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How Marquee Events and Major Investments Are Boosting the Global Draw of Las Vegas

Super Bowl ad on the Sphere exterior in Las Vegas at nighttime

“Sometimes it takes a grand madness to have the vision to build a place we’ve never experienced before,” said U2 lead singer Bono in a behind-the-scenes Apple Music video on the boundary-busting Sphere in Las Vegas, where the band wraps its 40-show residency March 2. 

In another preview segment with CBS Sunday Morning, U2 guitarist The Edge, recalling initial skepticism from U2’s creative team over the venue’s suitability for concerts, related their decision to commit to the Sphere because, “We’d be mad not to do this.”

These sentiments could describe Las Vegas itself, which throughout its 119-year history has madly embraced futurism and the future. Fearlessly evolving, expanding and changing shape since 1905 in the unforgiving Mojave Desert, Las Vegas has made an art form of achieving the seemingly impossible.

For decades, the National Football League (NFL) shunned Las Vegas like the plague because of sports betting concerns. This February, Vegas hosted its first Super Bowl. With a total average audience of 123.4 million viewers across multiple broadcast and digital platforms and 202.4 million people viewing at least some of the game, it was the most-watched U.S. television broadcast since the 1969 Apollo 11 moon landing.

Breaking other records on and off the field, the event showed the world what repeat group customers know, love and have come to expect of Las Vegas. Just as Rolling Stone called the Sphere “a quantum leap forward for concerts,” accelerating growth and transformation continues to vault Vegas ahead of the competition.

[Related: How to Host a Private Event at the Incredible Sphere in Las Vegas]

Las Vegas Sports Leave Huge Lasting Impressions

Las Vegas Grand Prix Pit Building at night
Las Vegas Grand Prix pit building. Credit: Las Vegas Grand Prix

In October 2014, I joined a Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA) familiarization trip for group industry journalists. While listing “Entertainment Capital of the World” amenities that include award-winning dining, first-class shopping, high-end spas and world-class golf, our press packet made no mention of sports. 

Today, Vegas is home to the NFL’s Las Vegas Raiders, current Stanley Cup champions the Vegas Golden Knights and current back-to-back WNBA champions the Las Vegas Aces. Returning last November for the first time since 1981, the Formula 1 Las Vegas Grand Prix should be a fixture for the next decade. With possible MLB and NBA teams on the horizon and much more besides, the success of Super Bowl LVIII indisputably confirmed Vegas’ stance as the "Sports and Entertainment Capital of the World" and “Greatest Arena on Earth.”

Sports tourism dominated the 2024 edition of Preview Las Vegas, Southern Nevada’s premier business forecasting event. Taking place two weeks before the Super Bowl, the half-day program, organized by the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce, took place in the 105,000-plus-square-foot Royal Ballroom of the gorgeous new Fontainebleau Las Vegas.

The screenshot of The Onion’s recent “Every Professional Sports Team Moves To Las Vegas” story generated much laughter, but satire aside, little ever seems far-fetched in Vegas. 

“Las Vegas is now a legitimate championship, professional sports city,” declared Chamber President and CEO Mary Beth Seward in her opening remarks.

With the roar of Formula 1 (F1) engines on the Strip reverberating around the world last November, Las Vegas Grand Prix (LVGP) CEO Renee Wilm said the race “highlighted this town on a global scale that I think no one has done before.” 

Selling 316,000 tickets and bringing in 145,000 unique visitors, the event generated 110 billion media impressions, 10-plus times the Vegas average for a year. Spending by race and non-race attendees delivered $884 million in economic impact, with another $587 million invested in land acquisition, capital improvements and operating expenditures.  

F1 visitors stayed a day longer and spent 3.6 times more than the typical Vegas traveler, at $4,128 versus $1,156 per person. Citing record room, gaming and tax revenues, LVCVA President and CEO Steve Hill called 2023 “the best year in the history of Las Vegas,” with the race helping to produce the “second best month ever, behind October 2023.”

Well-publicized traffic woes aside, 52.8% of locals surveyed by the LVGP support extending the race to 10 years. The completion of a dozen major infrastructure-related projects in 2023 will “substantially reduce” the event footprint.

Outside of the F1 event, the permanent 300,000-square-foot Las Vegas Grand Prix Pit Building at Grand Prix Plaza offers customizable year-round indoor and outdoor group space that includes second-level terraces, the rooftop and 14 garages.

Vegas’ sports story also impressed Oakland A’s owner John Fisher, who discussed how his nearly 20-year focus on developing a new facility for the storied baseball team led him here. 

“What got me most excited was the strength of the local market,” he said. “The degree of support for the Aces, Raiders and Golden Knights is incredible.”

The proposed A’s relocation plan calls for demolishing Tropicana Las Vegas and building a $1.5 billion, 30,000-seat ballpark plus a new hotel on the site. Five days after Preview, Tropicana announced that it was closing this April. Other than a target opening date of 2028, finalized commitments remain up in the air.

