By ALAN SNEL
With UNLV expecting the Nevada Regents Friday to green light a deal for the university to use the Raiders football stadium in 2020, there’s a prominent, behind-the-scenes deal-maker who helped make the stadium happen but who won’t be in the meeting room.
No, not billionaire casino tycoon Sheldon Adelson.
He’s Don Snyder, the even-keeled former interim UNLV president who hosted the first official closed-doors stadium meeting with Raiders owner Mark Davis in 2014 at UNLV.
It’s no secret that former Raiders player Napoleon McCallum, who works at Adelson’s Las Vegas Sands Corp. hotel-casino company, chatted with billionaire Adelson about the idea of the Raiders moving from Oakland to Las Vegas.
But the 70-year-old Snyder, a former banker whose steady, down-to-earth and grounded personality helped put together many major deals in Las Vegas over the decades, recalled McCallum was attending a class taught by UNLV academic gaming guru Bo Bernhard, the International Gaming Institute executive director.
“The impetus for the stadium really came from Bo teaching Napoleon and they were talking and they said wouldn’t it be great to have the Raiders here,” Snyder told LVSportsBiz.com over lunch in Downtown Summerlin Tuesday.
Snyder recalled in early 2015 that after Bernhard and McCallum chatted about UNLV’s football team playing in an NFL ready stadium, he and new UNLV President Len Jessup hosted Davis, Raiders President Marc Badain and other Raiders consultants at Sam Boyd Stadium to evaluate using the venue as a temporary stadium for the Raiders while a new NFL stadium was built in Las Vegas.
Even though Sam Boyd Stadium is not in the picture now as an interim home for the Raiders while they build their $1.8 billion. domed 65,000-seat stadium project on the west side of I-15 across the interstate from Mandalay Bay, the old Sam Boyd venue near the Las Vegas Wash seven miles from UNLV was given a close look, Snyder said.
Raiders officials and consultants even walked on the stadium roof to see if it could be monetized into a social area, looked into upgrading the locker rooms and even contemplated adding 5,000 seats, Snyder said.
But in the end, the $20 million upgrade was not worth the short-term use, Snyder said. Interestingly enough, UNLV consulting stadium lawyer Mandy Shavinsky told LVSportsBiz.com in a recent email that, “It is possible that some UNLV games in the 2020 season will be played in Sam Boyd after completion of the new stadium, but that hasn’t been determined yet.” Sam Boyd Stadium will eventually be closed after the Raiders stadium opens.
LVSportsBiz.com caught up with the fit-and-trim Snyder because he spent years working on the UNLV stadium topic and has a track record of plowing through thorny issues and bringing Las Vegas’ powerful and divergent personalities to the table to hammer out major projects. For example, the Summerlin resident who co-founded Bank of Nevada and was a former Boyd Gaming president helped create the Fremont Street Experience and The Smith Center for the Performing Arts.
Snyder, a former UNLV hotel college dean who was interim president in 2014, offered other insights while he lunched on grilled chicken, mashed potatoes and broccoli. Snyder doesn’t have to deal with the daily grind of meetings and minutiae anymore, but he still keeps himself on the move in his extensive network of contacts and is very connected to Las Vegas’ major business players. Consider some fascinating nuggets shared by Snyder:
Even though the state legislation enables the Raiders to receive $750 million in hotel room tax revenues for their stadium and envisions UNLV sharing the stadium, UNLV always had a back-up plan if the university could not reach a joint-use stadium deal with the NFL team. UNLV was prepared to build a more modest stadium like the new one at Baylor on the UNLV campus, Snyder said.
Snyder figured Adelson dropped out of the Raiders stadium project with his $650 million funding offer because he was not going to be in the position of running the stadium and gaining an ownership stake in the team. “Clearly, there was not enough room for all the big egos. At the end of the day, you can only have one boss and that was probably the issue,” Snyder said. The fact that Adelson left was unusual because he was the driving force behind the state stadium legislation’s $750 million subsidy in the first place.
After Snyder’s interim president position ended and Jessup was named UNLV president in Jan. 2015, Snyder was still around to help Jessup and UNLV as a behind-the-scenes advisor. Snyder said he also organized two meetings at Las Vegas powerhouse technology company Switch that brought together Raiders officials such as team president Badain with Switch founder and CEO Rob Roy to discuss making the Raiders stadium the most technologically-advanced stadium in the world. “Those discussions are underway,” Snyder said.
Snyder also said Robert Rippee, director of the Hospitality Lab at UNLV’s International Gaming Institute, is working on developing Esports into the next major sports entertainment attraction. Snyder said he has connected Rippee with the Raiders, too.
Snyder is playing a role in transportation issues, including working on ways to get fans to and from the Raiders stadium. “Moving people in and out of stadiums is an important issue,” he said. Snyder traveled to the Atlanta Falcons’ Mercedes Benz Stadium with Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada officials to see how fans get to and from a major stadium facility.
Snyder said UNLV is working on creating a Sports Performance Research Center that would study athletic performances and teach sports medicine — a center that could tie into Las Vegas’ growing sports industry. He supports UNLV aspiring to join a Power 5 conference like the Pac-12, a move he believes will help both UNLV’s academics and sports.
Snyder, a father of three and grandfather of three more, said he and his wife are building a new house in Summerlin’s The Summit Club, a private 555-acre golf community south of The Ridges. (Snyder noted Vegas Golden Knights owner Bill Foley will be a fellow Summit Club resident.) Snyder said he was also thrilled when a new elementary school named after he and his wife Dee opened recently. The Don & Dee Snyder Elementary School south of Rhodes Ranch will be dedicated in March, he said.
Snyder, a South Dakota native and raised in South Dakota and Wyoming, said he still serves on the boards of three New York Stock Exchange companies and stays active with a personal trainer, three weekly gym visits, golf and skiing.
And he believes Las Vegas is in one of its transformational stages.
“Ten years from now we’ll look back and see this time as the threshold to Las Vegas not only being the entertainment capital of the world but as the sports and entertainment capital,” Snyder said.
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