Horse racing fans have two minutes of excitement every May with their Kentucky Derby. NFL fans have several hours of thrills every February with their Big Game. But rodeo fans have ten nights of action every December with their National Finals Rodeo (NFR) in Las Vegas. It is not only cowboys who come to seek their fame and fortune as one of the finalists competing for top cowboy. Hundreds of vendors compete to be part of the Cowboy Christmas Gift Show, which fills the North Halls of the Las Vegas Convention Center for ten days.
Las Vegas has been the host of the NFR since 1985. Each year the NFR Experience has grown in scope and variety. Of course, the main draw is the rodeo itself, where the nation’s top cowboys and cowgirls compete for 10 straight nights at the Thomas & Mack Center at the University of Las Vegas. Over 17,000 sell out the arena every night. But the event has grown to include special events and entertainment throughout the city.
Rodeo fans come prepared to shop. While satellite experiences (e.g., Cowboy Marketplace Gift Show at Mandalay Bay, the NRS Shopping Experience at the MGM), the most popular event is Cowboy Christmas. Anything western that anyone can think of (from furniture to clothing to art to food to RVs) is available. Trades range from traditional (e.g., western and wildlife art) to the unique (barbed wire art).
Arizona is represented, both in the arena (e.g. Derrick Begay and Cesar de La Cruz, team ropers, and Sherry Cervi, a barrel racer who is the top earner on the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association circuit), and at Cowboy Christmas. Some vendors are long-time, regulars. La Paloma, which sells western clothing and jewelry, and is located in Tucson, has been at the show for 25 years.
There are newcomers, too. Bela Zoltan Lestar, from Tempe, used to be in construction. Two and a half years ago, when the recession had slowed the construction industry, he came up with the idea of creating “tube art,” which are artistic candleholders, luminaries and yard art, made of steel tubing. “This is my second year Arizona Tube Art, has been at Cowboy Christmas,” he said. “This is a great venue for our art.”
NFR and Cowboy Christmas help contribute to two of the biggest revenue weeks for Las Vegas. Vendors are happy that the US economy is recovering and with it the enthusiasm and crowds that are attending this year’s NFR Experience December 5-14, 2013.