Las Vegas was home to exactly zero professional sports teams 18 months ago. Today, with at least three leagues placing franchises in the city, sports may help Vegas recover from the Oct. 1 mass shooting that killed 58 concertgoers at an outdoor venue and injured about 500 others.
Long a sports pariah over fears of gambling, Las Vegas is already — or soon will be — home of teams from the NFL, NHL and WNBA.
The latest team to arrive is the WNBA’s San Antonio Stars, which is relocating after being purchased by MGM Resorts International. The Stars, the first professional basketball team in Vegas, will begin play next season at the Mandalay Bay Events Center. (Mandalay Bay Resort Casino is where gunman Stephen Paddock opened fire on attendees of the Route 91 Harvest music festival, from a 32nd-story window.)
“In the last few years, we have seen Southern Nevada quickly evolve into a major sports destination,” Rossi Ralenkotter, president and CEO of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, told the Las Vegas Sun. “This latest team relocation positions Las Vegas to attract yet another visitor demographic and reaffirms that we are not just the entertainment, but also the sports, capital of the world.”
“Las Vegas has reinvented hotels, it has reinvented entertainment. It’s reinvented restaurants, it’s reinvented conventions, it’s reinvented the nightclub industry, it’s reinvented retail,” Ike Lawrence Epstein, senior executive vice president and chief operating officer of UFC, told the Los Angeles Times last summer. “I think the next thing Las Vegas is going to reinvent is sports.”
The combat sports organization recently opened its new headquarters in Las Vegas and holds several events at the 20,000-seat T-Mobile Arena. That’s also home to the city’s new hockey team, the Vegas Golden Knights — already hailed as “the best expansion team in NHL history” by the popular statistical analysis website FiveThirtyEight.com. The Golden Knights played their first-ever game five days after the Route 91 Harvest tragedy, a 2-1 victory over the Dallas Stars, and then went on to win the next two games — including the team’s inaugural home opener on Oct. 10. Before the first faceoff at T-Mobile Arena, players and fans observed 58 seconds of silence to honor the victims of the previous week’s shooting, and all dasher board advertisements were replaced with “#VegasStrong.”
“The Knights’ six wins in seven tries are remarkable considering how their expansion brethren have fared,” according to FiveThirtyEight.com. “Among the other nine expansion teams that began play since 1991, only three — the 1992-93 Tampa Bay Lightning, the 1993-94 Florida Panthers and the 1993-94 Mighty Ducks of Anaheim — managed to win more than one of their first seven games. And then there’s the case of the putrid 1992-93 Ottawa Senators, who didn’t win their second game until their 23rd try.”
Let’s not forget about football: The NFL’s Raiders will relocate from Oakland to Las Vegas for either the 2019 or 2020 season, where they will play in a $2 billion, 65,000-seat stadium now under construction on the Vegas Strip that also will host University of Las Vegas football games and other events. Some estimates say the facility could bring more than 450,000 new visitors to the city every year, with an estimated economic impact of $620 million.
And the Las Vegas 51s, a longtime Class AAA affiliate of Major League Baseball’s New York Mets, will move to a new $150 million, 10,000-seat ballpark in nearby Summerlin. Dubbed Las Vegas Ballpark, it is slated to open in 2019.
Here is how MediaPost, which covers the intersection of athletics and the media, summed up the current situation regarding pro sports in Las Vegas: “While none of this will completely repair the devastation of Oct. 1, it is aiding in the healing process.”