By ALAN SNEL
The owner of Las Vegas’ new WNBA team emerged from its corporate cocoon of silence this afternoon and MGM Resorts International threw quite the press conference at Mandalay Bay’s House of Blues to introduce its new sports property purchased two months ago.
Get used to the WNBA’s 12th team — the Las Vegas Aces — showing up on and in all of MGM Resorts’ media platforms, digital billboards, promotional hotel booking deals and email blasts. I don’t think any other team owner in the WNBA can match MGM Resorts’ data base of 60 million names.
Here are LVSportsBiz.com’s major takeaways and highlights.
- The new logo and name are solid, safe and predictable. The mark is not a home run, but the Aces fit the town’s gambling theme.
- Mandalay Bay will spend $10 million to renovate the Mandalay Bay Events Center’s locker rooms, seats, technology and suites, Mandalay Bay President Churck Bowling told LVSportsBiz.com.
- MGM Resorts International Jim Murren told LVSportsBiz.com that the purchase of the WNBA San Antonio Stars and the team’s re-branding into the Las Vegas Aces is not a strategic move to pave the way for an NBA team at T-Mobile Arena. “They are connecting dots that shouldn’t be connected. There are no strings attached,” Murren said.
- MGM Resorts International President Bill Hornbuckle initially did not support the WNBA team acquisition because he needed to find out more information such as identifying a strategic plan behind the purchase. But Murren wanted the team and Hornbuckle came around, telling LVSportsBiz.com that the “cost of entry was not too much.”
- Murren acknowledged everyone was not on board with the team purchase at the start, but said MGM’s corporate style meant, “We challenge one another and we don’t live in an echo chamber.”
The Aces will compete against the Las Vegas Lights FC of the United Soccer League and the Las Vegas 51s baseball team for the sports consumer dollar during the summer. It will probably help the Aces that their sport is played indoors during Las Vegas’ triple-digit-degree temperatures during the summer. Ticket prices for the Aces and Lights start at $20, while the 51s ticket starts at $11. The Aces will also offer $65 tickets for center court seats and will also sell VIP floor tables.
The fact the Aces are owned independently by MGM Resorts and not affiliated business-wise with an NBA team should help the WNBA team. Ten of the 12 WNBA host cities also have NBA teams. Besides the Las Vegas Aces, the Connecticut Sun also does not play in a city with an NBA team. The Connecticut team plays in the Mohegan Sun Casino.
LVSportsBiz.com asked WNBA President Lisa Borders about her targeted demo in Las Vegas and the WBNA top executive said “basketball lovers” and young people. But traditionally, WNBA typically appeals to the African-American and gay-lesbian communities. That works well for MGM Resorts International, which has been public with its comments endorsing diversity and inclusion.
It was Borders who approached MGM Resorts about buying the San Antonio WNBA franchise.
“They know how to do hospitality. They know how to do entertainment,” Borders said.
MGM Resorts also have three arenas at their disposal and the 17 Las Vegas Aces home games that begin in May will provide programming and revenue for the Mandalay Bay Events Center. Hornbuckle is aiming to achieve the average attendance in San Antonio, which was about 6,300. The WNBA average attendance is about 7,700.
Running the basketball operations and coaching the team will be former NBA Detroit Pistons star Bill Laimbeer, who also has coached successfully in the WNBA.
Laimbeer expects attendance to be solid the first season out of “curiosity” in the market. But eventually, he said, the team will have to perform. The team had the worst record in the WNBA last season, but will have the first pick in the draft.
In the end, Borders said success will be measured in this way: “Tickets, tickets, tickets. It will be measured by how many people in the arena.”
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