Updated July 12, 2021 - 8:08 am
In a visit to Southern Nevada in May, Oakland A’s president Dave Kaval saw firsthand how residents support their local teams when he took in a Golden Knights’ playoff game.
“Wow! Stanley Cup playoffs,” Kaval posted to his verified Twitter account, accompanied by a video of fans cheering at T-Mobile Arena.
But if the Athletics ultimately move to Las Vegas, the team likely will need to also draw from the millions of visitors who annually come to Las Vegas to assure the team’s financial success.
And in a bit of serendipity, the A’s presence here could draw even more baseball fans to the region, giving a boost to the city’s tourism economy.
“We believe live sporting events are a draw for our visitors,” said Lori Nelson-Kraft, senior vice president of communications and public affairs with the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority. “We’ve seen visitation increase to the destination with annual events such as the National Finals Rodeo, UFC events and NASCAR, but also see the opportunity to drive further visitation with our professional sports teams.”
Tourists drawn by sports
While conventional wisdom suggests that Major League Baseball teams are thriving in stadiums surrounded by amenity-filled villages of restaurants and bars in downtowns across the country, there’s a lot to be said for attracting visitors who want to make attending a ballgame a part of their Vegas experience.
The Vegas Golden Knights have proved that theory with T-Mobile Arena every year hosting thousands of Canadians who want to see their Edmonton Oilers, Toronto Maple Leafs or Montreal Canadiens while on vacation in the Entertainment Capital of the World.
While Golden Knights executives are insistent that nearly everyone who packs into T-Mobile Arena for games are local fans, there are always pockets of fans wearing the sweaters of the opposing team.
Jeremy Aguero, who monitors the Southern Nevada economy with Las Vegas-based Applied Analysis, said he has seen no studies indicating what percentage of fans at Golden Knights games are from out of town. However, he believes between 15 percent and 20 percent of T-Mobile’s 18,000 seats are filled by out-of-towners.
Aguero said the LVCVA continually monitors attendance at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo at the Thomas & Mack Center and the Las Vegas Bowl, which will be moving to Allegiant Stadium this year. Easily more than half in attendance for those events are from out of town, he said.
His research on attendance at Ultimate Fighting Championship bouts in Las Vegas shows the crowd usually splits with 88 percent from out of town and 12 percent local residents.
Out-of-town attendance at Raiders’ games hasn’t been established since the COVID-19 pandemic kept fans away from Allegiant Stadium in 2020. But there’s no reason to think fans from Kansas City, Denver, Green Bay or Pittsburgh won’t find their way to Allegiant Stadium to watch their teams play against the Raiders.
Raiders President Marc Badain has told the Las Vegas Stadium Authority that around 60 percent of the roughly 55,000 personal seat licenses sold at Allegiant Stadium were purchased by locals, meaning around 22,000 went to non-Nevadans.
Around 7,000 fans who had season tickets in Oakland bought PSLs for Allegiant Stadium.
But baseball is a different animal with a minimum of 81 home games and two-, three- or four-game series played against the same team on consecutive days. Still, Aguero sees out-of-town fans who support their own teams traveling to Las Vegas for games.
“I think the question we’re asking is whether those things are directly translatable to baseball. I’m not here to suggest to you that they are or aren’t, but I think Rob Dondero (of Las Vegas-based R&R Partners) knows as much as anybody in the state of Nevada relatable to tourism activities,” Aguero said.
Dondero, executive vice president of R&R, the LVCVA’s advertising agency of record, made the case in a May presentation that professional sports is essential to the city’s tourism profile.
Dondero, who played minor-league baseball professionally, said he has been amazed by how quickly team sports has caught on in Southern Nevada.
“Do sports add tourism to Las Vegas? Absolutely,” Dondero said. “There’s no doubt about it. It’s a fairly new segment. We’ve always had boxing or special events and NASCAR has done very well here.”
The problem Las Vegas had was a lack of facilities, he said. But the addition of T-Mobile Arena, the development of the Las Vegas Motor Speedway and the construction of Allegiant Stadium has filled some of those holes.
Las Vegas’ gambling culture also slowed the process, because leagues weren’t accepting the city. That changed after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a law that banned sports wagering in all but four states, including Nevada, three years ago. Now, you can bet on sports in 21 states and Washington, D.C., with more expected this year.
“I believe that with the proliferation and acceptance of sports betting, a lot of the leagues said, ‘OK, now Las Vegas is attainable to us. We’re OK to go there because sports betting is everywhere now,’ ” Dondero said. “I think that had a lot to do with the acceptance and helped the restrictions and rules that kept these leagues from looking at Las Vegas.”
Knights put LV in spotlight
Dondero said the success of the Golden Knights and the National Hockey League in Las Vegas has put the spotlight on the city like never before.
That success has led to people planning their vacations around sports.
“People go to other destinations to see a game or a sporting event,” said Dondero. “People come to Las Vegas and see a game or a sporting event. The difference is the sporting event is just one slice of the pie of all the things you can do in Las Vegas.”
The MLB season is tailor-made for Las Vegas, Dondero said, because it will create new midweek stays for tourists. And since baseball series normally last three or four games, a fan would likely stretch the number of days in town to watch every game of a series.
“They can easily fit into a visitor’s schedule, whether it’s a day game or a night game, or a double-header. I think it can easily fit into a schedule,” he said.
“I think he’s absolutely right,” Aguero said. “Is it going to be as much for a baseball game as it would be for some of these other events? Maybe, maybe not. But I’ll tell you right now it’s not going to be zero visitors sitting in those seats and it’s very likely to be, if the evidence we have is in any way translatable to baseball, it’s likely to be a higher number in Las Vegas than anywhere else in the United States in terms of visitor activity.”
The reason for that, Aguero said, is the region’s infrastructure — “150,000 hotel rooms, the second-busiest origination-destination airport in the country and 300,000 leisure and hospitality workers under normal conditions.
“No other market has that. Baseball becomes an amenity for someone who wants to take a trip and catch a game while they’re doing all the other things Las Vegas has to offer.
Heather Gibson, professor at the University of Florida’s Eric Friedheim Tourism Institute, has conducted research on the topic of sports and tourism.
She notes that Walt Disney Co. tapped into the youth market, offered free admission to Orlando-area theme parks in connection with sporting events and invented a new category of visitation called “tournacations,” a cross between sports tournaments and vacations.
Las Vegas draws its fair share of youth sports events — basketball, soccer, baseball and softball tournaments — but doesn’t have the theme-park infrastructure Orlando has. Instead, tournaments pack in more games and rely on parents to enjoy adult activities in casinos and showrooms after the games end.
“I think baseball could work in Las Vegas because the baseball season falls over multiple summer holidays,” Gibson said. “It’s not too hard to see Vegas tie in youth sports tournaments with baseball game tickets.”
Learn from Phoenix
Dondero said Las Vegas can also look to Phoenix to learn the pros and cons of building an indoor stadium. Dondero doesn’t believe a stadium necessarily has to be built in the resort corridor because “once fans get to Las Vegas, they’ll be willing to drive 20 or 30 minutes to get to a stadium.”
He cautioned that whatever type of facility is built has to be on par with what one would expect in an experience in Las Vegas.
Dondero is convinced Major League Baseball could thrive in Las Vegas if done right.
“These things are all about the right time and the right place, and we have the right place,” he said. “Hopefully this is the right time.”