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New brand in rodeo won’t hinder NFR’s popularity

It seemed, for a couple of rocky weeks in December 2013, that the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo would haul out of Las Vegas for the greener pastures of Osceola County in central Florida. Las Vegas tourism officials and the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association eventually pulled the reins on that deal, negotiating a last-minute contract extension to keep the event in Las Vegas through 2024.

But during those negotiations, when it appeared as if the NFR would head for the shadow of Disney World in Orlando, Las Vegas officials seriously considered staging a new rodeo for the sport’s top athletes. The event would be gritty but flashy in a Vegas sort of way, lucrative for contestants and sponsors alike and would easily fill the void if and when the NFR bucked out of town.

That Vegas rodeo never happened, of course, with the return of the NFR. But three years on, such an event is butting heads with this year’s NFR, beginning Thursday night and running through Dec. 10 at the Thomas & Mack Center. The Elite Rodeo Athletes contingent has lassoed (no shortage of ranch puns here) many of the sport’s top stars — including 13-time PRCA all-around world champ Trevor Brazile and bareback star Bobby Mote, a four-time PRCA world champion who happens to be ERA’s interim president.

Created by some of the sport’s leading competitors as a way to earn more money with a less-stringent schedule, the ERA finished its five-day inaugural championship event in Dallas on Nov. 13. The timeline would allow contestants to hop on a plane to Vegas and take part in the NFR, but the PRCA is not allowing its athletes to toggle between the ERA and its own sanctioned events.

As a result, the NFR field, simply from a competition standpoint, is lacking some major horsepower. Brazile, Mote, and such ERA event winners as Chandler Bownds (bull riding), Bray Armes (steer wrestling), Clay Tryan and Jade Corkill (team roping), Cort Scheer (saddle bronc), Lisa Lockhart (barrel racing), Shane Hanchey (tie-down roping) and Steven Dent (bareback riding) are ineligible to participate.

But the PRCA remains resolute. The depth of its card-carrying contestants is such that any event is brimming with star-quality athletes.

“The talent pool we have goes much deeper than the top 15 guys in each event,” PRCA commissioner Karl Stressman says. “All the guys who win in Las Vegas, and the women in barrel racing, can compete at the highest level. Just in terms of competition, we will be great. You will see a 90-point bull ride and 86-point bareback ride, or a 4-second team roping score, just as often as ever this year.”

Stressman does offer, “In terms of personalities, of course, individuals will be missed. But the finals, this year, sold out faster than any in the past 31 years.”

Stressman attended a PRCA rodeo at the Fort Bend County Fair in Rosenberg, Texas, this summer. Eight kids who had competed in the youth bareback competition, all ages 7 and 8, asked to have their photo taken with the commissioner.

“In 10 years, we’re all going to be in Vegas,” one of the kids said to Stressman. “And we’ll show you this photo.”

He didn’t need to point out the kids said “Vegas” as their goal. In rodeo, that destination is still self-evident.

TOY STORY

Chet Buchanan, one of the great emcees/auctioneers in VegasVille, is hosting the annual KLUC Toy Drive beginning Thursday morning at NV Energy on West Sahara Avenue, just west of Jones Boulevard. Buchanan is spending his 16th holiday season perched on a 30-foot scaffold, sleeping in a tent, to collect toys and bicycles for needy kids on behalf of HELP of Southern Nevada.

NEW NAME FOR SIN CITY

Given that the Sin City Comedy show has moved across the Planet Hollywood mezzanine floor to The Cabaret, the theater itself is being re-titled in January. Crazy Girls Theater is the title, named for the famous adult revue in the venue. That happens Jan. 1.

MARRIAGE-MURDER ACTION

A little show that could, “Marriage Can Be Murder” at The D Las Vegas, is updating its plot with a holiday twist beginning Monday. The show plays nightly at 6:30, offering the interactive performance, a three-course dinner, and one staged homicide.

John Katsilometes’ column runs Saturday, Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday in the A section, and Fridays in Neon. He also hosts “Kats! On The Radio” Wednesdays at 8 p.m. on KUNV 91.5-FM and appears Wednesdays at 11 a.m. with Dayna Roselli on KTNV Channel 13. Contact him at jkatsilometes@reviewjournal.com. Follow @johnnykats on Twitter, @JohnnyKats1 on Instagram.

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