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The National Finals Rodeo

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The National Finals Rodeo

The logo for the 2012 National Finals Rodeo.

Image © Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association
The National Finals Rodeo is the ultimate goal for professional rodeo cowboys and cowgirls. This 10-day extravaganza is jam-packed with the top 15 contestants in each rodeo event, and competitors battle it out for the title of "World Champion." Rodeo enthusiasts from around the country descend on fabulous Las Vegas, Nevada to cheer on their favorite contestants and enjoy one of the most exciting sports on the planet.

Road to the NFR

The National Finals Rodeo, commonly abbreviated as the NFR, is the Super Bowl of the rodeo world. Only the best of the best make it to the finals, and the 15 contestants with the highest earnings for the season are offered an invitation to the NFR. The season starts at the beginning of October, and competitors ride in as many rodeos as possible until the cutoff in September of the following year. Pursuing a spot in the NFR is a full-time job, and contestants pour their heart and souls into each performance in an attempt to make it into the top 15. The more events a cowboy enters, the more chances he has to win prize money and secure a spot in the National Finals Rodeo. Some contestants enter two or three rodeos every single week in order to make it to the NFR. Travel is mandatory for rodeo contestants, and it's not unusual for cowboys and cowgirls to team up and travel together, taking shifts behind the wheel to make it to every rodeo on time. Rough stock riders don't have to worry about hauling horses from rodeo to rodeo, and often hop on a plane to cut down on travel time.

National Finals Rodeo Structure

The National Finals Rodeo is unlike any other rodeo in the world. 10 individual rodeos are held over 10 consecutive nights, and each contestant gets a single run each evening. The money that each contestant wins during each of the 10 runs is added to the total they had coming into the NFR. In addition to the money earned each night, the contestants compete to win the average. The average is just what it sounds like; an average score taken from the competitor's 10 nightly runs. In rough stock events, the cowboy with the most successful runs and highest average point total is awarded a bonus. Timed-event competitors strive to have the most completed runs with the lowest average time. Winning the average can make or break the leader board, and more than one cowboy has come from behind and taken the championship just by being consistent and winning the average.

Take it All In

Las Vegas transforms into rodeo central for 10 days at the beginning of December, and marquees all over town are dotted with the names of famous cowboys, cowgirls, and celebrities that flock to town to enjoy the festivities. Entertainers host special concerts at venues across the city, and tourists spend their days looking for celebrities and their nights watching a flurry of hard-running, fast-spinning rough stock. The Thomas and Mack center has been home to the NFR since 1985, and fans flock to the stadium for each of the 10 nightly performances. The stadium itself is a buzz with contestants and spectators alike, and people pack into their seats to see the best rodeo contestants in the world compete for ultimate glory. Hundreds of vendors set up shop throughout the stadium, selling everything from authentic cowboy boots to stick horses for the little rodeo fans. Food vendors produce a plethora of appetizing meals, and keep cold soda and frosty beer on tap to keep stomachs happy throughout the evening. The earthy scent of horses and cattle drifts into the stands, making the National Finals Rodeo a full sensory experience.

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