The Wrangler National Finals Rodeo is the premier event in rodeo, and contestants who make it there often get most of the rodeo headlines. Yet there are many top cowboys who never make it to Las Vegas. The reasons are as varied as the contestants, but for most, the responsibilities of home, jobs or businesses keep them tied to a specific geographic location. In other words, not everyone can, or wants to, travel thousands of miles each year for a chance at a gold buckle at the Wrangler NFR, but rodeo is still in their blood, and they are driven to compete professionally. These contestants make up majority of the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA) membership.

As the regular season ends, top competitors from each event qualify to compete in their circuit finals rodeos. Champions from those rodeos, as well as the year-end winners from each circuit, are then invited to NFR Open hosted by Pikes Peak in Colorado Springs, Colo. (Formally Known as the RAM National Circuit Finals Rodeo-RNCFR)

Each contestant can compete inside and outside of their circuit throughout the year, but only the points they earn within the circuit designates at the beginning of the season are applied towards their place in the circuit standings. However, everything they win inside and outside their chosen circuit is applied toward their world standings – except for money earned at the regional circuit finals, NFR OPEN (Formally RAM National Circuit Finals Rodeo and All American ProRodeo Finals), which do not count toward world standings.

The tournament-style NFR Open determines the national circuit champions in each event. The competition produces exciting challenges for the athletes and vivid entertainment for the fans. All 24 qualifiers from the 12 circuits compete in the two preliminary rounds of the rodeo. The top eight contestants from each event advance to the semifinal round, with all previous scores and times thrown out. The top four move on to the final round – a sudden-death competition that determines the national circuit champion in each event. Because the top four contestants begin with a clean slate in the Wrangler Round, each one has an equal opportunity to claim a NFR Open title.