Bigger in Texas: National Finals Rodeo moves to Texas for a year, amid COVID-19 pandemic
The yellow chutes will be the same, but other than that, it’ll be a new feel for the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo this year.
Due to COVID-19, the WNFR will take place in Arlington, Texas at Globe Life Field, where Major League Baseball’s Texas Rangers play. It will be Dec. 3-12, with all of the same ancillary events that fans expect during the ten-plus day event in Las Vegas.
Tickets for the rodeo have been on sale for season ticket holders and went on sale to the public September 25. They are sold in “pods” of four, with cancelled seats around them, to allow for social distancing. Ticket buyers will also be required to purchase either four, six or all ten performances at a time; no single performance sales will be offered.
They are priced at four levels: gold buckle ($250); plaza plus ($150); plaza ($95), lower balcony ($75) and balcony ($50) (prices per performance.)
Those same yellow chutes will be in use at Globe Life Field, plus a few more, for a total of twelve chutes, said Tom Glause, chief operating officer of the PRCA. The team roping and steer wrestling boxes will be on the third base line and the tie-down roping box will be on the first base line, with the bucking chutes in between.
The Globe Life Field is less than a year old, built to replace the old Globe Life Park. It is 1.8 million square feet, with a five and a half acre-sized retractable roof, said Shawn Decker, executive vice-president of sports and entertainment for the Texas Rangers, noting that if the weather is nice enough, the roof will be open for the Wrangler NFR. Otherwise, rodeo fans, he said, will be treated to a 72 degree atmosphere each night.
The amenities at the field include varied eating and drinking establishments, including a wine bar, a speak easy, a brewing company, and other things “that take (entertainment) to the next level,” Decker said.
The field is permanent artificial turf, but with several layers of protection, 250 loads of locally sourced soil will be brought in for the arena, Glause said, It’s a bigger arena than the Thomas and Mack, measuring about 220 feet from the bucking chutes to the end of the arena, he said.
The rodeo bucking horses and bulls and the cattle will be housed on a lot near Globe Field. It’s a grassy area, Glause said, with some blacktop that, if needed, will be covered with soil. Holding pens will be set up.
An area for Wrangler NFR contestants to stall horses hadn’t been announced yet.
The National Finals includes dozens of related events, and the PRCA plans on hosting their share of them. As of press time, it was not announced where they will be held, but the PRCA convention, the Gold Buckle Gala, the back number ceremony, the Awards Banquet, the nightly buckle presentations, Benny Binion’s World Famous Bucking Horse and Bull Sale, the Permit Challenge, Cowboy Christmas and the Pro Rodeo League of Women Style Show and Luncheon will all take place. It has been rumored that the Ft. Worth Stockyards will be home to many of these events. Glause said exact locations hadn’t been determined yet.
Cowboy Christmas will be held at the Ft. Worth Convention Center, twenty minutes from Globe Life Field. Two-hundred-fifty exhibitors will be on hand, with free admission to the show.
Glause said there is no shortage of hotel rooms in the Ft. Worth/Arlington area. He estimates it takes 4,500 room nights to house NFR contestants, stock contractors, contract personnel, and other help. For NFR attendees, it’s about 100,000 room nights. “There’s a sufficient supply of hotel rooms,” he said.
For the 120 or so cowboys and cowgirls competing in Arlington, the big news is purse money. In Las Vegas, the NFR annual purse was $10 million; a million each night. In Arlington, it is guaranteed at $6 million with a chance for it to increase.
“Everything on the dollars will be reduced by about forty percent,” PRCA chief executive officer George Taylor told Kendra Santos in a Team Roping Journal article on September 16.
But points and dollars are divorced this year; even though the paychecks for first through sixth places will be sixty percent of what they were in Las Vegas, the winners will be awarded points on the full amount.
There was a good reason behind this, Taylor said. “The few big rodeos we did have basically over-influenced the outcome of the regular season.” The cowboys who won the super-big rodeos before the COVID shutdown had an advantage over the rest of the field. With $10 million in “points” at the NFR, there’s a chance for anyone to win a world title.
There’s also the opportunity that the payout will increase, Glause said. Depending on ticket sales and suite sales, the PRCA may be able to expand the purse closer to its normal $10 million. Ticket sales are “very brisk,” Glause said, and although suites haven’t gone on sale yet, “it appears there’s a good demand for them as well. They generate a lot of ticket revenue,” he said.
There’s also a chance that the allocated 15,000 in tickets to be sold for the Wrangler NFR could be increased or decreased, depending on COVID guidelines as December approaches. And if more tickets can be sold, that could increase the purse money, too.
Taylor told the Team Roping Journal, “I’m cautiously optimistic that we’re going to get a $10 million payoff. We’ll raise the purse if we can find a financially responsible way to do it. But I can’t imperil the (PRCA).”
The NFR returns to Las Vegas next year, Glause said, and a year was added to the contract, to make it five more years, through 2025. The NFR was first held in Dallas from 1959 through 1961, before it moved to Los Angeles, Calif. for three years, and then it moved to Oklahoma City before it settled in Vegas in 1985.
Glause was working on hundreds of small details that needed to be ironed out, but his gut feeling was one of excitement. “The amount of energy and excitement that we’re seeing and that has been generated is overwhelming,” he said. “It will be the complete NFR experience in Texas.”
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