Call me naive, but I don’t see the cowboys pulling up their boots and cattle making for Orlando with the National Finals Rodeo. They are not trading bikini bull riding and gambling for Mickey Mouse and the beach.
The rodeo has become synonymous with Las Vegas, like the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans, or the Rose Bowl in Pasadena.
But then again, maybe I’m wrong. Maybe they will leave. Having been in many relationships and married twice, I’m not a good judge of who may stay, or who is willing to leave.
A day after it was first reported that the rodeo was going to rest their December spurs in another town, the operators of the rodeo boot-scooted back just as quickly. The chairman of the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association pulled back on the reigns in the Review-Journal and said, “Whoa, hold on partner. We ain’t packed the trailers just yet.” Well, that’s not exactly what he said, but it was essentially that.
What the rodeo folks are trying to do is get the best deal out of their hosts, which is understandable. What better way to up the ante than swing another town around as bait. The Las Vegas Events folks and their allies, for their part, are threatening the ol’, “Fine. Go. We’ll do our own rodeo that will be better than your stupid rodeo” stance. But while both sides are trying their hand at gamesmanship, make no mistake: If the rodeo leaves the economic loss here would be felt almost immediately, even in downtown Las Vegas.
While the event is held in Clark County at the Thomas & Mack, the city of Las Vegas and Fremont Street reap the benefits of the rodeo’s 10-day stay. The Golden Nugget hosted a series of high-priced, two-night concerts during the rodeo with Gretchen Wilson, Merle Haggard, Dwight Yoakam and Willie Nelson. Country music acts perform on the various Fremont Street Experience stages, drawing hundreds of rodeo and country fans with fat wallets to eat and drink downtown.
The weeks after Thanksgiving to New Year’s Eve are a down time for the tourism industry in Las Vegas. Rooms at the El Cortez were going for $18 and $25 at the Four Queens on Tuesday night. With the rodeo gone, there is just no demand for rooms this week.
As we said in our “Snark Week” last week, the rodeo generated $60.1 million in nongaming revenue in 2012. The Review-Journal said Tuesday that the rodeo has drawn 1.06 million visitors between 1985-2012, including 52,925 last year. There is nothing as big that could refill that loss in the immediate future. December in Las Vegas without 10-gallon hats roaming downtown is hard to envision.
Maybe Las Vegas Events and their partners could launch another rodeo, but would it be the same draw without the sanctioning body of the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association? Would enough riders and fans come to keep the $60 million flowing into our tax base? Would the cowboy hats be stacked as deep downtown, eight miles away from the Thomas & Mack?
I hope Las Vegas Events and their allies are able to pony up whatever the rodeo folks are looking for to keep them here. In a town of extravagant price tags, paying this bill is beyond worth it.
ARNOLD M. KNIGHTLY is the editor of CityLife and has never been to a rodeo. Follow him on Twitter @KnightlyGrind