By ALAN SNEL
It was no secret that MGM Resorts International wants an NBA team as a second major-league tenant for its T-Mobile Arena.
But today the hotel-casino company said it did buy a professional basketball team — a WNBA team from San Antonio. The 12-team WNBA and NBA Board of Governors green lighted the relocation of the San Antonio Stars to Las Vegas, WNBA President Lisa Borders said in a press release today.
MGM Resorts sent a media release to spread the news, offering the usual platitudes and cliches that offered no insight into how the company plans to market and promote the franchise.
LVSportsBiz.com asked MGM Resorts to offer comments on the deal outside of a press release to report on how it planned to market a franchise in what is fast becoming a competitive and filled sports market in Las Vegas.
But we got shut down. “As for the interview request, we are sticking to the release comments at this time,” MGM Resorts sports PR guy Scott Ghertner said in an email.
The WNBA team will play at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in 2018 and will be run by former Detroit Pistons player Bill Laimbeer, who will serve as president of basketball operations and head coach. And LVSportsBiz.com expects a brand makeover for the franchise.
Nancy Lough, a professor in the UNLV education college and who has a sports-business background, said it’s a good move because the WNBA won’t compete against the NFL when the Raiders arrive in 2020 or the NHL Golden Knights in the Las Vegas market because the WNBA schedule is mostly in the summer.
“It’s so hot in the summer here that you want an excuse to do something inside,” Lough said.
Lough said the WNBA teams appeal to the African-American and LGBTQ markets, a demographic that can be tapped here in Las Vegas. Lough noted the WNBA is the first professional sports league that specifically marketed itself to the LGBTQ community.
Las Vegas will have a new United Soccer League team called the Las Vegas Lights FC playing at Cashman Field in 2018 during the summer — plus the Las Vegas 51s Triple A baseball team also is a summer sport competitor in the market.
If you’re interested in reading the press release quotes from the WNBA and MGM Resorts, here you are:
The WNBA’s Borders said, “We are thrilled to bring the first major professional basketball team to Las Vegas. This city and MGM Resorts are synonymous with world-class entertainment. With its culture of diversity and inclusion, MGM Resorts is an ideal fit for the WNBA.”
And from Lilian Tomovich, MGM Resorts chief experience & marketing officer: “We are delighted to welcome the WNBA as our newest partner in professional sports. We appreciate, now more than ever, the league’s confidence in Las Vegas and believe the team will be a tremendous addition to the city.”
Not much insight there. But MGM Resorts does have a big marketing and PR staff to promote its new WBNA team to locals and expect the company’s properties along the Strip to pitch in to sell the games to tourists. Plus, MGM Resorts does stress diversity in its PR, so that should work well with the WNBA brand.
Average WNBA attendance in 2017 as 7,716 — highest since 2011. But the San Antonio Stars attendance was well below that and the team struggled with an 8-26 record in 2017.
Las Vegas will be the franchise’s third home. The team was founded in Salt Lake City before the WNBA’s inaugural 1997 season began and was known as the Utah Starzz before the team moved to San Antonio before the 2003 season. It was one of the original eight WNBA teams.