Las Vegas is many things.
But above all, entertainment is what defines it; a place designed around the single purpose of separating you from your money. Add 150,000 hotels rooms and it is more than well equipped to cater for it as well. There is nowhere else quite like it.
But given sport is life’s great entertainment, how has Las Vegas existed for so long without it?
The big problem was…
… the legality of betting. Nowhere else in the US is it legal to place a bet, except in the state of Nevada.
So despite an already existing reputation for impropriety, it was fears of illegal impropriety and vulnerability to match fixing which created a stigma around Las Vegas and pro sports.
But this perception is somewhat misplaced (especially when an estimated 97% of the $4.2 billion in bets wagered on the Super Bowl are ‘illegally’ done anyway) because existing in a world where gambling is regulated allowing for legal betting rather than illegal gambling surely makes that place less of a threat.
Yes, there is a gambling aspect to Las Vegas. But that is far overshadowed by the entertainment value, was the argument.
And now the tide is changing
So is the cities sports scene.
With October 2017 set to mark a landmark moment for the city.
It is then the city will be filled with the gold, red and black jerseys of its first bonafide major league sports franchise – the Las Vegas Golden Knights – after it was granted expansion into the NHL in June 2016 as its 31st team.
The NFL followed suit in March 2017 with approval to relocate the Raiders from Oakland to Las Vegas; the team will officially begin to score points from 2020 at which point the city will also be littered with their black and silver American Football jerseys.
Then in July 2017, Las Vegas made it three in 13 months when they announced another pro sports team would be coming to the city – this time, a soccer franchise set to join the United Soccer League in 2018.
So now the once unthinkable has quickly become reality: pro sports in Las Vegas. Sports could well become the cities next big attraction as it enters this new phase, but will that leave room for MLS?
Getting the foundations right
Las Vegas first explored bringing Major League Soccer to the city in 2015, making a bid which eventually fell apart (and went on to be awarded to Minnesota) after plans for a soccer stadium fell through.
In short, they weren’t ready.
Now, they have the perfect opportunity to prove they have the foundations right in the US’s second-tier domestic league, USL.
The league is rebooting itself as a developmental program for MLS, piggybacking on soccer’s growth by identifying thriving new markets to bring the sport to. And so far, so good – their top 10 teams saw average attendances increase by 25% in 2016.
Build it and they will come.
Las Vegas might be a city of entertainment, but there is substance to it as well – a population of over 2 million (up from 1.4 million in 2000), make it one of the most underserved markets in the US in sporting terms. Add to that, no state income tax, and this is a growing population with substantial spending power.
The Golden Knights are a case in point here. Before the city had a chance to become saturated in a sporting sense, they secured deposits for more than their allocation of season tickets before they were even rewarded a franchise.
But any franchise will succeed or fail on a long-term basis based on how they build their brand. Everything else is additive.
MLS is the goal
But in a fiercely competitive entertainment industry, to do well you have to be good. And the task to prove Las Vegas is good enough and soccer ready falls on former Orlando City COO and now Las Vegas Soccer LLC owner Brett Lashbrook. With a venue to play in in the form of Cashman Field, they need to now tap into a vibrant millennial and family population of soccer fans and build a corporate base to support it.
For MLS, expansion is always on the agenda. So getting this right signals an intent that Las Vegas may well see Major League Soccer soon.
It has always been a curious thing that LV has never had a sports team at the party. But now, Las Vegas, the flamboyant entertainer, is arriving…