We interrupt the Mayweather-McGregor World Promotion Tour for a small announcement: In a few years, Las Vegas will be home to an NBA team.
That’s my hunch and it’s based on the clues that are all around to explain why the NBA will have a team in Sin City.
I’m not going to wait for the press release from the Association to announce that Vegas will be hosting a franchise — not just a summer league in mid-July every year.
It’s a hunch based on indicators that, when pieced together, point to Vegas as a market ready to host an NBA team.
The NBA Summer League’s title sponsor is a major clue. MGM Resorts International has a multi-year deal with the NBA to be the Vegas summer league title partner, and its alliance with the NBA allows MGM Resorts to showcase its brand on summer league TV programming, on signs around Thomas & Mack Center and on promotional materials.
MGM Resorts also is half-owner of T-Mobile Arena, a $375 million, one-year-old venue that would be an ideal home court for a Vegas-based NBA team. It already will serve as home ice for the NHL Vegas Golden Knights.
MGM Resorts wields big influence on the Strip and in southern Nevada. There are those who are quick to say that Sheldon Adelson and Steve Wynn run the Strip, but MGM Resorts International owns more properties on the corridor than Adelson and Wynn combined.
MGM Resorts are bullish on sports and the company’s lavish arena hosts everything from UFC events and Professional Bull Riding (PBR) championships to college basketball tournaments and boxing matches.
MGM Resorts’ interest in the NBA transcends a summer league title sponsorship. MGM Resorts International CEO Jim Murren said last year he’s pursuing an NBA team to be a tenant at T-Mobile Arena and join the Golden Knights as co-tenants.
The good will and fun times of thousands of daily hoops fans who fill Thomas & Mack Center and Cox Pavilion for NBA Summer League this week have gone a long way at erasing the PR nightmare of the NBA All-Star game from a decade ago in 2007. A sellout of 17,500 was a one-day attendance record for the summer league on Saturday, when the Lakers and their rookie star, Lonzo Ball, hit the Thomas & Mack hardwood.
The fact is the Vegas brand is hotter than ever for big-time pro sports. It’s not just the NHL Golden Knights starting play in October and the NFL Raiders re-locating to a $1.9 billion stadium in 2020.
Check out the pop culture front. HBO’s popular football show, Ballers, has written Las Vegas into its script, as Vegas serves as the dateline for the cable TV show’s season 3.
This is mass culture buying into Vegas as a major-league sports town. No demographic analysis or discretionary income chatter at work here. It’s HBO programming doing more PR work for Vegas sports than the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.
Las Vegas’ mainstream sports betting culture will be no deterrent to an NBA team setting up shop at T-Mobile Arena. In fact, it was the NBA’s own commissioner, Adam Silver, who wrote a watershed New York Times commentary calling for legalizing and regulating sports gambling.
Former Golden State Warriors coach Mark Jackson, now a TV broadcaster predicted Las Vegas would have an NBA team. He was to the point when asked by LVSportsBiz.com this week.
“Yes,” Jackson said, watching a Jazz-Grizzlies game from behind one of the backboards Tuesday afternoon. “Las Vegas is a great city.”
Veteran NBA executive Jerry Colangelo, now a Philadelphia 76ers adviser after owning the Phoenix Suns, predicted the NBA will expand to Las Vegas.
“I have been a strong proponent for the NBA to be in Las Vegas and the interest has grown over the years,” Colangelo told LVSportsBiz.com. “It’s a matter for the NBA to determine what they want to do about expansion. Basketball has always been in the hearts of the people of Las Vegas.”
Colangelo said Seattle, Las Vegas and St. Louis are the three hottest markets for potential NBA expansion. He doesn’t envision an NBA club re-locating to Sin City.
NBA Summer League organizer Albert Hall says not so fast. He said the notion of the NBA having a team in Vegas has been batted around for a decade. And he didn’t think the Summer League in Las Vegas is necessarily paving the way for a new NBA team in Vegas.
He said the Vegas market could not absorb another 41 home dates for NBA games when there is already 40 NHL dates at T-Mobile Arena, the Raiders in town soon and all the other entertainment options in the area.
“There would be too much competition,” Hall said.
Sure, there would be competition.
But the lure of Las Vegas might be too much for the NBA to resist.
Hoops are in the market’s DNA thanks to the legacy of the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels.
The Strip’s biggest player, MGM Resorts, is all in and a privately-funded arena awaits.
“The NBA is a hot commodity right,” Colangelo said. “There’s great interest in ownership. I would bet at some point that the NBA coming to Las Vegas will become a reality.”
Contact LVSportsBiz.com founder/writer Alan Snel at asnel@LVSportsBiz.com