National Finals Rodeo Annual Prize Money Tops $10 Million
The National Finals Rodeo is the season-ending championship event for the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association and is widely acknowledged to be the world’s premier rodeo. The Las Vegas Review-Journal simply calls it the “Super Bowl of Rodeo.”
The annual 10-day event, held at the Thomas & Mack Center at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, in Paradise, Nevada, offers an annual prize purse to competitors worth over $10 million. In total, the PCRA has awarded more than $182 million to competitors at the event over the years.
National Finals Rodeo History
The first National Finals Rodeo was held in 1959 to determine the world champion in each of rodeo’s seven main events, according to the 2021 National Finals Rodeo website. Those events are: calf roping, steer wrestling, bull riding, saddle bronc riding, bareback bronc riding, and team roping.
The first NFR was held in Dallas, which hosted the event until 1961. From 1962 through 1964, Los Angeles was the host site for the competition, which then moved to Oklahoma City in 1965. Oklahoma City remained the venue until 1984 when it was outbid by Las Vegas, which has hosted the rodeo ever since.
The key to all of the moves—especially the final relocation of the rodeo to Las Vegas—was prize money: Las Vegas was simply willing and able to offer a lot more money to rodeo winners than previous host venues had ponied up.
Dallas to Las Vegas
The first NFR rodeo in Dallas paid riders a total of $50,000, according to “The Evolution of the National Finals Rodeo,” published in Western Horse & Gun magazine. The total prize purse climbed steadily if slowly, topping out at $900,000 for the final Oklahoma City event in 1984. In 1985, the NFR’s first year in Las Vegas, the total prize purse jumped to $1.8 million.
As the NFR’s total prize purse grew year by year, individual competitors eventually began to shatter records for winnings at the rodeo championship. At the 2001 National Finals Rodeo, Rope Myers won nearly $118,000 over the course of the 10-day event. In 2011, Trevor Brazile won more than $211,000 at that year’s NFR, shattering the record for most money won at a single rodeo. The amount was also four times the total prize purse awarded to all competitors at the first NFR.
Prize Money Climbs
The total prize purse swelled to $6.375 million by 2014, with the average prize for individual event grand champions jumping to nearly $50,000. Indeed, NFR competitors can win far more money at the single December event than they would for an entire season.“The biggest lead a guy can have coming in (to the NFR) is about $50,000,” said Sage Kimzey, a bull rider, who won $174,466 at the 2014 NFR. “You can kick everybody’s butt all year long, but if you come (to the NFR) and don’t have a good finals, you’re not even going to be in the top 10.”
In 2014, Las Vegas signed a new contract with the PCRA guaranteeing a total annual NFR prize purse of at least $10 million. The contract extends through 2024. In 2021, the average winnings for each first-place event finisher were more than $67,000, and that figure is expected to jump to between $76,000 and $77,000.
With its increasing prize purse—especially compared to how much fewer competitors make the rest of the rodeo season—the NFR has become the biggest annual event for rodeo, to a much greater degree than the Super Bowl is for professional football and the World Series is for baseball. The total purse remains at $10 million through the 2021 event, and then it increases each year through 2024.