Another bouncing ball is a possible NBA team. Speaking on ESPN shortly after the Super Bowl, NBA commissioner Adam Silver said that Las Vegas is “definitely” on the league’s expansion list when negotiations for a new television deal begin next year.

[Related: Las Vegas Sports Tourism Is a Total Team Effort]

Las Vegas, “The Super Bowl of Cities,” Puts on a Show

Allegiant Stadium exterior
Allegiant Stadium. Courtesy: Las Vegas Super Bowl Host Committee

Culminating a five-month major event “blitz” that began in late September with U2’S inauguration of the Sphere, Vegas hosted its first-ever Super Bowl this February. True to form, the destination went to town with the opportunity.

Speaking with Hill and the media at Preview, NFL Executive Vice President for Club Business, International and League Events Peter O’Reilly recognized Las Vegas as “a tremendous partner” because of its big event experience. Allegiant Stadium and the Las Vegas Raiders opened the door to that partnership and led to Vegas becoming the first destination to be awarded the NFL Draft, Pro Bowl and Super Bowl, aka the “trifecta” of signature NFL events. 

After mastering the first two (NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell called Vegas’ hosting of the 2022 Draft “better than perfect”), Vegas dressed for Super Bowl LVIII like only Vegas can. 

The Sphere’s exterior, or Exosphere, demonstrated its full power as the largest LED screen on Earth, with dazzling displays of customized NFL, Super Bowl and corporate content. The Augustus Tower at Caesars Palace served as the canvas for the 65,000-square-foot “Super Bowl Projection Show,” while the venue hosted the NFL-sanctioned Super Bowl Breakfast, a fan favorite since 1988. 

Familiar Vegas entertainers, including Elvis impersonators, performers from Cirque du Soleil’s The Beatles LOVE show, and the Blue Man Group appeared at the airport, Allegiant Stadium and other activations around town. Vegas hosted 300-plus ancillary events during Super Bowl week, peaking with the Big Game. With top-level security in place, all went smoothly, coronating Vegas, in the words of one TV commenter, as “the Super Bowl of cities.”

“We think it’s safe to say that all expectations were exceeded, including our own,” said Sam Joffray, president and CEO of the Las Vegas Super Bowl Host Committee, the following day at the handoff ceremony to Super Bowl LIX host New Orleans.

Goodell was likewise bullish on Vegas.

“The hospitality here, you outdid it,” he said. “I think it’s safe to say the NFL looks forward to coming back.”

Vegas’ victory lap includes potentially greater than anticipated financial returns. Following initial estimates of around 330,000 visitors and $600 million in economic impact, early reports indicate up to 450,000 visitors and spending as high as $1.1 billion. 

Las Vegas is the 40th-ranked media market in the U.S. As NBA commissioner Adam Silver commented, however, “Man, do they punch above their weight.” 

Combined with F1, the global exposure delivered immeasurable value in terms of debunking outdated “Sin City” myths and misperceptions and showing the “true” Las Vegas. Audiences around the world saw a dynamic modern city with a unique physical and visual presence and first-class events and tourism industry.

As Hill and other leaders acknowledged, with success comes the pressure to up the pace and go even higher. That’s music to the Vegas ear as the “grand madness” of future planning continues.

Las Vegas Continues to Outdistance the Convention Business Competition—Including Itself

Venetian Expo exterior
Venetian Expo. Credit: Las Vegas News Bureau

With 2023 convention attendance up 19.9% over 2022, growing from 4.9 million to nearly 6 million people, Vegas, maintaining its long-running spot as the U.S. leader for meetings and conventions, wants to break 2019’s record high of 6.6 million delegates this year. 

Toward that goal, the Las Vegas Convention Center (LVCC), The Venetian Convention and Expo Center and Mandalay Bay Convention Center, ranked first, third and seventh in the nation, respectively, by the Wall Street Journal last year, are all upgrading.

Following the $1 billion West Hall expansion in 2021, the $600 million enhancement of the LVCC’s legacy campus so far includes a new South Hall public entrance and outdoor plaza adjacent to the Vegas Loop South Station, renovated lobby and prefunction space, and new state-of-the-art boardroom. 

Announced at IMEX America last October, Venetian Resort Las Vegas commences a sweeping billion-dollar capital investment project this year. Inspired by the needs of loyal group clients and incorporating amenities and design elements informed by their direct feedback, the plan includes the phased $188 million renovation of its 2.25 million-square-foot convention center. Groups can look forward to an “Italian renaissance” of refreshed interiors, integrated digital displays, new technologies, attractive artwork and more. Unique spaces include elevated executive lounges and a 10,000-square-foot speakeasy-style lounge.

Our Preview agenda included touring the 2.1 million-square-foot Mandalay Bay Convention Center, which hosted the four-day Super Bowl Experience and is finalizing a phased $100 million remodel in 2024. Upgrades include high-speed Cat6A Ethernet cabling, dynamic new digital walls and new decor. We also saw the stunning specialty suites, scenic group spaces and other alluring amenities at off-Strip Palms Casino Resort (see “Planner’s Perspective" below).

