In a few hours, Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Finals will start as the Pittsburgh Penguins and Nashville Predators resume their series. The pucks, not to mention the catfish, will be flying.
But when the series is over, when the champagne is sprayed, and when the victors drink from Lord Stanley’s Cup, that is when the biggest experiment in sports will truly begin.
Las Vegas will join the big leagues.
In October, the 31st franchise in the NHL will hit the ice. Ever since the NHL awarded it to Bill Foley, the area has been locked in a wonderful period of speculation. The sky was the limit, because reality had not set in. Now reality is very close to giving the city a slap in the face.
There are about as many permutations as to how this can play out as there are spots on a roulette wheel. The question seems to be: Can the city support a sports franchise along with everything else that makes area known as Sin City? Can it fit in with the freewheeling lifestyle that allowed the area to earn its’ reputation?
Signs seem to be promising. The arena is already in place. T-Mobile Arena is a modern jewel of a facility that glitters in the sun The outside is colored copper and bronze, so of course it’s going to glitter. This being Vegas, the arena will also be booked for concerts and other special events.
Also, the end-of-the-year NHL Awards will be held at T-Mobile. This time, the Expansion Draft will be in conjunction with it. The Awards have bounced around different Las Vegas casinos, from the Wynn, to the MGM, to last year at the Hard Rock.
The real barometer is season ticket sales. According to a story originally published in the Las Vegas Review Journal in February, the team sold approximately 13,000 season ticket packages. That total includes the all-important club seats and suites. This can be factored to the ‘new car smell’ of a new franchise. If the club founders early on, will the demand still be there? Will fans from opposing locales make it an ‘event trip’?
Time will tell with those factors, and with this one as well: Will the more established casinos be okay with something that can draw tourists away from their venues? Outwardly, the answer seems to be they are treating it like just another tourist destination, like the roller coaster twirled around New York, New York, or the Top of the World restaurant at the Stratosphere.
But all this is just a warm up to the real circus.
In 2020, the NFL will come to town in the form of the peripatetic Oakland Raiders. (I’m sorry, the Las Vegas Raiders.) A tract of land has been purchased and sealed off.
This is the fenced off lot. It sits on the opposite side of I15 from the Strip at its’ southern end, directly across from the Mandalay Bay property. The club paid $77.5 million dollars for the 62 acres.
The stadium has a $1.9 billion dollar price tag. However, the Raiders could mean $22.5 million dollars in new tax revenue to Clark County, plus 451 thousand more unique visitors, or people who wouldn’t otherwise come to Las Vegas. Those numbers are courtesy of Applied Analysis, a Las Vegas based economic analytics firm, in a study commissioned by the Southern Nevada Tourism Infrastructure Committee (SNTIC). They were published in an article on casino.org last October. Those totals could depend on what other events the venue can lure.
Not everyone is on board with the proposed $750 million dollar public contribution price tag. Disagreeing with Applied Analysis’ predictions is Victor Matheson, an economic professor at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, MA. In an interview published in the Las Vegas Sun shortly after the Applied Analysis report was released, Matheson thought the numbers put forth were way too optimistic.
“It’s certainly possible the stadium makes sense,” said Matheson. “But you have to have an unbelievable, ridiculous number of things to go right.”
It’s hard to say what excites people more. Las Vegas wants the NHL to come. Everyone else wants the NFL to come. (Teams scheduled to visit in 2020, if the NFL keeps its’ rotation, are New Orleans, Tampa Bay, Buffalo, Miami, Denver, Kansas City and the Los Angeles Chargers – the eighth team, an AFC team from either the North or South, won’t be known until the 2019 season is over).
Las Vegas sits itching to take its’ place at the big boys sporting table. The area has been a magnet for boxing and MMA events, and gets a pretty respectable traffic from them. Los Angeles is a short flight away, but being in the pro sports brotherhood is certainly different. Everyone knows it. Las Vegas is 40th in the latest Designated Market Area (DMA) – a Neilsen device used to measure television market size. They’re not the biggest market without a sports franchise. That honor belongs to Durham-Raleigh area of North Carolina.
The University of Nevada-Las Vegas has a unique perspective on this. With the Las Vegas 51’s, the Triple A affiliate of the New York Mets, the Runnin’ Rebels used to be the only game in town for the sports fan. Now, UNLV has to share the fall and winter market with the NHL.
But the University Athletic Department only sees the positives of sharing their backyard. “People don’t realize how big of a sports town Las Vegas has been,” said Andy Grossman, UNLV’s Associate Athletic Director of Communications. “This helps the landscape of the entire city.”
The Rebels looks to share the new stadium with the Raiders once the park is built. “It will be a game changer for recruiting,” said Grossman. “It will help get the program to the next level.”
A lot of different people are counting on Las Vegas’ elevation to the big leagues. It will put that essential adage about the casino industry to its’ ultimate test. The house always wins.