Las Vegas is many things.
But above all, it’s entertainment.
A place designed around a single purpose of separating you from your money. Add 150,000 hotels rooms into the mix and the place is more than equipped to cater to demand.
In fact, there is no place quite like it. But given sport is life’s great entertainment, how has Las Vegas existed for so long without it?
The problem was betting.
Or rather, the legality of placing a bet.
Nowhere else in North America is it legal to place a bet except in the state of Nevada. And that was a problem, because despite a reputation for impropriety, fears of illegal impropriety and a vulnerability to match fixing created a stigma around Las Vegas and professional sports for a long time.
But given an estimated 97% of the $4.2 billion in bets wagered on the Super Bowl are placed ‘illegally’ anyway, this is a somewhat misplaced perception. Plus, existing in a world where gambling is regulated therefore allowing for legal betting to take place rather than illegal gambling to occur surely makes that place less of a threat.
Yes, there may be a gambling aspect to Las Vegas, but that is far overshadowed by the entertainment value… so went the argument.
But now, the tide is changing.
And so is the cities sports scene. With October 2017 set to mark the cities landmark moment.
It is then it will be filled with the gold, red and black jerseys of its first bonafide major league sports franchise – the Las Vegas Golden Knights – after the franchise was granted expansion into the NHL last as its 31st team.
The NFL followed suit in March 2017, approving the Raiders’ relocation from Oakland, with the team now gearing up to take the field as the Las Vegas Raiders for the 2020 season; at which point, black and silver American Football jerseys will also litter the city.
Then in July this year, Las Vegas made it three pro sports teams in 13 months when they announced another would be joining the party – this time, a soccer franchise, set to join the United Soccer League in 2018. Jersey colour TBC.
What this means is the once unthinkable has quickly become reality: pro sports in Las Vegas. But as sport makes a play to become the cities centre piece, will that leave room for Major League Soccer?
Getting the foundations in place.
Las Vegas first explored bringing MLS to the city in 2015, making a bid which eventually fell apart (and then went on to be awarded to Minnesota) after plans for a soccer stadium in the city fell through.
In short, they weren’t ready.
But now, in the form of the US second-tier domestic league, USL, they have the perfect opportunity to prove they have the right foundations in place.
This is a league rebooting itself as a developmental program for MLS, and piggybacking on soccer’s growth to identify thriving 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 that 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 an absence of state income tax to that equation, and this is a growing population with substantial spending power.
The Las Vegas Golden Knights are a case in point here. Before the city had a chance to become saturated, they secured deposits for more than their allocation of season tickets before they were even rewarded a franchise. The demand was already there.
While it isn’t a hidden factor that in a fiercely competitive entertainment industry, you have to first be good to do well, any franchise on a long-term basis will succeed or fail based on how they build their brand. Everything else is simply additive.
MLS is the goal.
And with Cashman Field, they have a venue to play in. But the task to prove Las Vegas is both good enough and soccer ready falls on former Orlando City COO and now Las Vegas Soccer LLC owner Brett Lashbrook. To do that, they need to tap into a vibrant millennial and family population of soccer fans and build a corporate base around them to support it.
It always has been a curious thing that Las Vegas has didn’t have a sports team, but that is changing rapidly and with further MLS expansion on the agenda, if they can get this right, it signals intent that Las Vegas may also ready to welcome Major League Soccer.
Las Vegas, the flamboyant entertainer, is definitely arriving…