Last December, Vegas boosted guest room inventory to 156,000-plus keys with the openings of two highly-anticipated properties.

Adding to Station Casinos’ portfolio of seven off-Strip group sanctuaries, the $780 million Durango Casino & Resort garnered instant rave reviews for its striking design, collection of 15 restaurants and bars, gorgeous pool and more. Located in southwest Las Vegas, the 201-room property offers 25,000 square feet of versatile space, including 15,000-plus square feet of ballroom space and a technologically advanced boardroom, and is already on the group map with a strong booking pace. 

Fontainebleau Las Vegas ushers in a new era of luxury to the North Strip. Located across from the LVCC’s West Hall, the 67-story tower vertically stacks 3,644 hotel rooms, 550,000 square feet of versatile indoor-outdoor space and world-class amenities, including 36 dining concepts.

Transportation infrastructure is a priority focus. With Harry Reid International Airport welcoming a record 57 million passengers last year, long-time calls for a second airport about 30 miles south of Vegas are rising. The proposed $12 billion, 218-mile Brightline West high-speed rail link between Vegas and Southern California recently received a $3 billion federal grant. The Vegas Loop underground transit system continues to expand with upcoming stations at the Westgate and Wynn resorts.

“Our prosperity is not by accident,” said Jeremy Aguero, principal analyst with Vegas-based Applied Analysis, at Preview. “It can be difficult overall, but we can keep going forward because we are doing remarkable things as a community.” 

Looking further ahead, a new Guitar Hotel is slated to replace the Mirage’s volcano feature when Hard Rock takes ownership of the property in 2025 or later. 

What else could be in store? With Grateful Dead legacy band Dead & Company taking over the Sphere for a 24-plus show residency this May through July, the long, strange Vegas trip is certain to keep on trucking.

[Related: Tap These Unique Las Vegas Meeting and Event Venues for Smaller Groups]

Plus: A Planner's Perspective on Meeting in Las Vegas

Palms Casino Resort exterior
Palms Casino Resort. Credit: Palms Casino Resort

Mary Shea Sutherland, director of events for EDGE/GBEF (Government Business Executive Forum) based in Vienna, Virginia, details her experience bringing the EDGE conference to Las Vegas. 

What is your company’s booking history for Las Vegas meetings or events?

We have brought our annual EDGE conference, formerly CES Government, to Vegas for the past 19 consecutive years. EDGE is a senior-level policy forum that takes place every year during CES, bringing together 400 senior level government and industry executives to share mission goals and best practices surrounding technology, AI, national security and other related topics. 
Following the past five years at Park MGM and other properties before that, we chose Palms Resort Casino for our most recent event, in January 2024.

Mary Shea Sutherland
Mary Shea Sutherland

What attracted you to Palms?

For starters, we liked the Palms’ off-Strip location, smaller size and layout. The shorter walking distance between the sleeping rooms and meeting spaces and other venues is a major advantage compared to the larger footprints of Strip properties. We were also impressed by the Palms’ combination of theater and ballroom space; the variety of reception spaces, restaurants and unique venues for our after-hours networking events; and the spacious, beautifully appointed sleeping rooms.

What venues did you utilize for the event?

Over three days, our group attended plenary sessions in the Pearl Theater and executive roundtables in the ballroom. For after-hours networking and social time, we held receptions and dinners at exciting restaurants and entertainment venues, including Moon, NOVE, La Popular and KAOS. The panoramic Strip and Valley views from the rooftop Vetri Cucina restaurant and Ghostbar nightclub were stunning. Our attendees were thrilled and commented on the uniqueness of the spaces, the quality of the food and fantastic service.

How was dealing with the Palms team? 

From contracting for the space with Teresa Hemphill to working with our onsite contact, Dolores Casteneda, it was a fantastic experience. Making a point of getting to know our team and our program goals, they were readily available throughout the program and proactively resolved the minor unforeseen issues that arose during our stay. From the delightful security officers to the AV team and banquet staff, the entire Palms team succeeded in delivering a top-notch experience.

What did your attendees enjoy most about meeting at the Palms?

Everything. They loved the convenient layout and accessibility of Palms and not having to leave the property. They absolutely appreciated having work desks in their rooms, which not all Vegas properties offer. Our attendees also mentioned how much they liked the large lobby bar as a great central meeting and gathering point. Some even felt like the bar was their own private venue for the duration of the conference. Our entire three-day experience was great, and we are excited to return to Palms in January 2025 for our 20th anniversary.

Read this next: Nevada Is Having One of Its Best Years Yet—Major Event Reports From Las Vegas, Reno and More

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About the author
Jeff Heilman | Senior Contributor

Brooklyn, N.Y.-based independent journalist Jeff Heilman has been a Meetings Today contributor since 2004, including writing our annual Texas and Las Vegas supplements since inception. Jeff is also an accomplished ghostwriter specializing in legal, business and Diversity & Inclusion content.