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oNline Where tO Wrangler National Finals Rodeo Live online: 2015 Start Time, Live Stream, Score video radio coverage.

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nfrrrfRee__.Wrangler National Finals Rodeo Live online: 2015 TV Schedule, Start Time, Live Stream, Score and Info.

Two years ago, the threat of major change loomed over the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo. All parties involved were trying to hammer out a deal to keep the event in Las Vegas, but the prospect of a cross-country move to Orlando, Fla., loomed thick.

WATCH ON HERE – National Finals Rodeo 2015

As it turned out, there was indeed change. But as the cliche goes, the more things change, the more they stay the same — and in this case, very much for the better.

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The 2015 WNFR flies out of the chute tonight at the Thomas & Mack Center, marking the venue’s 31st year as host of the 10-day Super Bowl of Rodeo. More important, it marks the start of a new 10-year contract that will keep the cowboys and cowgirls coming back to Vegas at least through 2024.

WATCH ON HERE – National Finals Rodeo 2015

“That was probably a difficult year for everybody,” PRCA Commissioner Karl Stressman said of the 2013 negotiations. “There was lots going at the time, and it served its purpose. Through the whole process, the idea of moving the WNFR was real. But the choice for everybody was to come to a sensible solution and keep it in Vegas.

“This year is the beginning of another 10-year run. The money is up for contestants, contract personnel, people behind the scenes — everybody’s seeing an increase in compensation.”

And since world championships are based on which contestants have the most money at the end of the season — in this case, after the WNFR’s 10th go-round on Dec. 12 — that’s pretty important. The increase in prize money is quite significant: In 2014, the last year of the previous contract, the total purse was $6.375 million, spread over the seven events — bareback riding, steer wrestling, team roping, saddle bronc riding, tie-down roping, barrel racing and bull riding. This year, the purse leaps to $8.8 million.

That means more than $1 million will be won in each event over the next 10 days. The top 15 money earners in each event from the 2015 regular season make it to the WNFR, and though it’s no surprise that tie-down and team roper Trevor Brazile is well in position to grab his 13th all-around world title, Stressman envisions a scenario in which someone could surge from the bottom to the top during the WNFR.

“I think the biggest and most fun thing is the races for the world championships. They won’t be secure until the 10th performance,” Stressman said. “The increased purse money will keep those open till the end. I believe with the added money, we’ll see guys coming from the 12th, 13th, 14th hole that absolutely have a great shot at winning that gold buckle.”

Indeed, per usual, it will be 10 action-filled, sold-out nights at the T&M. But both the PRCA and Las Vegas Events — the key players in keeping the WNFR here — stressed that one of the biggest draws of staying is all the ancillary goings-on throughout the city. Las Vegas literally becomes Cowboy Town for 10 days every December, with more offerings every year.

“I was at the Thomas & Mack in 1985, when the NFR moved there from Oklahoma City,” said Pat Christenson, president of Las Vegas Events. “I was there the first couple of years, and it didn’t sell out. Then it sold out the next eight to 10 years, with a couple of casinos involved. But it really started to gain a lot of steam when we created the NFR Experience.”

The idea was to export the arena experience to hotel properties up and down the Strip and all over town.

“Hotels create a custom western lifestyle experience, catering to the fans,” Christenson said. “Slowly but surely, we grew from eight or nine hotels to now more than 40. Forty-two hotels carry the nightly satellite feed (of the WNFR), and 22 of those are full-fledged NFR sponsors. They have year-round promotions of these different custom experiences.”

What that means is that, for the many thousands of fans who can’t get tickets to the perpetually sold-out rodeo, dozens of other opportunities exist to take in the action or otherwise have a great time, making it worthwhile to come to Vegas, regardless.

“The reason the WNFR continues to grow is we probably have two or three times as many people here without tickets as with tickets,” Christenson said. “And it’s not just about the viewing parties, it’s about the custom experiences created by the hotels. They’ve started putting viewing parties in showrooms, with food and giveaways. I don’t think there’s anything like it in sports. You’re getting the live feed of what’s going on, with the rodeo announcers. It’s like you’re at the arena.

“And then some of the cowboys, after they compete, go to the viewing parties. You don’t see that in other sports.”

In other sports, you also don’t see related competitions taking place at other venues. But during the WNFR, the South Point hosts the seven-day World Series of Team Roping, with 3,700 teams competing for more than $10 million in prize money beginning Monday. And this year, the Orleans will host a new rodeo, the Boyd Gaming Chute-Out from Dec. 10-12, featuring the same seven events being contested at the WNFR.

“If you do that in any other city, you probably do pretty well,” Christenson said. “But the reason it does so well here is that [contestants and fans] get to do the whole WNFR experience.”

The additional competitions just add more to what Christenson said has become a three-shift Wild West experience in Vegas. There’s the day shift, highlighted by the newly expanded shopping, entertainment and interactive experience of Cowboy Christmas at the Las Vegas Convention Center’s South Hall; the evening shift of each night’s rodeo at the Thomas & Mack and all those concurrent viewing parties; and the after-dark shift of concerts, buckle awards ceremonies, parties and more.

“All of that literally makes up the NFR Experience,” Christenson said. “Every year, we add these new events, we get more hotels involved and more people come to town. The key to the NFR Experience is that every year you come here, all these hotels are creating their own spin-off events.”

Added Stressman: “People come without ever having tickets because of what Las Vegas has done to magnify the rodeo. The relationship between the PRCA, the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, Las Vegas Events and the city of Las Vegas is absolutely cemented. The atmosphere the city has created is like nothing else in the world.”

Still, there’s no denying that atmosphere is at its peak within the Thomas & Mack Center, for 10 nights of riding, roping and wrestling.

“As we get toward the end, it will become even more exciting, because of the generosity of Las Vegas Events and the money involved,” Stressman said. “That last weekend is gonna be phenomenal competition.”

About Don Martinez

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