Whole New View

Until this year, only the lucky spectators with front-row seats at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas truly had the chance to view, up close and personal, the rides and runs at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo.

Skycam is changing the rules in 2006.

For the unfortunate souls who can't witness the action from the 48th Wrangler NFR, Nov. 30-Dec. 9 firsthand, one of the latest marvels of broadcast sports is helping to enhance the TV viewing pleasure, at home or at the nearly 40 hotels in Las Vegas that will provide live rodeo action, free of charge.

For the first time, Skycam, usually reserved for football and basketball, is making its rodeo debut at the year's Wrangler NFR. The patented Skycam system is a broadcast-quality, robotic camera that is suspended from a cable-driven, computerized transport system, allowing it to fly directly over the action at sporting events.

"We've seen what it did for football, and everyone loves it," said David Newman, the longtime TV director of the Wrangler NFR from Winnercomm, the Emmy Award-winning television production company that not only has produced the Wrangler NFR since 1991, but owns Skycam as well. "We hope it translates to the sport of rodeo. It will provide a different angle than people usually see on a rodeo broadcast."

Because of space limitations around the U.S. Smokeless Tobacco Company scoreboard and Redd-Vision (the Jumbotron scoreboard), Skycam will only fly over the timed-event end of the arena. It still promises to bring unprecedented images of rodeo to millions of television viewers throughout the world.

In particular, Newman anticipates the steer wrestling action the most.

"I think it'll really look cool for that event," Newman said. "It'll be flying over the top of the cowboy on his horse, and you'll really see how close he is to the hazer and how everything has to come together. It should be a great look."

Roy Patton, the general manager of Skycam LLC, is also eager to see the camera in action at the Wrangler NFR.

"This will add an element never seen before in rodeo," Patton said. "As far as I know, no one has ever covered rodeo with an aerial camera. It will hopefully give angles no one has seen before and show what the animals are seeing as well."

In addition to Skycam, another television feature in the works for the Wrangler NFR is XPower, which measures G-force or acceleration of a bull through electronic sensors placed on the back end of a bucking bull. The XPower device collects data from the time the judge starts the watch at the beginning of a ride until the ride ends, either at eight seconds or with an early buckoff or disqualification.

XPower, the brainchild of former bull and saddle bronc rider Stephen Wharton – now the director of new technology at Tulsa, Okla.-based Winnercomm – made its debut earlier this year on the Dodge Xtreme Bulls Ride Hard Tour presented by B&W Hitches.

All this action can be enjoyed from the comforts of home or in Las Vegas, with fans getting just a little bit closer to the action.

For the 10th year in a row, Las Vegas Events has teamed with Clark County hotel properties to provide live action from the Wrangler NFR. Some 40 properties throughout Las Vegas will provide a live satellite feed, free of charge.

With Wrangler NFR tickets or not, visitors can still head to Las Vegas with plenty of enthusiasm for the Wrangler NFR, knowing full well that a full rodeo experience awaits.