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[The Incidental Tourist]

Pro sports have enhanced—not eclipsed—entertainment in Las Vegas

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Las Vegas’ Alec Ingold celebrates with fans after scoring against Miami at Allegiant Stadium on September 26.
Photo: Christopher DeVargas

When Oscar Goodman was mayor of Las Vegas, he spoke frequently about helping it evolve into a “major league city.” Among the more prominent components of this effort were opening the Smith Center for the Performing Arts—which will hit the 10-year mark this spring—and bringing professional sports to the Valley to compete in one of the four major leagues.

As a longtime resident who had never lived in a city with a big league team, I never thought Las Vegas needed sports. That was something you’d find in other, more normal, cities. Vegas already had so many things those cities didn’t.

Well, maybe our city didn’t need NHL and NFL teams—or the NBA and MLB teams that are surely coming next—but there’s no doubt the addition of the Golden Knights and Raiders and the magnificent venues in which they play has elevated the stature of Las Vegas. This week, for the first time, we’ll have NFL and NHL regular-season contests occurring here congruently, with those venues packed with fans.

Sports is entertainment. That’s why I always felt pro team sports was unnecessary in Las Vegas. Plus, we’ve always had boxing, UFC, rodeo and other big annual sporting events. But I was wrong to think major league sports might diminish the city’s flashy and fun reputation. That has been enhanced.

During the weekend of September 24-26, one could attend home games for the Golden Knights (preseason), the Raiders, the Aviators and the Lights FC, while huge UFC and NASCAR events were in town as well. You also could have experienced a Michael Bublé concert at T-Mobile Arena, Enrique Iglesias and Ricky Martin at MGM Grand Garden Arena or the Punk Rock Bowling music festival at the Downtown Las Vegas Events Center, not to mention a slew of ongoing Strip shows and a handful of grand reopenings like Opium at the Cosmopolitan and Magic Mike Live at Sahara.

These new sports events might not be everyone’s cup of tea—especially considering the major league traffic that can ensnarl the Strip on game days—but they do fit nicely into the bigger Vegas picture. And if you think casino folks and show producers are concerned about competing, think again.

“We are thrilled to be immediate neighbors to that incredible place [Allegiant Stadium] … and thrilled about the activity that is going to happen there almost every weekend,” MGM Resorts Chief Hospitality Officer Ari Kastrati said in July after just a couple of events had taken place at the stadium. “It’s a fascinating [development] for the community, and this community is going to be more prepared than any other to have those events.”

Just like every other evolving aspect of Las Vegas entertainment, football and hockey games are drawing people to town who might not otherwise visit.

“Vegas is a sports town, and sports fans across the country are typically Vegas fans, too,” Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority president and CEO Steve Hill said in August on the Bloomberg Business of Sports podcast. “From a tourist standpoint, visiting fans coming to Las Vegas, compared to any place else, are going to say, ‘I want to see my team in Vegas.’ We see that happening with the Knights and Raiders.”

If Chicago Bears fans went to any other city this season instead of coming to Vegas for the October 10 showdown with the Raiders at Allegiant, they’d probably be in and out of town once it was over. Traveling fans are committing to at least a weekend of partying when they hit the Strip for a single sports event.

“On July 10, we had Garth Brooks at Allegiant and a UFC event at T-Mobile, and we had people walking across Toshiba Plaza to see Bruno Mars at the Park [Theater] after the fight at the arena,” Hill told Bloomberg. “You just don’t get that opportunity any place else.”

It’s also important to remember that both venues were built for different kinds of big events, not just ordinary NFL and NHL games but the biggest concert tours in the world, the Super Bowl, the Final Four and more.

Perhaps even more crucially, bringing pro sports to Las Vegas means bringing locals to the Strip in record numbers, creating a new form of Vegas entertainment that really resonates with those of us who live and work here. As the Knights start up another season and we remember what was happening in our community when the hockey team first arrived in Las Vegas, it’s easy to identify just how important—and necessary—sports can be.

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An award-winning writer who has been living and working in Las Vegas for more than 20 years, Brock Radke covers ...

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