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Friday, October 22, 2021

Rodeo Gallops Back to Vegas


Rodeo Gallops Back to Vegas

The Wrangler National Finals Rodeo is back in Vegas for 2021

Story by Brian Hurlburt

Photography provided by Wrangler National Finals Rodeo


We all realize how deeply impactful the Covid-19 pandemic has been on Las Vegas with its negative impact. But as of late, indicators show a slow return to normalcy, and that is something we are all hoping will continue.

A sure sign that things are getting better will be when the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo returns home to Las Vegas Dec. 2-11 at the Thomas & Mack Center. The pandemic caused the event to be held in Texas in 2020, but seeing the cowboy hats up and down The Strip—and over Las Vegas—will feel good to all involved. “It’s really difficult to sum up the Wrangler NFR in a few sentences,” says South Point general manager Ryan Growney. “That’s basically impossible, to tell you the truth. That’s how special it is, and how meaningful it is to have everyone coming back in December. I was truly grateful for Texas stepping up and taking care of the cowboys and cowgirls in 2020, but I believe this year will feel like they are all coming home. There is no rodeo like the NFR, and there is no city like Las Vegas. This is just where it belongs. After so many years of sold-out performances, every new year really does feel like a homecoming. The entire town opens its doors, hotels, performance venues, and tradeshows and welcomes many of the same people year after year. Those people may only see each other once a year, but they pick right up where they left off a year prior.”

Stetson Wright, the 2020 saddle bronc and all-around champion, sums up what the NFR is all about as easily as he rides eight seconds on the back of some of the toughest bulls and bucking horses in the business. “What comes to my mind about Vegas and the NFR? Big money and rank stock,” says Wright, simply and matter-of-factly.  “Everything in Vegas is just unreal, from when you leave the Thomas & Mack Center, to all the fun stuff all around the city. There's nothing about being a part of the NFR and Vegas that isn’t good. Actually, the only thing that sucks about the NFR is it comes to an end every year.” 

Steer wrestler Jacob Edler, who won a world title in his first NFR appearance in 2020, believes he can understand how different Vegas will be despite having never performed in the Thomas & Mack Center. “When I think about Las Vegas, I think about energy,” Edler said. “I've never gotten to come here as a contestant, but I came once as a spectator. Even by just sitting in the stands in the Thomas & Mack Center, you could feel all of the energy in that building when you step inside. Just being there watching was very motivational, and there wasn't any other place in the world that I stepped into that ever felt like that. Texas did great last year with all the circumstances that happened, but it's not Vegas. You don't feel the same energy in that building, and now that I will finally compete in Vegas, I just expect it to be a little bit more upbeat, a little more tense, and a lot more exciting.”

Las Vegas Events is the main organizer of the Wrangler NFR along with the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association. President Pat Christenson knows the importance and excitement of the event firsthand. “The Wrangler NFR is a true on-and-beyond-the-dirt extravaganza in which Vegas goes completely country for 10 days and nights each December,” says Pat Christenson, president of Las Vegas Events, NFR’s hosts and producers. “The Wrangler NFR is the heart of an experience and celebration that brings to life a huge piece of Americana.”

For visitors to Las Vegas, it’s like a rodeo Christmas vacation. But for locals, the NFR offers plenty of opportunities to enjoy the country and Western lifestyle as more than 20 major hotels and resorts host live viewing parties, concerts, after parties, and more. Plus, the annual The Cowboy Channel Cowboy Christmas attracts 350+ vendors and more than 200,000 attendees to the Las Vegas Convention Center.

The South Point is a long-time sponsor of the NFR. “I think the coolest thing about the NFR in Las Vegas is that the entire city embraces the western way of life for those two weeks. And with our Arena and Equestrian Center, South Point is, and we embrace the Western way of life all year round,” says Growney. “In addition, we host many of the events associated with the NFR. We host the PRCA Convention, PRCA Awards Dinner, PRCA Hall of Fame Gold Buckle Gala, Contestant Back Number Presentation, Benny Binion Bucking Horse and Bull Sale, the PRCA Permit Challenge Rodeo, Dodge Ram Viewing parties and then, of course, the nightly Montana Silversmith Go Round Buckle Presentations. In addition, this year we are excited to be hosting the Miss Rodeo America Pageant for the first time.” 

The South Point also hosts the World Series of Team Roping each year. The team roping event offers a purse in the neighborhood of $13 million and attracts team ropers from the across the country looking to cash and party.

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