The National Finals Rodeo is under way down in Texas — wait, what?? That's right, this is Arlington's first-ever NFR, but not the city's first rodeo, so to speak.
The world’s biggest stage for riding, roping and wrestling is saddled up inside a billion-dollar barn built for Rangers -- and adjusted on the fly during a pandemic.
How did we get here? Rewind to three months ago when a lot of people didn’t know if the sport’s Super Bowl was feasible. That included ProRodeo. But when the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association blasted out a fan survey, the instant and overwhelming response was, ‘Let’s do this. You build it, we will travel.’
In a one-year-only sale due to COVID restrictions, they hauled the Finals from Las Vegas — a UNLV Thomas & Mack Center with seating capacity just less than 20,000 — to a Major League Baseball stadium that invites just more than 40,000. The MLB's Texas Rangers are actually hosting this NFR and they know how to throw a big party. After all, they just entertained the World Series in October.
ProRodeo could’ve hosted in Vegas but without fans. Knowing they could spread out die-hards inside a bigger stadium, they made about 14,000 tickets available nightly. It’s a 10-night rodeo. Every round sold out in less than a couple hours back in late September. Tickets were sold in pods of four to give fans space and all were bought online. Plus, all tickets are electronic so there’s less worry about the contact of changing hands.
Rodeo faithful in attendance weren’t disappointed in Thursday night’s opener.
Cool story here: This guy, Richmond Champion, won the first round of bareback with 87.5 points. He’s a Texas native who moved to Montana with his wife. She’s Canadian and wanted to reside closer to home.
“Whenever you can win a round it is a great feeling," Champion told reporters after Round 1. "To know that you have nine more opportunities and you already have a buckle under your belt it’s a great feeling. This rodeo is all about momentum, so if you get it don’t let off the gas.”
With his Thursday night spin Champion became the first contestant to win an NFR round in Texas since 1961. He also won the opening round of last year’s NFR in Las Vegas.
“I don’t know that doing that sunk in,” he said. “There are so many blessings just to come and have an NFR and to be able to ride for this kind of money in a rough year for everybody. Then, to start on top feels really good. This was exciting and the kind of stuff you dream about when you think about the NFR and here I am living it.”
Fans said they’d travel to watch these world-class contestants chase childhood dreams and they've clearly kept their word. One round down, nine to go at the new-look National Finals Rodeo.