After the pandemic forced the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo and the Junior World Finals to relocate to Arlington, Texas, last year, both season-ending events are returning to Las Vegas in December. The Junior World Finals is once again scheduled for Dec. 2-11 at the Wrangler Rodeo Arena in the South Halls of the Las Vegas Convention Center.
“It’s very, very exciting,” said Bo Gardner, vice president of corporate marketing for Las Vegas Events and general manager of the Junior World Finals. “We feel that the Junior World Finals is the elite event for youth rodeo.”
The numbers definitely back that up. Now in its seventh year – the event was previously known as the Junior National Finals Rodeo before rebranding itself as the Junior World Finals in 2019 – the 10-day event is expected to have more than 800 cowboys and cowgirls competing in nine events for $1 million in cash, college scholarships and prizes.
“There is no other youth event that can say that,” Gardner said of the available prize money. “That’s thanks to our producers working hard throughout the year. As those qualifiers grow those sponsorships will grow.
“Whatever sponsorship they get for their event is all their money. They use that money to build their purse and secure those sponsors that will bring that cash and those prizes that we have all been aggressively seeking.”
The Junior World Finals has understandably gone through some changes over the years, and this year’s event is no different.
With the NFR at the Thomas & Mack Center starting each night’s performance one hour earlier than in previous years, the Junior World Finals, and the accompanying Cowboy Channel Cowboy Christmas at the convention center, will also have an earlier start. The roughstock events – bull riding, bareback bronc riding and saddle bronc riding – will run from 9 a.m.-4 p.m. on Dec. 2-5. The bull riding finals will begin at 8 a.m. on Dec. 6, followed by the finals in bareback and saddle bronc at 11:30 a.m.
The timed events – steer wrestling, tie-down roping, team roping, barrel racing, breakaway roping and pole bending – take place Dec. 7-11 and are scheduled to begin even earlier in the morning to accommodate the number of contestants.
Unfortunately, because of the recent surge in COVID-19 cases, the Exceptional Rodeo will not be held this year. The event, which has become an annual event in conjunction with the NFR, brings together cowboys, cowgirls and bullfighters with dozens of special-needs kids from the Las Vegas community for an hour of rodeo-related events.
“We’re disappointed we don’t get to do that because it is a fan favorite,” Gardner said, “but with the pandemic we just didn’t feel comfortable. It does give us some extra time that we will use, but we would rather have had that opportunity for Exceptional Rodeo.”
And the admission fee, which was $5 in 2019, will be $10 this year. (It was $30 at last year’s event in Texas.) Gardner is quick to point out, however, that “100 percent of that goes back to the kids.”
While there are some changes, there are a number of things associated with the Junior World Finals that parents, contestants and fans will recognize from years past.
The stadium seating allows for 1,000 fans to watch all the action. And for those who aren’t in attendance they can still follow along at the Junior World Finals viewing area, which is adjacent to the arena at the Bites & Brews food court.
“Whatever is live in the arena will be live on those video screens,” Gardner offered.
In addition, the Priefert VIP platform will once again offer fans the best seats in the house and veteran PRCA announcers Steve Goedert and Andy Seiler are back for another year.
“What a great team,” Gardner said. “They feed off each other very well and they know these kids. It’s just a perfect match for us to have that caliber of talent at the Junior World Finals.”