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Coronavirus could buck NFR off Las Vegas’ December calendar

It has been a rough fortnight for local sports. A pandemic virus that was supposed to be under control has again reared its ugly, multipronged head.

The Aviators’ season has been canceled, and there went the chance to build on the momentum generated by last season’s record-setting attendance at Las Vegas Ballpark.

Then, because many who live here showed a greater reluctance to wear a face mask than the pro football punters of the 1960s, the Canadian outposts of

Toronto and Edmonton appear to be picked ahead of Las Vegas as an NHL biosphere.

The NBA Summer League was supposed to tip off Sunday at the Thomas & Mack Center and Cox Pavilion. It, too, was preempted by the coronavirus.

No shirt, no shoes, no social distance, no sports. Those who preach the gospel continue to ask for an amen or a hallelujah or even a cursory yeehaw, when none seems to be forthcoming.

Before too much longer, the National Finals Rodeo also may have to make some difficult decisions.

With the first yeehaw not scheduled until Dec. 3, time is still on the side of Las Vegas’ most time-honored and lucrative sporting events. But evidence is mounting that the NFR also may soon find itself in the COVID-19 crosshairs.

To whom it may concern

George Taylor, CEO of the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association, wrote a letter to his constituents dated July 3. Above the salutation, it stated the 2020 Wrangler NFR and hootenanny still is scheduled Dec. 3-12 in Las Vegas.

The body of the letter did not include such an assurance.

It said there had been 156 rodeos this year, but that another 251 had been canceled because of the virus.

Wrote Taylor: “The most asked question is ‘Can you guarantee that we will have an NFR?’ Be assured that the PRCA Board of Directors and Las Vegas continue to be committed to having an NFR. Please be confident that we will crown the world champions in 2020.”

The commissioner’s tap dance put one in mind of Fred Astaire and Bill “Bojangles” Robinson. And of kids asking their mother if they could go for ice cream after dinner, and their mom saying “We’ll see.”

Taylor could not be reached for additional comment. But with this virus still snorting like Bodacious the bull in the bucking chute, what more could he say?

Full house required?

“It’s a fluid situation with this pandemic. It’s going to dictate what we do,” Las Vegas Events president Pat Christenson said of keeping doggies moving and whatnot come December. “Our hope is that we’re doing a fully attended NFR. As we get closer and if that’s not possible, we’re going to have to look at options.”

If those include putting on a rodeo without a full complement of spectators, it would substantially reduce the NFR’s economic impact on Las Vegas that is conservatively estimated at $200 million — a bounty that will keep a lot of doggies moving around here, especially if the football betting season is postponed or canceled.

That’s why Las Vegas ponied up when Dallas and Kissimmee, Florida, loaded up their six-guns and tried to lure away the NFR in 2014.

But without visitors from Texas and other rodeo states where they attach steer horns to Cadillacs, we might as well have let Kissimmee have it, if for no other reason than to give the college kids down there something to do after they infect the beaches.

The Cowboy Christmas and whiskey revenue are probably 95 percent of the reason the T&M is willingly transformed into the O.K. Corral during a slow time for tourism. No affront to the competitors, but without those discretionary dollars changing hands, the NFR is just another rodeo, at least to those who count the money.

“There is no single event that has a bigger impact on Las Vegas than the National Finals Rodeo,” Christenson said of the NFR’s indisputable relevance to Las Vegas’ bottom line and of dispatching the UNLV basketball team to Northern Arizona or some place similar for two weeks of road games during December.

In his letter to the cowboys, Taylor closed by reiterating, “There remains a shared understanding and commitment to closing out the year with the National Finals Rodeo.”

For now, that’s about as close to a yeehaw as we’re probably going to get.

Contact Ron Kantowski at rkantowski@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0352. Follow @ronkantowski on Twitter.

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