the female force las vegas events cowgirl magazine
OPENING SPREAD L TO R: Brilynn Bentley, Shelbi Martinez, Chelsi Longworth, Diana McCall, Amber Held, Cheryl Kocvara, Alex Gonzalez, and Jessica Pease.
Photo by Ken Amorosano

The Wrangler National Finals has a long and illustrious history in Las Vegas, having moved from its exalted beginnings in Oklahoma City in 1985. From its first foray into Las Vegas, its production and relationship with the city was, in many ways, fostered and mentored by Pat Christenson, who at the time, was Assistant Director of Thomas & Mack Center, the arena that has hosted the world-famous rodeo in Las Vegas since day one.

“In 1985, the Thomas & Mack wasn’t even finished,” recalls Christenson.  “When it was conceived and designed, it was to be a 15,000-seat arena.  Somewhere in the design, they changed it to 18,000 but they never got the funding. “So, Thomas & Mack opened with no pavement in the parking lot, nothing in the concession stands–suites were unfinished, and the concourse looked like your garage.”

Christenson estimates that if it weren’t for the NFR, the Thomas & Mack would have never been completed at all.

In 2001, he took the job as President of Las Vegas Events and began to create and guide what has become Las Vegas’ most important and influential live event promotion business.

“I think the biggest change since the early days was this vision of signature events,” says Christenson. “More events that took the NFR template, where you have all your hotels involved, you have the event, you have your media.  But the NFR forms a great example—It’s more of a festival today than just a championship event. You have 25 hotels that are actively producing events, whether it’s concerts, gift shows, or competitions. There is something going 24/7.”

In 35 years, the evolution of the NFR experience is all that. An experience with literally hundreds of thousands of Western enthusiasts descending upon the city to celebrate the cowboy culture for 10 days each December.  There simply is nothing else like it.

Photo by Steve Spatafore.
L to R: Diana McCall and Cheryl Kocvara flank the winner for Best Holiday Booth Design at Cowboy Christmas with support from Blue Man Group.

But when asked what stands out to be his proudest accomplishment with Las Vegas Events as it relates to the NFR, Christenson had one simple answer.

“I think it’s the people in our organization. They get very little recognition for what they do, but if you look at how we have organized, worked with production, the marketing of it, working with the PRCA, you really must recognize this great culture of people.”

What Christenson is pointing out, in part, is an amazing team of eight women whose roles in the enormous production can never be underrated.

Meet the Ladies of Las Vegas Events

As the Vice President of Finance, Diana McCall oversees the operations of the accounting, payroll, and human resources functions at Las Vegas Events, as well as LVE produced events.  Within her role, Diana is involved in many diverse aspects of the business that include internal and external finances, developing contracts for NFR, LVE, and Cowboy Christmas sponsors, and overseeing the onboarding of about 200 part-time NFR employees and independent contractors, to name a few.

Diana commends Pat Christenson’s knowledge and experience he has as President of LVE.  “He runs a team that is very collaborative, that listens to everyone within the team.  Everyone matters, everyone’s equal, and the way that he leads, I use him as an example of how I would like to lead.  

“I have never worked with a group of women that I could like more,” she praises.  “Probably the best part of my job is getting to work with these seven other women with no issues and no drama.  We have so much fun together, we lift each other up.”

With years of experience as the Ticket and Operations Specialist, Shelbi Martinez’s daily focus is managing season ticket clientele.  This includes updating account information, processing ticket sales, producing financial reports, and managing customer communications.  She also works closely with production and staff in approving and producing credentials.  During event week, Shelbi manages the credential office while also providing ticketing support to fans and sponsors.  

“Most of our season ticket holders have been such since it moved to Vegas, or some even back when it was in Oklahoma,” she explains.  “So, most of our phone calls start with, “This is so and so, we’ve been season ticket holders for over 25 years,” and we start to recognize the names.  It’s very traditional and they’re very loyal and have been around for a long time.”

One of the highlights of NFR week for Shelbi is how Western lifestyle takes over Las Vegas.  “You never see so many cowboy hats and cowboy boots walking around The Strip.  Just to see how this one event drives so many people to our city, how all the hotels take part in it and get all these country artists and different spinoff events, it’s great to see how the whole city really comes together.”

The Thomas & Mack Center; The Cowboy Channel Cowboy Christmas Gift Show

As the Digital Media Marketing Specialist,  Jessica Pease assists in the marketing and communications for all LVE events.  She coordinates the digital and social media initiatives for all LVE events, with an emphasis on the NFR, The Cowboy Channel Cowboy Christmas, and the YETI Junior World Finals.  

Covering NFR week is no easy task, but it is one that Jessica is always prepared to take on.  “I start my day at Cowboy Christmas taking pictures and videos of our fans, interacting with the contestants, getting those little moments that people who might not be at the NFR want to see,” she explains.  From there, she heads to the Thomas & Mack Center to cover the pre-show and the rodeo followed by one of the numerous afterparties.  

Through social media, Jessica has the very special opportunity to be able to bring behind-the-scenes moments to fans that they may not see otherwise.  “One of my favorite moments that we had last year at the NFR was when Kaycee Feild was sitting and watching the National Anthem and he waited until that person left the stage to shake his hand and say, “Thank you,” and then go and do what he needed to do.  Those are the things that fans don’t get to see.  So, I share that with everyone else.”

