Nevada Newsmakers

Special report: Las Vegas re-invents itself as 'Sports Capital of the World'

News - November 13, 2023

Las Vegas has re-invented itself as "The Sports Capital of the World," some leaders in Nevada's tourism industry have said.

Professional sports leagues continue to flock to Nevada's largest city, seeing dollar signs in their eyes.

"What Vegas brings to professional sports right now is pretty obvious to all these leagues," Steve Hill, CEO and chairman of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, said on Nevada Newsmakers.

Las Vegas is already home the NFL Raiders and two professional championship teams in the NHL Golden Knights and the WNBA's Aces.

College basketball continues to seek out Las Vegas for many of its conference championship tournaments, held concurrently at venues like UNLV's Thomas & Mack, T-Mobile Arena and The Orleans.

The NBA has selected Las Vegas as the host city for its new In-Season Tournament championship series and Las Vegas is also considered a likely choice for an NBA expansion franchise. NBA Hall of Famer and TV personality Shaquille O’Neal has expressed interest to be part of the ownership group for an NBA team in Las Vegas.

Allegiant Stadium has hosted college football games with national-brand teams like Notre Dame. The 30-year-old Las Vegas Bowl, played at Allegiant, now has a contract for teams from the Southeastern Conference, college football's marque league.

Let's not forget that the National Finals Rodeo continues to draw about 170,000 fans to its 10-day championship event at the Thomas & Mack Center in December.

The sports franchises and special events they bring are helping Las Vegas succeed in it's "solid and steady growth" philosophy, Hill said.

Others, however, are stunned at the pace of change.

"This is a destination for sports that wasn't (one) 10 years ago," Fox sports analyst Petros Papadakis said of Las Vegas during last week's telecast of the UNLV vs. Wyoming football game.

Continued expansion

The Las Vegas sports scene, however, should continue to expand in the next five years.

The Oakland A's Major League Baseball team is expected to move to Nevada where a new stadium should be ready by Opening Day in 2028, Hill said.

Formula 1 racing, a elite yet widely popular international sport, will have its first race in Las Vegas on Saturday. The Las Vegas Grand Prix should pour $1.3 billion to the local economy, Hill said.

"Our projection is $1.3 billion in economic impact and that doesn't include the revenue that Formula 1 gets," Hill told host Sam Shad. "That's what's spent in Las Vegas. That stays in Las Vegas."

The race, expected to run in Las Vegas for the next 10 years, will also serve as a world-wide marketing tool for the destination, Hill said.

"The spectacle of this is going to be seen all over the globe," Hill said. "I mean, we couldn't buy this kind of marketing and we've got a pretty decent marketing budget (at the LVCVA)."

The Formula 1 race will also transform one of Las Vegas' weakest weekends for tourism into one of the strongest.

"We're going to have over 100-million people watching Formula One in Las Vegas on a Saturday night, on a weekend that has historically been the second toughest weekend for us," Hill said.

"It is now going to be the best weekend of the year," Hill continued. "It is going to make November the best November we've ever had. It might make the fourth quarter of this year the best fourth quarter we have ever had. I mean, it's a remarkable event."

On the horizon, however, looms the NFL's Super Bowl, the greatest annual sports spectacle of our nation.

The Super Bowl 2024

Las Vegas' Allegiant Stadium will host its first Super Bowl in February. Hill wants to make sure it is not the last.

Las Vegas also played host to the NFL Draft Weekend in 2022 and it was considered by many to be resounding success.

"Our goal here is for the NFL to want to be here (for the Super Bowl) every year," Hill said. "They probably can't do that but we want them to be here every year and hopefully, get it back on a more regular basis than any place else."

Las Vegas has the know-how to put on a great special event, Hill said.

"And I'm confident we're going to do that," Hill continued. "And a lot of it is just this community knows how to do this."

The Super Bowl will mark a significant milestone in the evolution and growth of Las Vegas tourism, Hill said.

"It's going to be a fantastic week and it's one of these marquee events that, you know, indicate how far Las Vegas has come and how mature as a city and a destination we are," Hill said.

Seismic shift for NFL

Las Vegas owes some of its sports success to the NFL's seismic shift in its attitude toward gambling -- especially sports betting.

In 2003, the NFL denied TV ads for the Super Bowl that promoted Las Vegas as a resort destination because the state allowed football wagers in its sports books.

Then in 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the 1992 Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, which banned sports wagering in most states, with Nevada being the most notable exemption.

More than 30 states have legalized sports betting since then and professional leagues began changing their attitudes about legal sports betting. Now, the NFL has various partnerships with DraftKings, FanDuel, Caesars, BetMGM and PointsBet, according to the New York Times.

"That was 21 years ago where we tried to run the first 'What Happens Here, Stays Here' ad during the Super Bowl. And that was just not allowed," Hill said. "What they've seen since then, there's a couple of things.

"One is what we've always said -- that Nevada is the gold standard for gaming regulation. We are. And that's been maintained.

