Fear And Cowboys In Las Vegas: The PBR World Finals

The PBR Tour 2010 World Finals in Las VegasSo there I was in Las Vegas – just off The Strip. All around me, nothing but neon, concrete, glass and steel. And cowboys.

If this blog was entitled “It’s Sesame Street Somewhere”, we’d be going into the “One Of These Things Is Not Like The Others” segment of the show right about now. And if you selected “cowboys” from the list above, you would receive…well OK, I don’t exactly know what the purse is for the average Sesame Street episode, but that’s beside the point.

I was surrounded by cowboys because the Professional Bull Riders Tour was in town, conducting their season-ending World Finals at UNLV’s Thomas & Mack Center. And bulls and cowboys go together like…well, like bulls and cowboys.

Red Carpet Entrance at the 2010 PRB World FinalsThis was Day 2 of the five-day event and I had arrived early to catch the Red Carpet Entrance ceremony. Early on, things were pretty quiet. There were a few people milling around the outdoor concession stands, having a snack of extraordinarily unhealthy food and waiting for the festivities to begin. The ticket booth had just five of a dozen or more windows open, none of whose “lines” were deeper than one person – including those, like myself, who were there to close the deal on a Will Call advance purchase.

Perhaps this lack of a ticket-buying frenzy had something to do with pricing. A seat in the lower bowl went for, gulp – $251. The next price point down was no bargain either, at $86 for a Plaza seat. I had opted for the much more palatable Side Balcony ticket, whose sticker price was $31. Toss in the phone purchase surcharge, the Will Call surcharge, and the ubiquitous “convenience” fee though, and by the time it was all over, I had shelled out $53. Evidently, it costs the folks at the Thomas & Mack Center $22 to answer the phone, process a charge and walk a ticket over to the Will Call window. And I wasn’t even allowed to touch the red velvet pillow upon which my ticket was delivered.

This turned out to be merely a fiscal warm-up for the sticker shock to be found inside later, where a program cost $20 (or $30 if you wanted a special limited edition version). I negotiated a deal with one of the vendors though – for just $11.50, he let me hold one of the programs for a couple of minutes. To celebrate, I thought about getting something to eat, but then remembered that I hadn’t invited my lending officer along to the event.

But back to the Red Carpet. Once the cowboys began to arrive, things picked up noticeably, albeit with a hiccup or two.

See, the set-up for the Red Carpet Entrance was at the end of a traffic circle that is obviously used as the Thomas & Mack Center’s taxi stand equivalent. When cabs began to pull up and drop people off, the expectation that a cowboy would emerge from the taxi was high – and since the fans stepping out of these cabs were dressed almost exactly like the competitors, several of these folks unexpectedly got to experience their Five Minutes of Fame.

After several false alarms it began to be clear that the tour cowboys would be the ones that were arriving in huge, shiny black Ford pick-ups (I believe they were the new F-26,150 model, which gets almost a full mile to the gallon). Let’s just say I wouldn’t have been surprised to see three or four of the PBR bulls hop out of these babies.

The cowboys that arrived seemed willing to be chatted up, although they didn’t exude comfort with the idea. I’m betting that the Tour requires them to enter the building in this manner, and that this ceremony is repeated at each Tour stop. Whatever the reason, they spoke so reticently and softly that most of what they said was difficult to make out.

It turned out that unintelligible audio was to be a hallmark of the evening.

I’d be lying if I said that my first look at the crowd outside suspended any pre-conceived notions. Once I was inside and a more representative crowd had begun to assemble though…OK, not only were my stereotypes validated, they were extended. But truth be told, there must be something about two-tone denim shirts, cowboy hats, boots, and belt buckles the size of Rhode Island, for blogger extraordinaire The RV Goddess (who coincidentally happened to be in Vegas at the time) wondered along with me “How is it that they all have such hot wives and girlfriends?”

In slight sartorial contrast, I was wearing an Oakley t-shirt, jeans with no belt whatsoever, and flip-flops. As Marisa Tomei said to Joe Pesci in My Cousin Vinny…“oh yeah, you blend.”

All in all, the Red Carpet Entrance was a bit underwhelming. Maybe it was the poor sound quality, or maybe it’s because the words “glamour” and “bull” rarely occupy the same mind space. Whatever the reason, enthusiasm quickly flagged – even the provocatively dressed Tecate Light girls lost interest after a while and drifted off.

They resurfaced inside at their own booth, however. In a slight twist on the standard concept, the PBR’s main Sponsor Expo was actually inside the arena, where booths and tables ringed the main concourse. I took a walk all the way around the circumference, noting that there were few (if any) gaps in space, and that most of those booths had a decent amount of traffic. I mentally gave props to the PBR Tour for a job well done in selling that inventory in a tough market.

Eventually I drifted into the arena and found my seat, which looked down on a huge white curtain which had been drawn around the event’s “corral”. I couldn’t help thinking that the curtain would eventually be drawn back to reveal a gigantic white bathtub.

To try and displace that image, I surveyed the crowd. In what has become standard for events that I’ve attended and for those that I’ve seen on TV of late, the next-to-cheapest seats were fairly full, with the cheapest slightly less so. As for those premium seats…well, they were sparsely populated.

And this was just 15 minutes prior to…To what? Buck-off?

To be concluded in next post…

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