First came the National Hockey League and the Vegas Golden Knights, who started playing in Southern Nevada in 2017.
Now, Major League Baseball’s Oakland Athletics are exploring a possible move to the area, Major League Soccer is considering Las Vegas for an expansion franchise and rumors continue to swirl that the National Basketball Association has Las Vegas on a short list of possible additions.
“The short answer is I think Vegas has the potential to support the four or five major professional leagues,” said Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority CEO Steve Hill.
“What’s the definition of success?” asked Hill, who also is the director of the Las Vegas Stadium Authority. “At the end of the day it’s if it was a better decision to come to Las Vegas than it was to go to a different city. If that is really the question, I think Vegas really has the capacity to do that with all five (including MLS) of the major sports leagues.”
Gov. Steve Sisolak, who as a Clark County commissioner played a key role during the Raiders’ relocation process, echoed Hill’s sentiments, saying the Las Vegas Valley would be able to host a full array of major league teams.
“I don’t know if there is a cap in Southern Nevada,” Sisolak said. “We’ve talked with a lot of people, franchises that aren’t here yet. I met with (NBA commissioner) Adam Silver when we had NBA Summer League this year, and baseball (A’s) has been in town, and MLS is looking to come to town, so there are a lot of different things. Las Vegas is a sports town and people love their sports here.”
The emergence of sports as a major draw for Las Vegas is a sign the city is entering a new era, said Clark County Commissioner Michael Naft. He said that not only does professional sports act as an economic driver, it also brings a sense of community revolving around the sports franchises.
“We had the family-friendly ’90s. We had the young, friendly early 2000s era and are now in a successful business travel, international traveler trend, before the pandemic began,” Naft said. “I think sports is the next era in how we brand ourselves as a community.”
Hill noted that original projections for what percentage of out-of-towners would make up the crowd at Allegiant Stadium have been exceeded through the first handful of events there.
Original projections called for 27 percent of attendees at the stadium to come from out of town just for the event. Another 15 percent was expected to be visitors who had planned a trip to Las Vegas and decided to take in an event after arriving here.
“In most cities the vast majority of the people who attend events at a stadium are just going to be from the surrounding area and that’s not really economic development,” Hill said. “That’s just a community amenity. Here in Vegas we’re actually seeing better than what we projected. We’re seeing more than that for Raiders games and more than that for most of these other events. ”
Sisolak believes the presence of pro sports teams could entice visitors to extend their stay in Las Vegas to watch a baseball series or catch a football or hockey game.
“There’s a great opportunity for increasing room nights and heads in beds in Las Vegas,” he said.
Scott DeAngelo, chief marketing officer for Las Vegas-based Allegiant Air, said tourists are a big reason why all major sports leagues could potentially work in the valley, with fans willingly traveling to Las Vegas to see their favorite teams play.
“We see it in the NHL when the Penguins, Red Wings and Blackhawks come here,” said DeAngelo, who also sits on the LVCVA board of directors. “You’re going to see the same thing in baseball, you’re going to see the same thing in basketball. So that’s why I so emphatically say yes — yes, as an incredibly growing city and metro area we can support it.”
Hill said the different business models for each league must be taken into account. All leagues would require a different level of need before they could begin play in the area.
“The NBA could come here and move directly into a facility (T-Mobile Arena) that’s already built,” Hill said. “Obviously baseball would not be able to do that. MLS potentially could (at Allegiant Stadium) and it sounds like they want to.”
It would come down to what is important to each league, Hill said.
Through their five trips to Southern Nevada, the A’s have consistently said they want to build a $1 billion, 30,000-plus capacity ballpark if they relocate here. Depending on where they land, a mixed-use development surrounding the ballpark could also be in play.
How an MLB ballpark potentially would be funded is still unclear, as talks haven’t escalated to that point yet. The A’s also have been adamant that they would like some sort of public-private partnership with whichever jurisdiction they end up choosing.
Hill noted Las Vegas’ unique potential for a team to blend a resort with a possible stadium, as that would create a symbiotic relation between the two.
“We have the ability here to do things that you can’t do in other cities,” Hill said. “This is just a thought, but there are pieces of property where you could combine a sports facility with a hotel-casino and really think about packaging things differently around that combination. The development that could happen around the stadium really is different in Las Vegas than it is anyplace else.
“We’ve got a lot of creative thinkers who have evolved this city over the last number of decades and I think that capacity, that ability makes it more likely that teams and leagues are more successful here, than they are in other cities.”
Hill said it would be up to each jurisdiction to determine what they could offer, but he said there’s one element that’s not on the table.
“The one thing I would say is I don’t think using an additional increment of room tax would be an option that the city would look to,” Hill said. “That would surprise me.”
Of Allegiant Stadium’s $2 billion price tag, $750 million is being paid for by a 0.88 percent room tax on hotel rooms in Clark County.
Through the A’s visiting process, thus far Clark County has shown little to no interest in offering a public-private partnership deal. City of Las Vegas officials haven’t said much on the topic, with Henderson officials saying they had preliminary conversations with team brass about what a potential deal could look like.
Another factor to consider is the overlapping schedules of the different leagues. If the NBA were to expand to Las Vegas, for example, its schedule would run almost concurrently with the NHL’s. That would mean the Golden Knights and a Las Vegas NBA franchise would be competing for fans with both able to accommodate about 18,000 fans at T-Mobile Arena.
Hill said he doesn’t see that being an issue.
“Eighteen thousand fans a night is a lot of people, but when you have the opportunity to have 330,000-340,000 people in town as visitors, that’s a small percentage of our visitation every day,” he said.
“Locally you’re going to have some overlap in fan bases,” Hill added. “But you’ll also have some hockey fans who aren’t necessarily basketball fans and basketball fans who aren’t hockey fans, so at some point you’re going to draw from a different group of locals.”
Mark Davis, owner of the Raiders and Las Vegas Aces, has concerns about the impact of overlapping regular-season schedules. He’s skeptical of the number of days teams would hope to fill a stadium or arena — especially when it comes to baseball.
“It’s baseball, it’s there and I think people will go. I just don’t know how many,” Davis said. “I would say it would almost be like spring training. I can see the argument for saying people from New York would come to Las Vegas to see the Yankees play for three days. But I don’t know if the Houston Astros would (draw).”
The A’s are struggling to draw fans to their aging stadium in Oakland this season as the team is averaging 8,920 fans per home game, good for 27th out of 30 MLB teams. While their recent four-game series with the Yankees drew an average of 16,853 fans, only a little more than quarter of that — 4,508 — attended the Aug. 24 game against the Seattle Mariners.
In comparison, the A’s Triple-A team, the Aviators, averaged 9,299 fans per game during the 2019 season at Las Vegas Ballpark. They are averaging 6,663, according to Baseball Reference.
Davis said he wouldn’t be too quick to use the Aviators’ success and assume that would translate to the major leagues in Southern Nevada.
“As a small entity up in Summerlin, I think it’s a good thing they’ve got going there,” Davis said. “But trying to go to the big leagues, I don’t know.”