country classics as “Hard Candy Christmas,” “Blue Christmas” and “Redneck 12 Days of Country,” as well as traditional holiday songs. The performances are nightly at Fremont Street Experience with no shows on Thursdays.

On Dec. 4 Fremont Street Experience will host the 27th annual Downtown Hoedown. This year’s lineup, performing on three stages, includes Rodney Atkins, Joe Diffie, Cole Swindell, Chase Rice, and Chris Janson.

The Fremont Street Experience and the Nevada Barbecue Association are hosting the 2nd Annual Downtown Throwdown Barbecue Championships Dec. 13-14. The Kansas City Barbecue Society sanctioned competition will feature a chili cook-off Dec. 13 and a barbecue cook-off Dec. 14.

For a more intimate experience, The Lounge at The Palms is hosting the “Whiskey & Words” songwriter series, where country performers will play their songs and share the stories behind them Dec. 5-7.

“In our first couple years we didn’t sell out, so locals could go pretty easily,” Christenson said. “As it evolved and started to sell out, most of those tickets were marketed to people coming to town and sold far in advance. Over time we’ve added more and more things, and different experiences so locals and others without tickets can participate. The number of people in town for the event who don’t have a ticket is two or three times the number of people with a ticket. A lot of people come to Vegas and they might go to one or two nights of the rodeo, but stay here for four or five. They can still be a part of NFR through all of these different avenues.”

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