We all now know that the 2020 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo will be held December 3-12 at Globe Life Field in Arlington, which is the state-of-the-art home to professional baseball’s Texas Rangers. Since that announcement, the cowboy community buzz has naturally been about the bottom line. Who better to help us sift through rodeo’s rumor mill and set the record straight on the payoff at NFR 2020 than Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association Chief Executive Officer George Taylor?

According to Taylor, the 2020 NFR will pay a minimum of $6 million, with every effort being made to reach the recent-times standard of $10 million between now and December. If it sticks, that’s $4 million less than it’s been shelling out in Las Vegas the last few years. But it’s a strong start next to what could have been no NFR at all in these trying COVID-19 times.

“Everything on the dollars will be reduced by about 40 percent,” Taylor said. “And for the first time, dollars and points are disconnected. We wanted contestants to know that there are still 10 million points available at the NFR. So if you come in 15th you still have the same shot at a world championship as if it were paying $10 million.”

Trevor Brazile is masked up and ready for the 2020 NFR at the Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas.

Trevor Brazile is masked up and ready for the 2020 NFR at the Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas.

With so few of rodeo’s richest regular-season rodeos contested in this year of coronavirus cancellations, Taylor’s thought on this is that keeping money and points equal would too strongly favor the front-runners, some of whom had just one big win in the early going of 2020. With no Reno, Cheyenne, Salinas or Pendleton, to name just a few of the big rodeos we’ve all missed dearly this year, catching the early-season leaders has proven a tall task.

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“The few big rodeos we did have basically over-influenced the outcome of the regular season,” Taylor said. “Wyatt Casper said something along the lines of, ‘If I win the world, I don’t want to win it with an asterisk.’ Here’s a guy with a pretty good-sized lead (in the world standings), who still represents the cowboy spirit of wanting things to be fair.”

To keep it super simple and prevent every person reading this from having to do the math, Casper actually won $600,000 in March for winning the saddle bronc riding at The American at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, including his half of the $1 million side pot for qualifiers who weren’t seeded into the rodeo based on their 2019 finish. Casper split the million with tie-down roper Shad Mayfield. In Casper’s case, the $50,000 of his American earnings that counted toward the world standings has him on top by $35,507 more than next-in-line Ryder Wright.

Not all leads have proven insurmountable. Luke Brown and Joseph Harrison won $100,000 a man at The American, with $50,000 of that counting toward the world standings. As of today, defending World Champion Header Clay Smith has pulled within right at $20,000 of Luke’s lead. But Smith’s 2020 heeler, Jade Corkill, has managed to pass Harrison by a little over $2,000 on the heeling side.

Luke Brown and Joseph Harrison The American

Luke Brown and Joseph Harrison celebrating after winning the 2020 RFD-TVs The American.

As for actual dollars and cents, rounds at the 2019 NFR in Vegas paid $26,230.77, and first in the average paid $67,269.23. Every NFR qualifier received a $10,000 bonus check when he picked up his (or her) back number before it started. This year’s go-round points will be 26,231, and the average will be worth 67,269 points, based on last year’s payoff. As for the paychecks if the payoff stays at $6 million and there is indeed a 40-percent reduction from last year, winning a round at the 2020 NFR will pay $15,738.46, and the average will be worth $40,361.54. Remember, this is all still a work in progress and none of these numbers are yet set in stone.

Those who follow the cowboy sport closely will recognize the precedent for this “disconnect” between dollars and points from when the RodeoHouston Super Series was reconvened and finished at Cowtown Coliseum in Fort Worth after Houston shut down. Rounds at the Houston redo paid about $800 in actual dollars, but the full 3,000 points toward the world standings as per the $3,000 paychecks paid when Houston was still in session before the corona closure. Also, that same 40 percent discount will be applied to the $10,000 NFR qualifiers bonus, so those will be $6,000 this year, if the NFR payoff stays at $6 million.

The seating capacity at Globe Life Field is 40,300. At this time, the PRCA has clearance to sell 15,000 seats. Tickets are now being offered to NFR season ticket holders (who will not be penalized and will resume having their season tickets next year if they choose to pass this year), and will go on sale to the general public on September 25 at texasrangers.com/NFR. Tickets will be sold in groups of four for all 10 performances.

It should be noted that the clearance on 15,000 seats is as of now, and it is possible that that number could change in either direction, if mandated otherwise by government officials as the NFR draws closer. It’s also possible that the payoff could increase, if restrictions on ticket sales are later lifted.

Also noteworthy to this conversation is Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s September 9 release of the fact that “a Major Events Reimbursement Program fund of $7.1 million has been established, based on the projected economic impact to the two communities (Arlington and Fort Worth) resulting from increased tax revenue and spending associated with the event (the NFR and related NFR Experience events) being held in Texas.”

“I’m cautiously optimistic that we’re going to get to a $10 million payoff,” Taylor said. “All our energy right now is how we can market ticket sales to get us there. That’s my goal between now and December, but we wanted people to know before September 30 (the last day of the regular rodeo season) what 2020 NFR contestants will be competing for for sure. We’ll raise the purse, if we can find a financially responsible way to do it. But I can’t imperil the organization.”

The Globe Life Field will be home to the 2020 Wrangler NFR.

The Globe Life Field will be home to the 2020 Wrangler NFR.

Due to COVID-19 regulations in Nevada right now, ticket sales were not an option had the Finals stayed in Vegas this year.

“We’re still putting on a $20 million-plus event,” Taylor said. “It’s also fair to say that the state of Texas and Arlington came to the table and made this a manageable risk. And Las Vegas has been a really good partner to help make this possible. We didn’t get here by ourselves.”

One recent related announcement released by Las Vegas Events is that the NFR contract in Las Vegas is expected to be extended another year, starting with next year’s Super Bowl of Rodeo.

“It is unfortunate that Las Vegas is unable to host the Wrangler NFR in 2020 with fans,” Las Vegas Events released in a statement. “We congratulate the PRCA for finding a home in 2020 that will allow fans to attend, which in turn generates prize money for the contestants. In exchange for allowing them to move their event in 2020, an extra year has been added to our contract. We look forward to hosting the Wrangler NFR in Las Vegas—December 2-11, 2021—and continuing through 2025.”

Rodeo has been a rough one for all involved in 2020, and on the contestant side has included more travel and more costs for less possible pay. Tough stuff for rodeo committees, stock contractors, sponsors, fans and yes, the mother ship, too.

“If 2020 has taught any of us one thing, it’s not to take anything for granted anymore,” Taylor said. “We’re happy and excited and scared to be able to step up and say what we know for sure the NFR will pay. As I told my team, ‘Strap on your helmets, we’re going in.’

“If you’d tried telling me two months ago that we might have a shot at a full-payout, fan-attended NFR to crown our world champions, I would not have believed it. We have a little ways to go yet, but we can now see that it’s possible.”

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