Officials in Arlington and Fort Worth will welcome rodeo fans this week with the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo taking place at Globe Life Field.
The 10-day event was moved from Las Vegas to Arlington this year due to coronavirus restrictions.
Sean Decker, Executive Vice President of Sports Entertainment for the Texas Rangers, said they expect upwards of 14,000 fans every night. Based on other large-scale events the stadium has already hosted, Decker said it’s possible they will not have as many people actually attend as initially projected from ticket sales.
"What we found with the World Series and some of the other events we’ve hosted, [is that] you may have bought four tickets but you may only use two or three. So, the max would be 14,000," he explained. "Realistically, what we get on a given night is typically less than that."
Safety Protocols in Place
Crowd sizes are something they will continue monitoring, Decker told NBC 5 Wednesday.
Guests are required to wear masks during the events unless they are eating or drinking, and they are asked to social distance throughout the facility.
“We’ll have added signage, added hand washing stations, added hand sanitizer. Our seats are in pods of four to keep everyone separated throughout,” he said. “It may be our first rodeo, no pun intended, but it’s not our first time to host major events in the building. We’ll use almost everything you saw in the World Series. You’ll see it here for the rodeo, and we feel like we have a great blueprint.”
The planning process has been sped up this year due to the change of venues announced in September. George Taylor, CEO of the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association, said they typically start planning the National Finals Rodeo event in January.
“It really was just about having meetings every single day and compressing it down to 90 days,” Taylor said. “The cowboys are ready. We’re ready. I think the community is ready. We’re thrilled to have the opportunity.”
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Venues and locations in Fort Worth are also scheduled to host official events, including the junior world finals rodeo at the Fort Worth Stockyards and Cowboy Christmas at the Fort Worth Convention Center, the shopping component of the rodeo running from Dec. 3 to Dec. 12.
“We will practice social distancing. Some of the aisles in the convention Center are one way just to help control the flow of traffic. Aisles have been widened," said Bo Gardner, vice president of Corporate Marketing for Las Vegas Events. "There will be several Fort Worth ushers that will be in here to help control the crowding.”
Jason Sands, director of the newly formed Fort Worth Sports Commission, said they expect about 10,000 people every day at Cowboy Christmas.
“We’ve got ambassadors that are going to be in the Stockyards, downtown, and some of the hotels that are going to have masks, sanitizers,” he told NBC 5. "For the Cowboy Christmas at the Fort Worth Convention Center, they’re going to be screening folks as they come in. So, there are going to be temperature checks.”
If anyone has a temperature of 100.4 or higher, they will have the option to take a COVID-19 rapid test.
“[There are] 14 sites right currently in Fort Worth that do testing. We’re adding three more both at the Stockyards, at the Convention Center, and at Will Rogers so people have a place to get a test quickly if they feel like they’ve been exposed or they have symptoms," Sands said.
COVID-19 testing is something Taylor said has already become routine for their athletes, including Tyson Durfey.
“Not just once,” Durfey said. “This is my third time getting tested in, like, a 10 day period. Thank the good Lord that all of the tests have been negative, but corona protocols are through the roof.”
Durfey, representing Team Polaris this year, is a Brock, Texas resident. The champion tie-down roper has been around the sport of rodeo his entire life.
“My dad was a trainer of the horses for most of the top guys back in the day when I was coming up and these big-name guys would wheel into our little farm, and I would get to meet them and stuff like that,” he recalled. “It was always my dream to grow up to be good enough to be one of those guys. One of the guys that are out meeting people, performing in front of tens of thousands and hundreds of thousands of people.”
Despite a smaller crowd this year, Durfey said the event will still hold the same energy as it has in the past.
“I think we’re going to ‘Tex-ify’ it and we’re going to make it Texas,” he said. “It’s just going to be a little more socially distant, so that people don’t feel on top of each other but man, when you go into this venue for the first time, it’s overwhelming. I’m literally getting chills right now thinking about it because we’ve gotten grand entry practice. Every time I ride under that tunnel and open it up, it’s like oh my gosh – this is the stage I’ve dreamt about my whole life.”
Economic Boost for North Texas
Sands described the National Finals Rodeo as a ‘huge opportunity’ for Fort Worth, Arlington, and North Texas as a whole, to help those in the hospitality industry get back to work.
“We’re expecting over 26,000 rooms booked in the market. The hotel occupancy rate is actually higher this year than it was this time last year, so that’s a good indication,” he said.
Gardner said NFR might be one of the only live events happening in the country currently. He said organizers are hoping to fill an economic hole left behind by a recent, major cancellation.
“We’ve been working very closely with the Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo. Upon their announcement that they had canceled for 2021, the market was going to lose over $110 million and economic impact," he said. "So we’ve been working with them and we’re hoping that we can help assist in replacing that our estimation is over $100 million in economic impact."
Local small businesses said they're really excited about it, too, especially those at Cowboy Christmas.
Artist Susan Steblein of Nature’s Finest Art told NBC 5 she and other vendors are desperately relying on this weekend to help save their businesses.
“I’m an artist and I’ve been creating stuff for over 20 years. I work with other artisans trying to bring you something unique and different, focusing on nature and the arts," she said. “If you come out and enjoy the magic of the holidays just be smart and wear a mask.“
This is the first big opportunity since the pandemic began to show off her handmade jewelry, wine barrel and whiskey art, and unique knives using natural materials.
She said normally these types of shopping expos charge a fee but this one is free.
Over the course of 10 days, organizers are hoping for a total turnout of 150,000 customers for just Cowboy Christmas alone.
"It’s been a tough year," Steblein said. “It is a huge impact on us. This is a lot of us, we need this event to get us through for the next January February and March until some stuff can possibly start up in the spring."
The event begins Dec. 3 and ends Dec. 12. For more on attendee protocols, click here.