National Finals Rodeo

The Super Bowl of Rodeo is underway this week in Las Vegas.

The National Finals Rodeo [NFR] is the world’s premier rodeo.  The season-ending event for the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association [PRCA] showcases the best cowboys, barrel racers and livestock in the world.

Held annually since 1959 – and since 1985, every December at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas – the NFR is pro rodeo’s richest and most prestigious competition.

The NFR showcases the talents of the PRCA’s top 15 money-winners in standard rodeo events: bareback riding, steer wrestling, team roping, saddle bronc riding, tie-down roping, barrel racing, and bull riding.  The world championship steer roping competition is held separately.

At the conclusion of the NFR, the sport’s world champions are determined based on total season earnings – regular season prize money combined with what they won at the NFR.

The National Finals Rodeo consists of ten rounds, with one round — called a go round – taking place on each of ten consecutive days.  Every contestant competes once daily.

At the end of each NFR, two champions are crowned in each event.  One is the average winner, who won the NFR by having the best cumulative combined time or score for that event over the ten rounds.  The other is the world champion, who finished the year with the most money [including NFR earnings].

For each event, the average winner and world champion may or may not be the same person.

The Super Bowl of Rodeo is unique — it uses special dirt.  Only used ten days per year –during the NFR — the dirt is stored on the UNLV campus until is it used at the NFR the following year.

The PRCA is the highest-paying and top-drawing rodeo circuit in the world.  Created in 1936 when a group of cowboys walked out of a rodeo at Boston Garden over the frugal practices of promotor W.T. Johnson, the successful “strike” gave way to the formation of the Cowboy’s Turtle Association.

So named because it was slow to organize and required cowboys to stick their necks out to get what they wanted, the Turtles changed their name to the Rodeo Cowboys Association in 1945.  Thirty years later, it became the PRCA.

Located on the campus of UNLV, the Thomas & Mack Center is an 18,000-seat arena situated about two miles from the Las Vegas Strip.  Opened in 1983, Thomas & Mack has played host to Arena League football, boxing, concerts, award shows, and the 2007 NBA All-Star Game.

Thomas & Mack’s primary tenant is UNLV’s basketball team, the Runnin’ Rebels.  Dubbed the Shark Tank after Jerry Tarkanian, whose nickname was Tark the Shark, the venerable arena was the scene of the final Presidential Debate of the 2016 campaign.

Held the first full week of December, the NFR sells out all seats for every event.  The rodeo is telecast to more than 55 million households on CBS Sports Network, and Las Vegas casinos carry live coverage in their sports books.

First held in Dallas in 1959, the NFR moved to Los Angeles, where it was held from 1962 to 1964.  Oklahoma City became home to the world’s premiere rodeo from 1964 to 1984, and the event brought Oklahoma merchants an estimated eight million dollars in annual revenue.

Las Vegas outbid OKC and the event moved to Thomas & Mack in 1985.  The NFR is the arena’s biggest client, drawing more than 170,000 fans to Las Vegas during the ten-day event.

In January 2014, PRCA signed a contract with Las Vegas through 2024, rejecting the bids of Dallas and Kissimmee, Florida.

Today is Session 7 of 10 at the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas.