By ALAN SNEL
OK, Las Vegas. How about a timeout?
After years of not caving in to handout requests by pro teams and stadium/arena builders, southern Nevada went on a sports venue spending bender with a $750 million gift to the NFL Raiders for a new domed stadium, an $80 million ballpark subsidy to the Las Vegas 51s for a new Summerlin home and a $70 million facelift of good ol’ Thomas & Mack Center. All public dollars.
Then, there were the new pro teams flooding our market — Bill Foley’s NHL Golden Knights at T-Mobile Arena (the team just completed a stunning inugural homestand), Brett Lashbrook’s Las Vegas Lights FC of the United Soccer League at Cashman Field set for a February start and MGM Resorts International’s new WNBA team that will be re-located from San Antonio to the Mandalay Bay Events Center for play next year. (I’m sure a re-branding is in the works there.)
And Las Vegas Motor Speedway is adding a second NASCAR event in 2018 to its already busy itinerary.
All these venue projects, new teams and events are layered atop the existing sports market of UNLV’s teams, UFC’s fights, the National Finals Rodeo in December, the big leagues of pro golf (being held this week) and occasional big-time boxing matches.
We know MGM Resorts is courting the NBA by sponsoring the NBA Summer League and schmoozing with NBA Commissioner Adam Silver. The commissioner was in Las Vegas in July for league meetings and the summer league and chatted with MGM Resorts officials. Silver has no problem with the NBA having a team in Las Vegas, but expansion/re-location is not in the works for Las Vegas. For now.
It’s time for Las Vegas to take a breather and make sure that the two million locals and 41 million annual visitors of America’s entertainment capital can financially support all these new teams and events. That’s what I would do if I was Silver before endorsing a new NBA team for Las Vegas. I’d wait to see whether the Las Vegas market could show consistent financial support and attendance of both the Raiders and Golden Knights games before allowing the NBA to have a franchise here.
The Golden Knights are off to a flying start with attendance, averaging 17,815 fans per game after seven home games at T-Mobile Arena. That’s 102.6 percent of capacity, which is considered 17,367. But one home stand is a sample size that is way too small.
The Shriners Hospitals for Children Open in Summerlin caught a break this week as a main sports competitor — the Golden Knights — left town for a two-week road trip. So, the PGA Shriners event won’t go head-to-head with the NHL team. But it will face formidable sports dollar competition from the Professional Bull Riders at T-Mobile Arena later this week. And UNLV’s football team plays an afternoon game at Sam Boyd Stadium Saturday, too.
Ed Stolze, of the Tampa, Fla.-based Shriners, said the non-profit is committed to Las Vegas until 2020. But Stolze noted the NFL Raiders stadium is supposed to also be open by the fall of 2020 in Las Vegas. “What will happen if the Raiders play the same weekend as the golf tournament,?” he asked.
Good question. The PGA tournament already faces a challenge drawing fans to its TPC Summerlin course because marquee pro golfers such as Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Dustin Johnson and Justin Rose pass on the tourney. Shriners Open organizers have done everything from staging flash ticket sale events to having a pool sponsored by local Zappos to holding a craft beer/wine tasting event to drive traffic to the golf course in Summerlin.
The danger is that too many teams will cannibalize a market that has chewed up previous sports products such as an indoor football league team, the Las Vegas Outlaws, which lasted only a few months in 2015.
Lashbrook, who just unveiled the team’s new logo and season ticket deals today, is rolling out a $200, 20-game season ticket arrangement so that soccer fans can spend 10 bucks a game to watch pro games at Cashman Field. Without a season ticket, figure a game ticket would be about $20.
But Lashbrook will face a new competitor. It’s conceivable that during the summer months his Las Vegas Lights club could go head-to-head with the new WNBA team owned by MGM Resorts. Some folks have theorized that MGM is using the WNBA team as a preview for the NBA in Las Vegas, but the demographics — and admission prices — are vastly different for two basketball league brands.
“My competition,” Lashbrook told LVSportsBiz.com a few months before, “is what’s going on during that July night” when the soccer team is playing.
When the Raiders arrive in 2020, the sports dynamic will change even more. What’s intriguing about the Raiders fans who will attend home games in Las Vegas starting in 2020 that apparently the majority will not be locals, according to the Raiders.
Only 43 percent of the Personal Seat License deposits are from Raiders fans living in Nevada. California fans account for 29 percent of the PSLs. And the rest of the country and Mexico account for 28 percent of the PSLs.
These PSLs, which will cost, on average, more than $3,800 a piece, will generate $250 million toward paying for the 65,000-seat stadium on 62 acres on the west side of Interstate 15, at Polaris Avenue and Russell Road.
Don’t expect an NBA franchise in Las Vegas until we see how this market fares in financially supporting the NHL and NFL teams in town. A lot of new teams are calling Las Vegas home. Let’s just hold on and make sure we can support them all.
Contact LVSportsBiz.com founder/writer Alan Snel at asnel@LVSportsBiz.com