National Finals Rodeo Prize Money

The "Super Bowl of Rodeo" offers millions in prize money to top competitors

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, notes the PCRA. 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 $172 million to competitors at the event over the years.

NFR History

The first National Finals Rodeo was held in 1959 "in order to determine the world champion in each of rodeo's seven main events: calf roping, steer wrestling, bull riding, saddle bronc riding, bareback bronc riding, and team roping," according to the 2017 National Finals Rodeo website

The first NFR was held in Dallas, which hosted the event until 1961. From 1962 through 1964, Los Angeles hosted the competition, which then moved to Oklahoma City in 1965. Oklahoma City hosted the rodeo 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, notes The Wrangler National Finals Rodeo website. 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 NFR, 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, according to the Encyclopaedia Britannica. 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, according to NFR Insider. 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 but 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 2015, the average winnings for each first-place event finisher were more than $67,000, according to the Wrangler NFR website, and that figure is expected to jump to between $76,000-$77,000, according to PRCA Commissioner Karl Stressman.

Game Changer

With its increasing prize purse—especially compared to how much less 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, for example. "I think the main thing now with the regular season is (to just) get to the NFR," said Luke Branquinho, five-time steer wresting world champion, who also pocketed $136,388 in winnings at the 2014 NFR.

Kimzey agrees: “It’s going to put so much more emphasis on coming out here (to the NFR) and being successful," he told NFR Insider in discussing the growing NFR prize purse. "It’s going to definitely change it and throw another kink in it.”