George Ferguson Column: Leaving Las Vegas is a big mistake by the PRCA
From the Fringe...
December 20, 2013
You know that old saying “If it isn’t broke, don’t try to fix it?” In sports, it seems a lot of people are trying to fix things that aren’t broken as of late.
In the world of professional sports, it’s always about trying to make it bigger, better, more exciting, even if there’s nothing wrong with the product in the first place.
And that’s the case for the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association right now, as it pertains to its tremendously popular National Finals Rodeo, held every December in Las Vegas.
This year’s event, which wrapped up last weekend, was as well-attended as it’s ever been, but fans attending the 10-day finale, many of whom make the trek year after year, were left wondering if they’d ever be back.
Word circulating through the rodeo last week was that the PRCA is strongly considering moving the NFR out of Las Vegas, and if it does move, that would be a damn shame.
Possible suitors to take the NFR away from the Thomas and Mack Center, which holds roughly 19,000 fans per night for the NFR, is a group hoping to move the event to Orlando, Fla., and another trying to lure the event back to Oklahoma City, where the rodeo was held for years until it was moved to Sin City in 1983.
But, with all due respect to those venues, and their rodeo fan bases, Las Vegas IS the NFR in my mind, and many rodeo fans agree. In fact, there are people who have been traveling to Vegas for years and years, simply to attend the NFR, and that includes what some estimate to be about 20,000 Montanan’s each and every year.
To take that rodeo out of Vegas would be a disaster, and in my mind, Montana, if it had a venue large enough, would be a much better choice than Disney World. I’m sorry, but Mickey and Minnie just don’t scream rodeo to me.
Instead, the NFR is about tradition and honor, and as crazy as it sounds for a place nicknamed Sin City, the tradition and honor of the NFR is in Las Vegas. That’s where legends of the sport like Lane Frost, Tuff Hedeman, Ty Murray, and Montana greats like Dan Mortenson and our very own Flint Rasmussen have made a name for themselves in the great sport of rodeo. Those guys didn’t make their mark in the shadow of Disney World, they made their mark in the bright lights of Las Vegas, and so have so many more cowboys and cowgirls over the last 30 years.
Now, if something was wrong with the NFR in Vegas, I could understand a move. But there isn’t anything wrong with it. In fact, it gets bigger and better each and every December. The 2013 NFR sold 157,000 tickets for the 10-day rodeo, while the annual Cowboy Christmas/Fan Fest, held at the Las Vegas Convention Center, of which Rasmussen is a part of, drew a reported 187,000-plus fans this year.
Those don’t seem like the kinds of numbers that suggest anything is wrong with the NFR in Las Vegas, and lest we forget, Vegas is also one of the most accessible and reasonably priced travel destinations in the entire world. For many Montanan’s who love the NFR, a trip to Orlando won’t be near as easy, or cheap.
But at the end of the day, it’s all about money, and the PRCA has apparently decided Vegas wasn’t providing the sport with enough of it. The Orlando group is offering 16 million of its own money annually to help the PRCA with purses and administrative fees, as well has promised to build a brand new 24,000-seat arena specifically for the NFR, which is projected to be done by 2016. And as a result, the PRCA voted 6-3 to reject Vegas’ counter-offer to keep the rodeo in town.
They say that the Orlando area is home to the largest rodeo East of the Mississippi, and that’s fine, but for many of us in Montana, that’s a million miles away, and for us, rodeo isn’t just about 24,000-seat arenas and higher prize money. For many of us, rodeo is a way of life, and home base is Las Vegas.
But, just as it is with the NFL, which is tinkering with the idea of expanding into Europe, and NASCAR, which in many ways has abandoned most of its original traditions, it seems, for the PRCA, the grass is greener in places other than Las Vegas, and mostly the green comes from the money being thrown at professional rodeo’s governing body.
However, money can’t replace tradition. In my estimation, money can’t erase the fact that the NFR is the event it is today because of the move that was made to Las Vegas. In my mind, Las Vegas helped build up the NFR, not the other way around.
In today’s modern world of professional sports, it seems tradition means less and less, and money means more and more. I guess a part of me believed that just didn’t pertain to rodeo, which is one of the most traditional sports there is in this country. For years and years, the sport itself does not change. Guys riding bulls today ride them in much the same fashion as Freckles Brown road Tornado in 1967.
I guess I wanted to believe that the sport of rodeo was immune to the kind of financial changes that have cheapened and worsened a lot of major professional sports in recent years. Unfortunately, it turns out I was wrong. Unfortunately, it looks like the money wins again.