When the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo conducted its first of 10 performances on Thursday night, the field of contestants rode and roped for more prize money than last year.
For the first time, each contestant received $10,000 up front that went toward their world title race earnings. Also, each round winner received $26,231. Last year, a first-place check for a round winner was $19,002.
Two Decatur cowboys earned $26,231 in Thursday’s Round 1 at the Thomas & Mack Center. Trevor Brazile won the tie-down roping first round after turning in a time of 6.8 seconds, and K.C. Jones who placed first in steer wrestling with a 3.4.
Brazile has a chance to fill his saddle bags with lots of cash throughout the NFR, which runs through Dec. 12. He is the only contestant who has qualified in two events — tie-down roping and team roping.
The contestants are vying for bigger purses because the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association negotiated a lucrative new contract that will last for 10 years. Under the agreement, the WNFR’s total purse has jumped from $6.375 million to $10 million.
Brazile, who is attempting to earn a record 13th world all-around title, said the main reason the prize money has increased at the NFR is because the NFR is a big hit with fans.
“You’ve got to thank Las Vegas Events, you’ve got to thank the PRCA, and you’ve got to thank the fans,” Brazile said. “If the fans didn’t come in droves and turn Las Vegas into a sea of cowboy hats, then none of this ever happens. Everybody forgets that the reason for us getting more money is our fans who come out and support us. It doesn’t matter how good of a cowboy you are, if the fans are not up there watching you, it does you no good.”
Jones also said he was grateful to be receiving more money.
“I’ve been excited since they announced the big payoff,” Jones said. “That’s a lot of money for us. So, to get the first [round] win is pretty cool. But there’s nine more nights to see if I can gather up more money.”
Jones, a nine-time NFR qualifier, said he benefited from having lots of experience at competing at the NFR. He said he knew he had to leave the steer wrestling box very fast.
“I knew what to expect,” he said “You have to take a crazy, aggressive start. It’s a small arena and the steers leave and run hard.”
In 2014, the NFR average winner in each event (the competitor who finished with the best aggregate time or score after 10 rounds) earned $48,731. But this year, the average winner will pocket $67,269.
PRCA commissioner Karl Stressman said the increase in prize money will make the title races more captivating for fans.
“When you look at this deal, the excitement has to be wrapped around the fans,” Stressman said. “This thing is going to change every day. If you win two rounds at this deal, you put more than $50,000 in your pocket. So, every man who got here has the opportunity to win a world title. So, how much better is it going to be when you’re a fan sitting there in the ninth and 10th round and you’re thinking this is a real deal? You’re going to have 17,600 fans sitting in the Thomas & Mack Center during a performance and saying, ‘Man, this is good. This is the ultimate.’ ”
Former world barrel racing champion Mary Walker of Ennis said she also is excited about the increase in prize money.
“For rodeo, it’s the best thing we can even imagine,” Walker said. “I worked harder probably this year to make the National Finals than any other year just because of the money that we’re getting here. …People are going to walk out of here with a lot of money. It’s going to be a life-changing rodeo.”