"Gaming has proliferated around the country," Hill continued. "You can drive 40 miles from wherever you live and place a bet on a sporting event.

"And what the professional leagues have found is that when people are betting on games or playing fantasy football or anything along those lines, they're adding enthusiasm and fans to the game," he said.

"And so it has become actually synergistic and not something that is an obstacle for The League," Hill said. "And that difference has been exhibited in Las Vegas and the leagues see it and want to be here."

Big week for 'Las Vegas A's

The Major League Baseball owners are expected to vote this week on the move to Las Vegas by the Oakland A's during the owners' annual meetings in Arlington, Texas.

Hill is cautiously optimistic. Twenty-three of the 30 owners must approve the move.

"Well, until it's done, it's not done, correct?" Hill said.

"But I don't think Major League Baseball would let us get this far down the road on this project and then change their minds," Hill said.

"This is a move that makes sense for the A's," Hill said. "Being a part of Las Vegas makes sense for Major League Baseball. We are thrilled to have Major League Baseball here in Las Vegas."

The Las Vegas A's are expected to throw out their first pitch in their new Las Vegas stadium in April of 2028.

To meet that goal, stadium construction -- at a nine-acre site where the Tropicana now stands -- should begin in April of 2025, Hill said.

"The A's will play here in 2028," Hill said. "It takes about three years to build a Major League Baseball stadium so that construction needs to start and we heard yesterday is planned to start in April of '25."

Behind-the-scenes work continues so construction can begin on time, Hill said.

"So there will be documentation work and planning work and permitting work over the next 18 months or so that leads up to that time frame," Hill said. "But construction should start April of '25 and we'll be throwing out the first pitch in April of '28."

The A's relocation to Las Vegas, however, will benefit tourism but it won't be a seismic shift, Hill said.

"When you think about the projected tourism, as a result of the (A's) stadium coming, for example, it's about 400,000 (annual visitors)," Hill said. "We think it will over-perform that somewhat. But that's just one-percent of our tourism.

"Having those types of attractions that allow Las Vegas to have solid, steady growth, we think it's important," Hill said.

Possible NBA team for Las Vegas

Tim Leiweke, the chairman and CEO of the Oak View Group, has unveiled plans for a $1 billion arena for Las Vegas that could attract an NBA expansion franchise.

The 20,000-seat arena would be part of a $10 billion, 66-acre casino-resort development at Las Vegas Boulevard and Blue Diamond Road on the south end of The Strip.

Leiweke told the Las Vegas Review-Journal that he hopes to complete the permitting process by the end of the year and break ground next year.

The entire project would be privately financed, Leiweke has said.

The Oak View Group's strategy is to get the arena built and available to an NBA franchise, should the league choose to expand or relocate a team in Las Vegas.

It would be similar strategy to what the Oak View Group did in building the Climate Pledge Arena in Seattle before the National Hockey League committed to the Seattle Kraken expansion franchise playing there in 2021.

"He has vast experience in the industry. And I've said a number of times he may be the smartest person in that general industry in the country," Hill said, then adding, "He has built stadiums and arenas across the country."

Hill certainly has faith in Leiweke.

"When he thinks something is a good idea, it's going to be a good idea," Hill said. "We're very fortunate to have Tim and a Oak View Group interested in Vegas."

"You know, this is a venue that's going to be great for the NBA, but also for music and all kinds of other events," Hill said.

"It just brings another great venue to Las Vegas to program," Hill said. "And then what he's going to build around it, it's going to be pretty fantastic, too. So we're excited about that and we're here to support it in any way we can."

Sports increase, change airline traffic

This "Sports Capital" evolution has increased air traffic at Harry Reid International Airport and has shifted the Las Vegas tourism model, said Rosemary Vassiliadis, Clark County's director of aviation.

"This town is always going to reinvent itself, always has," she said. "And as you know, Southern Nevada has completely evolved to a different type of destination. So we're not just dependent on hotel rooms anymore."

She's seen changes at Harry Reid International Airport.

"It has now evolved to a different type of passenger behavior," she said on Nevada Newsmakers. "No.1, ... actually more visitors arrive by air than drive in.

"Before, drive-ins were always more than 50 percent," she said. "That's no longer the case. And that's because of being a sports arena, a 'Sports Capital of the World.' It's a completely different mindset and behavior," she said.

The number of out-of-town fans flying in for a game can be an overwhelming sight, Vassiliadis said.

"The Baltimore Ravens came in with three charter planes, one for the team, one for the booster club, and then one for fans," Vassiliadis said. "They actually fly their fans in on a wide-body charter flight. And Kansas City. Our entire terminal was full of red because all the Kansas City (Chiefs) fans fly in commercial."

Each sporting event draws it's own particular crowd, she said.

"Teams are different, events are different," Vassiliadis said. "The GA (general aviation, private planes) is very high for a UFC fight. And you know, maybe not for a hockey game."

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