As the Financial Specialist, Cheryl Kocvara is responsible for a variety of accounting functions for LVE.  She is also The Cowboy Channel Cowboy Christmas Operations Manager, which entails overseeing the gift show application process, as well as placement and exhibitor assignments for all LVE produced gift shows.  

Throughout her tenure with LVE, Cheryl has learned some valuable lessons from rodeo fans about how to improve exhibitors’ success during Cowboy Christmas.  “The personal contact with the attendees is very important.  That’s what really makes somebody want to stop at your booth and shop.  Being on your feet, interacting and engaging, is a huge aspect for an exhibitor with an attendee or a guest walking through the show.  I will go out to some of the exhibitors and say how important meeting and greeting and being personable is.”

Photo by Steve Spatafore.
The Female Force in the field.

Building relationships with vendors has become a highlight of Cheryl’s NFR week experience each year.  “It’s really starting to become a family to me.  In the morning, I’ve always made a point to say, “Good morning.” They recognize you, and it feels like home.  The ones that appreciate you come to you and tell you, “You’re doing a great job,” and that’s why they like coming.  The family unit is why they like being part of Cowboy Christmas.” 

Chelsi Longworth’s core responsibility as Executive Assistant is to support the President and executive management team.  In this role, Chelsi manages a variety of duties while serving as the point of contact between executives, the LVE Board of Trustees, and Partners.  In addition, this role is responsible for organizing team events internally and offsite and arranging all LVE’s travel needs.

Chelsi greatly admires the team she works with, especially LVE President Pat Christenson.  “I’ve never worked for a company that really valued its employees and their input as much as Pat does.  He gives everyone a voice and he’s just supportive on a personal level.  I think it makes everyone just so appreciative of the environment that he’s created, the team that he’s created, and he really does have his fingerprint on everything.”

“We have most of the team that I started with about four years ago,” she continues.  “Everyone’s just super close knit.  I haven’t met many people that have worked in such a supportive environment.  Everyone wants everyone to do their best and be their best.”

The Female Force on vacation together: L to R: Diana, Chelsi, Jessica, Amber, Shelbi, Brilynn, Alex, and Cheryl.

With her title of Corporate Marketing Partnerships and Junior World Finals Assistant General Manager, Brilynn Bentley is accountable for establishing and maintaining relationships with corporate partners, while creating custom presentations, proposals, and contracts as they relate to the NFR, Cowboy Christmas, and the Junior World Finals.  

Her family has been involved in rodeo for many years, and her passion eventually led her to compete for the UNLV rodeo team.  “Rodeo is something so special,” she says fondly.  “And for me personally, I get to be involved in the best rodeo that happens all year long.  So, it’s just a childhood dream to be a part of producing the Junior World Finals.”

She is also a co-host of NFR Extra, a podcast that highlights the road to the NFR.  “Our president, Pat Christenson, had a special idea with the podcast to create a 360 wraparound of the NFR.  The NFR is not just the Thomas & Mack.  These cowboys and cowgirls are competing all year long.  They have different stories of what got them to the finals, or how they got those horses, or how they got involved in rodeo.  Those are the stories we try to tell there.”

As the Event Development Specialist, Amber Held effectively communicates with potential and current event producers, evaluates incoming proposals, manages all contractual elements, oversees the travel and logistics of the National Anthem performers and opening acts, and helps with NFR credentials.

She considers herself very lucky to be part of such a phenomenal organization and group of women.  “I’ve never worked in an environment with such amazing, strong females where everyone gets along.   We vacation together, everyone’s there to support each other.  It’s just a nice environment.”

Pat Christenson, LVE President, has also greatly impacted her workplace experience.  “It’s been great to watch him come up with so many ideas.  He’s a man with a gazillion ideas and he really challenges our team to the max to execute them.”

For many fans, including Amber, congregating in Las Vegas every December feels like coming home.  “The passion, the tradition, it’s interesting,” she explains.  People that don’t even necessarily get to attend the rodeo still come to Vegas and get to meet their friends and family.  They’ll go to watch parties at the casinos and just have a great time enjoying Vegas.  It’s just a sense of family community and we have a great time, that it doesn’t even feel like work.”

Alex Gonzalez is Ticket and Operations Manager.   She manages day-to-day operations of the ticketing department, manages and organizes all event signage, manages the credential databases, works with hotel properties on hotel room assignments and shuttle pick-up and drop-off locations, as well as numerous other essential tasks.

Being part of such a strong group of women has helped Alex blossom in the workplace since she began as an intern in 2007.  “There were way less women, and the dynamic then was a lot different than now,” she recalls.  “Back then, it was still very friendly, but now it’s a family.  It makes going to work way more enjoyable, knowing you could go to any one of them for any problem or any suggestion or advice for anything.  Being able to lean on that support is unimaginable.”

After 15 years with LVE, Alex has some very valuable advice to offer anyone looking to join the industry, “You really need to know what you want, look for what you want, and then get involved.  If you are into rodeo, then get involved, contact any rodeo that you’re interested in or any sort of company that you want.  I started as just an intern and here I am, 15 rodeos later.  You just really need to put yourself out there.”