It’s a story we’ve become accustomed to — maybe spoiled by is a more accurate term — over the last many years: a major sporting or entertainment event is moving to Las Vegas.
Just last week, Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott announced that his conference’s championship football game, pitting the winners of the northern and southern divisions, will be played at the Raiders’ new stadium following the 2020 and 2021 seasons. This was not unexpected news, as the move several years ago of the Pac-12’s basketball tournament to Las Vegas had proven to be a real winner.
Yet the football story got just a whisper of coverage in local media. Had this been announced in nearly any other city in the western United States, it would have been a major story.
This announcement was made the same week that the WNBA’s All-Star Game was being hosted at the Mandalay Bay Events Center. All the players in town for the game raved about the welcome they received, the many special events that were held in their honor, and how quickly the Aces had become a premier team in the league. They had the best record in the league at the break.
The WNBA All-Star Game was an offense-only funfest that broke scoring records, found the game’s MVP Erica Wheeler in tears of gratitude, and even had Kobe Bryant and Chris Paul cheering courtside.
One only had to look back three years to hear the mild scoffing that was done when it was announced that Las Vegas would host a WNBA team. But with smart management, such as hiring Bill Laimbeer, a former NBA “Bad Boy” with the Detroit Pistons as head coach for a team in “Sin City,” along with some savvy drafting, the Aces now have three legitimate All-Star players and a loyal and growing fan base. Attendance in the first year was 5,200 per game, and with the current winner it’s up significantly in season two.
The Pac-12 football announcement further underscored a line I have heard increasingly over the many years I’ve lived in Las Vegas: “Don’t worry about visiting friends in other cities, they’ll all come to Las Vegas eventually.”
That line applies not only to individuals, but increasingly to countless other organizations, teams, conventions, and performance groups.
When you start listing the famous people and important events Las Vegas has drawn over recent decades, it starts to sink in:
Two major sporting events that arrived in 1983 and 1985 respectively were the PGA Tour and the National Finals Rodeo.
While it was expected that men’s professional golf would return here after a seven-year hiatus, the luring of the NFR from its long-time home base of Oklahoma City was a real coup, and gave Oklahomans a bitter taste for our city that lingers some 35 years later. They just couldn’t grasp how real cowboys could abandon a diehard cowtown for a neon jungle. Okies are still spitting tobacco on sidewalks over that one.
Of course it was the opening of The Mirage in 1989 that was a game changer for the Strip. It inspired other large corporations to up their game, build new projects that were competitive, and improve their existing facilities. Not only did that mean adding more convention space, but it allowed our marketing gurus to bring bigger and more important meetings to town.
This capacity, and the competition it inspired, brought bigger names and acts to the showrooms, and over time lured many of the best chefs in the world to put their names on gourmet rooms in the new hotels. Not to mention that the headliner names on marquees up and down the Strip are the glitziest in the entertainment business.
The goal of any major event, held annually, is to draw attendance not only from a sizable segment of the local population, but as many out-of-towners as possible. If we can be permitted to boast for a minute, it is to Las Vegas’ credit that over the years we have created a 24-hour entertainment environment that is unrivaled anywhere in the U.S., if not the world. Out-of-towners need only the slightest nudge to come to our city.
This past week, we welcomed a professional all-star game and announcement of a major college football game. Next week and the week after, we can expect other exciting news. It’s who we are. It’s what we do.
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