The first weekend of March 2018 was a great time to be a sports fan in Vegas.
The line-up included three NASCAR races at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway; USA Sevens rugby at Sam Boyd Stadium; and on consecutive nights at the T-Mobile Arena, Vegas Golden Knights hockey, followed by a mixed martial arts event produced by the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), its headquarters and Performance Institute being located in Vegas.
Stars and representatives from each sport joined the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA) and MGM Resorts International at T-Mobile Arena’s Toshiba Plaza for a kickoff rally celebrating this “Ultimate Sports Weekend.”
Unrivaled in marketing itself and new opportunities, Vegas is adding sports tourism to its powerhouse portfolio.
Now, along with abundant top-class dining or entertainment options, delegates will have their pick of all-star athletic action for their agendas.
Will NBA and MLB franchises follow the smash sensation Golden Knights and NFL’s Oakland Raiders to town? Will future meetings and conventions include tickets to a Super Bowl, Stanley Cup or a World Cup?
These and other discussions are in play as Las Vegas, league leader in the competitive meetings industry, is packing on new sports muscle to flex its desirability to groups.
Las Vegas has been a sports town for decades, hosting championship boxing, PGA and NASCAR events, and since 1985, the blockbuster 10-day National Finals Rodeo at the Thomas & Mack Center at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV).
Cashman Field, home of the New York Mets Triple-A affiliate Las Vegas 51s (to be rebranded in 2019 along with a new team affiliation), has hosted Major League Baseball spring training. MGM Resorts’ annual NBA Summer League, also at the Thomas & Mack and UNLV’s Cox Pavilion, is a slam dunk. Televised on ESPN and with record attendance of 127,843 in 2017, the 2018 event this July will feature all 30 NBA teams for the first time.
Las Vegas also has hockey history, including the Gamblers (1968-1971) and ECHL’s minor league Wranglers (2003-2014). And, in 1991 the city hosted a contest between the N.Y. Rangers and L.A. Kings on an outdoor rink in Caesars Palace’s parking lot.
Other than the NBA’s Utah Jazz, however, which famously played 11 home games at the Thomas & Mack in its turnaround 1983-1984 season, the majors have stayed away.
The big concern was the influence of illegal sports wagering, an industry valued at around $150 billion. With a U.S. Supreme Court decision expected soon on a governing case in New Jersey and Atlantic City, however, the ban could lift nationwide. And with the mindset already shifting, Vegas went ahead and scored an NFL franchise. Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval declared the November 2017 groundbreaking for the Las Vegas Raiders’ new 65,000-seat, nearly $2 billion football stadium “one of the most transformative moments in the history of Las Vegas.”
Unexpected but no less transformative is the runaway success of the Vegas Golden Knights, which have captured local imagination and national attention in the team’s unprecedented debut season. From helping Vegas heal after last October’s mass shooting to dressing the Statue of Liberty replica at New York-New York
Las Vegas Hotel & Casino in a giant Knights jersey, the team’s impact is irresistible and undeniable.
Attending the Knights’ first playoff game, Raiders’ owner Mark Davis told a local reporter that he “wanted to develop the same kind of loyal Las Vegas fan base that has electrified T-Mobile Arena.”
Odds are strong that locals are hungry for more.
The Raiders come with a Super Bowl legacy and legendary former coach Al Davis’ famed “Just win, baby!” mantra. That former coach Jon Gruden is back in charge is also promising.
Echoing Golden Knights owner Bill Foley’s successful season ticket drive, Clark County’s recent sale of bonds to institutional investors to help pay for the stadium sold out in 90 minutes.
With retractable glass doors opening to Strip views and other advanced features throughout, the 10-level, natural-grass stadium will offer abundant group programming opportunities. Major event prospects are dazzling, too, from the Super Bowl, NCAA Final Four and World Cup to rock concerts.
Will the NBA be next? Possibly paving the way are the WNBA’s former San Antonio Stars. Relocated here by MGM and now called the Las Vegas Aces, the team began play in May 2018 at the 12,000-seat Mandalay Bay Events Center coached by former NBA star Bill Laimbeer.
Cashman Field also hosts United Soccer League action from the Las Vegas Lights FC—the expansion team is notably sponsored by locally based NuWu Cannabis
Marketplace, the world’s largest marijuana dispensary—and the current Las Vegas 51s. Groundbreaking is slated for later this year for completion by 2019 on the team’s new $150 million, 10,000-seat Las Vegas Ballpark in nearby Summerlin, Nev.
At the Forefront
Ever vigilant to marketplace trends, MGM Resorts International has been carefully following the growth of esports, or competitive digital gaming.
“Projections are for a $5 billion global enterprise by 2020,” informed MGM Chief Sales Officer Michael Dominguez. “There are leagues, New England Patriots’ owner Robert Kraft and Shaquille O’Neal have teams, and it’s already a significant piece of business for us here in Vegas.”
Opened in March 2018, the new Esports Arena Las Vegas at Luxor Hotel and Casino is MGM’s investment in the opportunity. Becoming the flagship of Allied Esports’ global network, the 30,000-square-foot, multilevel venue features a competition stage, 50-foot-long, two-story LED video wall, telescopic seating, PC and console gaming stations, virtual reality (VR) platforms and more. Group amenities include five VIP rooms and a culinary program from world-renowned chef and serial Vegas restaurateur Jose Andres.
“For general sessions, corporate presentations and other group utilization, the technology alone, which includes a network TV-quality production studio, will be an experience apart,” Dominguez said. “For competitive play, the vision is regional, national and even global tournaments, attracting up to 30,000 participants at a time.”
Groups can also engage in multiplayer free-roam VR games at the MGM Grand’s LEVEL UP gaming lounge. It’s MGM again at the “fore” for sporting-minded groups with Topgolf Las Vegas at the MGM Grand.
For groups, the enticement is the complete hospitality, entertainment and sports package. With key amenities including private meeting rooms and event spaces, a 900-capacity concert venue, two pools with VIP cabanas and a private suite, chef-driven cuisine and five bars, golfers have 107 climate-controlled hitting bays.
The venue flexibly hosts small and large group play, private events and viewing parties, from UFC fights to Golden Knights hockey action. With Topgolf in other MGM locations, planners can also work with Topgolf on multi-location events across its growing 40-plus venue national network.
As LVCVA CEO Rossi Ralenkotter stated, the bureau does not make a decision that is not backed by marketing research. With the success of the Golden Knights alone, expansion of sports tourism appears to be on statistically solid ground.
“I think we get so much more media attention nationally and internationally as a result of how well the team has done,” Lisa Motley, the LVCVA’s director of sports marketing and special events told the Las Vegas Review-Journal recently. “The great thing about having professional sports here is that you’ve got people watching from out of market on television.
"We’ve got people who come to Las Vegas for a hockey game and maybe a show or some fine dining," she added. "It just adds to the overall experience of Las Vegas and it becomes a bucket list destination to come visit for a sporting event.”