By ALAN SNEL
They stormed Thomas & Mack Center, packed the main concourse and then moved to their seats as gentleman cowboys and lady cowgirls.
About 17,000 rodeo fans — mostly from the western U.S. — consumed everything from Coors beer to tequila to whiskey along the concourse bars. But once they found their red seats and the first night of the National Finals Rodeo commenced, the main concourse stood deserted much like the ghost towns you see in Nevada’s back country.
The exhausted bartenders counted their bills and savored the down time after the cattle rush of thirsty NFR fans.
“It gives us a breather,” Thomas & Mack bartender Greg Chiuppi said. “This is an event you want to watch. But they do come to party before and after.”
LVSportsBiz.com has been to just about every sport you can play in a stadium or arena and I’m here to tell you NFR fans are not leaving their seats once the bareback riders, saddle bronc riders, steer wrestlers and team ropers hit the dirt and the competition begins.
“We have the most loyal fans in sports,” PRCA Commissioner Karl Stressman said.
The contestants notice the packed sections at Thomas & Mack, which will host the sold out NFR for the next nine nights after Thursday’s opening day. By the end, the total attendance will push 170,000.
In fact, Thomas and Mack Executive Director Mike Newcomb told LVSportsBiz.com that tonight’s crowd was 600 more than the crowd of last year’s first night.
While you will see anywhere from 10 to 20 percent of a crowd in an arena or stadium circulating the venue to socialize or get drinks, the NFR fans stay glued to their UNLV Rebel red seats.
The NFR performance of 120 contestants vying for gold buckles is run so efficiently that you will miss a bunch of bull riders or barrel racers if you run to the bar for a Coors or whiskey.
“This is the most intense sport, more than football, basketball and hockey,” said 2016 bareback world champion Tim O’Connell who has total world earnings of $225,243. “Fans never leave their seats because you never know what will happen.”
But once the two-hour nightly show ends, the fans will be back in party mode.
There are 54 post-performance concerts during the 10 days of NFR and 35 watch parties at hotel-casinos from The D in downtown to South Point.
And if you’re curious about how an arena known for Runnin’ Rebel basketball was transformed into the home of the Super Bowl of rodeos for the next 10 days, check this out.
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