Back in the 1980s, as Oldsmobile tried to become more hip with a younger crowd, the car company came up with a new commercial slogan: “This is not your father’s Oldsmobile.”
Alas, the slogan never really caught on, and Oldsmobile ceased production in 2004, after 106 years.
But you could apply that same slogan to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo – “This is not your father’s NFR” – and it would ring with truth, accurately describing the tremendous growth and innovation of the event at the Thomas & Mack Center, which has hosted the Wrangler NFR since 1985.
Yes, the main attraction is just as your father and perhaps your grandfather remember it: incredible action and standout performances from elite rodeo athletes on the arena dirt. But these days, don’t think for a moment that you’ve got to be in your seat to be entertained – before, during and after each go-round.
Just as the Wrangler NFR has expanded to include ancillary events at all hours, all around town, so has it expanded with the daily main course at this buffet of rodeo. The experience starts before fans even enter the arena, with the ProRodeo Zone, featuring sponsor-activation tents and live music, and the NFR Fan Zone, featuring the PRCA and Wrangler NFR merchandise trailer, along with plenty of food and beverage options.
Enhancing the pre-rodeo experience even more, two video boards on the face of the arena provide Wrangler NFR moments, highlight videos, interactive content and contestant interviews. But the continuing evolution of The Shoe, a 36,000-square-foot hospitality area at the northwest end of the arena, is what most excites Las Vegas Events president Pat Christenson.
“We’ve upgraded The Shoe. CBS Sports Network is doing a live broadcast before the event each night, and outside, RFD-TV will do a live show, ‘NFR Countdown,’” Christenson said, noting The Shoe also includes interactive areas and a 2,500-square-foot glass-enclosed balcony with a Strip view. “The experience at the Thomas & Mack continues to grow and evolve in each of our interactive areas – the plaza, The Shoe, Cowboy Corral and the Bull & Barrel Saloon.”
The Cowboy Corral takes over Cox Pavilion throughout the Wrangler NFR, with live music both before and after the rodeo each night, a massive bar and plenty of space to sit and relax or kick up your heels to a variety of country music artists. Next to the Cowboy Corral is the Bull & Barrel Saloon, with its own bar and food service, along with a Hall of Champions that pays tribute to past Wrangler NFR greats.
“You’ve got all that before you even get to the rodeo,” Christenson said. “Then there’s the $75 million upgrade of the Thomas & Mack Center over the past few years. Getting in and out of the arena is a much better process.”
But again, the nightly competition at the Thomas & Mack remains the centerpiece, the reason this event has sold out all 10 nights every year since 1987. This year is just providing even more reasons to go to the rodeo.
“The things we’ve added really encourage people to get here early, because there’s always something to do,” Christenson said.
And unlike the Oldsmobile, the Wrangler NFR isn’t going away.