Two short guys fought in Vegas. They barely hit each other but made $300 million. More than 300,000 people showed up and spent $150 million to be around it before anyone put a chip on a table. The people partied, and some even watched the fight before they all partied again. Then everyone went home and the boxers started talking about coming back, like two dudes who hit it big on a Saturday night in Vegas always do.
That CliffsNotes version of Mayweather-Pacquiao highlights why Las Vegas ranks among the world’s great cities for putting on a major sports event, but also why its aversion to permanence forms a shaky foundation for a pro franchise. Take pride in your parties, Vegas, because you didn’t carve rivers of booze into the desert to throw the world’s most epic funeral. This place excels at huge sporting spectacles like the National Finals Rodeo that are events first, sports second.
Floyd and Manny went all Hungry Hungry Hippos on giant piles of cash last weekend, but by Monday morning we moved on because, hey, only one week until Rock in Rio, and then it’ll be Electric Daisy Carnival. Our NASCAR Weekend generates $166 million in non-gaming impact with more than 150,000 visitors. Good luck getting out of McCarran the next morning.
Most full-time teams attract curiosity without commitment. Our two minor-league hockey teams hit attendance highs in their first three years before losing 30 percent or more of that share in the next five years. The second-division football teams took nosedives of closer to 50 percent in the same time frame. Only the baseball team remains, and Don Logan’s crew works magic to convince nearly 5,000 fans to spend a sizzling summer evening in the 51s’ fraying Downtown ballpark.
UNLV basketball bonds the community and enjoys a strong alumni base, so it’s in a different category. But you knew that, Vegas Sports Fan. The concept of Las Vegas as a place better suited for one-term than long-term surprises you little. You know Nate Silver thinks the NHL should see our three-shift workers and lack of hockey fanbase and run far away. You also know Bill Foley can point to 11,000 season-ticket deposits and a gleaming new arena on the Strip as reasons to believe in his NHL dream. Neither hits the key point: Vegas treats permanent like a mosquito on its neck, daring a fatal swat. Its DNA twists with rebirth. If days of fight weekend become months of hockey season, Vegas moves away from its successful identity.
I made my first trip to Cashman Field for a Stars game in 1984. I’ve seen the checkered history. Vegaswantshockey.net gives me hope, but pause, too. Vegaswantsfights.net? We’ll never need it, because we know that works. Party on.