On Sunday, Las Vegas Sun reporters Ron Kantowski and Joe Schoenmann navigated a freewheeling round-table discussion centering on (or revolving around, in this case) the prospects of a major-league sports franchise moving to Las Vegas. Not surprisingly, the consensus was that Vegas needs a new building first, and a team will follow. The assembled experts were Thomas & Mack Center Director Daren Libonati, former Phoenix Suns and Arizona Diamondbacks owner Jerry Colangelo, Las Vegas Events President Pat Christensen, and Las Vegas 51s President and General Manager Don Logan. The outsider, Colangelo, had this to say: “The fact remains, if you don’t have a major league team, you’re not a major league city.”
He also said, “(Las Vegas) is a unique market, and you could build a facility and fill it up with all kinds of wonderful events, it you won’t be a major league city. The bottom line is you’ll have a successful building; you won’t be a major league city.”
This raises the point, what the hell is he talking about? Or maybe that’s a question. Whatever. Point/question, it makes no difference. Las Vegas is a major league city. We would be a major league city if we had a major league team. We would be a major league city if we didn't have a major league team. Colangelo is right that we are a unique city. What makes us unique is that we are a major league city that doesn’t happen to have, or need, a major league team.
Where to begin …
We’ll just be obvious here: As the story itself notes, in 2007 the Thomas & Mack Center recorded more gross ticket sales than any arena in the country except for Madison Square Garden. Las Vegas is home to several fully functional arenas (MGM Grand and Mandalay Bay Events Center among them) to stage some of the biggest one-out sporting events in the country – most notably the biggest concert tours and championship bouts in the Ultimate Fighting Championship (based here) -- and we’re still the biggest boxing city in the nation. Apart from sporting events, we’re building the one of the finest medical institutes in the world, the Frank Gehry-designed Lou Ruvo Brain Institute. That’ll be next door to the Smith Center For the Performing Arts, which borrows from the best theaters and concert halls in the world. Across the street is World Market Center, four vast buildings serving as home to one of the largest furniture markets in the nation. McCarran International is one of the busiest airports in the country every year. MGM Mirage’s Project CityCenter and Boyd Gaming’s Echelon are multibillion-dollar projects that will change the face of the Strip (again) and remind the rest of the country that, even in economically sensitive times, Las Vegas is unafraid to invest in its future. We have some of the best shopping and best dining in the country (unlike the Arizona Cardinals, Guy Savoy won't give you indigestion) and we've been the entertainment capitol of the world for more than a half-century. Bringing an NBA team – the expansion Las Vegas Gunslingers, or whatever – is not going to turn us in to a major league city. We’re there, coach. We don’t need to see “Las Vegas” in any scoreboard listing to boost our self-esteem. Bet on it.
This contention about luring a pro team so a city can be considered “major league” reminds me of the push made by Sacramento to land the Kings back in the mid-’80s. I lived upstate, in Chico, and Sacramento, despite being the state capitol, always had this inferiority complex when compared to the Bay Area, home to the 49ers, Giants, Raiders, A’s and Warriors (and later the San Jose Sharks of the NHL). So developer Gregg Lukenbill bought the Kansas City Kings, a chronically middling NBA team that started life in Rochester, N.Y., and moved them to Sacramento. The team finally made the playoffs, and even forged a short-lived rivalry with the Lakers, before sliding back to mediocrity. But in Sacramento, the Kings did provide a civic boost and Sacramentans likely feel more “major league” today than before the Kings showed up. Before the Kings, the city’s most notable pro team was the Sacramento Solons, which played for a few years in the Pacific Coast League and were most famous for sending slugger Gorman Thomas to the bigs.
But we’re not so needy here. Las Vegas is one of the most recognizable brand names in the world. Want to bring us a team? Sure. We’ll build an arena. That’s what we do. But we’re too busy, frankly, to be desperate.