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PBR and Las Vegas — it all began in a construction trailer

Updated November 6, 2021 - 2:44 pm

After 28 years, the Professional Bull Riders’ World Finals are leaving Las Vegas for Fort Worth, Texas, following Sunday’s final go-round at T-Mobile Arena.

For an event that began in a trailer on the MGM Grand Garden construction site in 1993, it has been a heck of a run.

“It starts like this: When Dennis (Finfrock) leaves the Thomas & Mack Center (as UNLV facilities manager) in early ’93 to go to the MGM, the MGM wanted the National Finals Rodeo — but that wasn’t going to happen,” said Daren Libonati, the former UNLV field goal kicker who was Finfrock’s understudy at UNLV and his booking agent at the Grand Garden.

At the same time, Libonati said, “the NFR was going through some interesting times where the individual event (participants), such as bull riding, said: ‘We’re a big part of this rodeo; we should be making more money.’”

The disgruntled bull riders included legends such as Tuff Hedeman, Cody Lambert and Ty Murray, who wanted to secede from the Pro Rodeo Cowboys Association to form a league — and marquee event — of their own.

Libonati said there was hesitancy in the MGM front office about going all in on bull riding — until Budweiser came on board as a corporate partner. The brewing giant was keen on rodeo, Libonati said, but was locked out because of Coors’ exclusive contract with the PRCA.

Mind you, all of this was happening when Budweiser was introducing its Bud Light brand.

“I looked at Dennis and he looked at me,” Libonati said, recalling a meeting with a Budweiser executive named Bill Selman.

Handshakes were quickly exchanged in that modest construction trailer.

By bringing Bud Light on board as the PBR tour’s title sponsor, MGM would acquire the marketing muscle to help underwrite a lucrative Western-themed championship event. By partnering with MGM, Budweiser would benefit by introducing its new brand to a coveted demographic.

As often is said, the rest is history.

Around the horn

* South Point owner Michael Gaughan received the Jim Shoulders Lifetime Achievement Award from the PBR for his longtime support of the World Finals and cowboy sports in general.

“The first year the PBR was here … we put the bulls up at a ranch, the Rocking K,” Gaughan said. “An hour after they were there, they broke loose. And that was my first real introduction to the PBR.”

* NASCAR president Steve Phelps on Friday disavowed any association between the stock car racing sanctioning body and “Let’s Go Brandon” — a coded epithet being used to criticize President Joe Biden.

The chant emerged following a NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Talladega, Alabama, in October when NBC reporter — and Las Vegas resident — Kelli Stavast apparently mistook the expletive through her headphones as a cheer for driver Brandon Brown and reported it to her audience as such.

“It’s an unfortunate situation and I feel for Brandon, I feel for Kelli,” Phelps said. “I think unfortunately it speaks to the state of where we are as a country. We do not want to associate ourselves with politics, the left or the right.”

* Former Bishop Gorman product Brevin Jordan caught three passes for 41 yards, including his first NFL touchdown, in the Houston Texans’ 38-22 loss to the Los Angeles Rams on Oct. 31. Jordan, a rookie tight end for the Texans, was making his NFL debut.

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Interesting stat of the week: With average home attendance of 60,547, the Raiders rank 28th among the 32 NFL teams.

True, the Raiders’ attendance is limited by the size of Allegiant Stadium. But in average percentage of available tickets sold, perhaps a more accurate measure of a team’s popularity at home, the Raiders’ 93.1 stands 24th among 32.

Contact Ron Kantowski at rkantowski@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0352. Follow @ronkantowski on Twitter.

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