By Frank J. Buchman
The National Finals Rodeo (NFR) is returning to Las Vegas with three Kansas cowboys qualified to compete there this week.
Official dates for the prestigious Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA) yearend finale are December 2 through December 11.
There will be many special activities in conjunction with the rodeo, several which have already started.
Kansas cowboys qualifying to compete in the ten rodeo performances are Jess Pope, Waverly, bareback bronc riding; Jake Long, Coffeyville, team roping heeler; and Buddy Hawkins II, Columbus, team roping heeler.
To qualify for the NFR, cowboys and cowgirls must be in the top 15 regular PRCA season standings which ended September 30, 2021.
Cole Patterson, Pratt, was named the world champion steer roper at the recent National Finals Steer Roping in Mulvane with $190,242. His dad Rocky Patterson ended the season in tenth place with $63,029.
“The entire rodeo community is excited to be back in Vegas,” said Tom Glause, new PRCA executive officer “Everybody I talk to is ecstatic to be back.”
This year’s rodeo at Thomas & Mack Center has been sold out since March. “We have anxiously awaited return of the National Finals Rodeo and loyal fans,” said Steve Hill, Las Vegas tourism official.
This year’s NFR comes after the event was moved to the Dallas-Fort Worth area in 2020. Nevada had imposed a coronavirus social-distancing mandate making it impossible to sell as many tickets to the 15,000-seat arena. Because ticket sales fund much of the $10 million prize money for cowboys, the PRCA had an alternative plan.
Solution was to move the NFR to Texas, which had no social-distancing requirements. The 2020 NFR was in Arlington, Texas, home of the Texas Rangers baseball team. However, contracts now are in place for the NFR to be at Las Vegas through 2025, with further extension discussion.
“It was painful to sit on the sidelines for two years,” said Pat Christenson, president of Las Vegas Events,
The biggest change between this year and a year ago is that the social-distancing mandate has been lifted. However, fans attending the rodeo will be required to wear masks.
“The demand has already been growing every year,” Christensen said. “There are two to three times more fans wanting tickets than tickets available.”
Success of NFR can be traced to three things, Christenson said. Ninety-five contestants will be vying for a championship gold buckle and in prize money in a well-orchestrated, synchronized show. Resorts have created a custom festival experience and Las Vegas Events keeps fans interested leading up to the NFR.
Many resorts modify their personas during NFR. Mandalay Bay becomes “Cowboyville;” MGM Grand hosts the “Gold Buckle Zone;” Resorts World Las Vegas is “Rodeo World;” and the Westgate Hotel hosts “Cowboy Christmas.”
Most of the properties say they specialize in hosting participants of specific rodeo events. They offer free transportation to and from the NFR.
Viewer parties have expanded over time now attracting about 1,000 people to view the direct rodeo feed.
Country acts dominate the Las Vegas Strip with 73 different country performers in town during NFR. Some of the big names: George Strait, Shania Twain, Jason Aldean, Reba McEntire and Brooks & Dunn.
A new partnership with the Cowboy Channel, title sponsor for Cowboy Christmas, provides fans with information throughout the rodeo season.
Glause, former PRCA saddle bronc rider, who served as Wyoming insurance commissioner, believes the rodeo will remain stronger than ever in Las Vegas.
“Texas was a great option under the circumstances we faced,” Glause said. “We were thankful that we had an NFR venue, but we are happy to be back in Las Vegas. NFR is one of the most coveted tickets in the sports world.”
Pope is sixth in regular season bareback bronc riding standings with $110,024. He was third in the world last year with $220,029, after winning his first trip to the NFR bareback bronc riding worth $170,417. Pope has won the bareback riding at eight major rodeos this year including Kansas Biggest Rodeo at Phillipsburg.
Long is sixth in regular season team roping heeler standings with $95,226. Qualifying for the NFR 11 years, Long was eighth in the 2020 yearend world standings with $146,137 including $82,910 won at the NFR. Winning nearly a million dollars in his professional rodeo career, Long is the heeler for Clay Tryan, Billings, Montana, who is fifth in regular season header standings with $94,250.
Hawkins is 11th in regular season team roping heeler standings with $68,842. Qualifying for the NFR four times, Hawkins was fifth in the 2020 yearend world standings with $160,180 including $96,308 won at the NFR. Long won the 2021 National Circuit Finals Rodeo, Kissimmee, Florida, with Andrew Ward, Edmond, Oklahoma as his header. Ward is 12th in the regular season team roping header standings with $68,842.
Jess Pope, Waverly, won the 2020 National Finals Rodeo bareback bronc riding finishing sixth in the 2020 Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association yearend bareback bronc riding standings. He’s going into the 2021 NFR at Las Vegas in sixth place regular season standings.
Jake Long, Coffeyville, has qualified for his 11th National Finals Rodeo in team roping heeling going into the 2021 Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association world championship finale sixth in regular season standings.