Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images
PLAYERS & TEAM EARNINGS

What’s Happened in Vegas: How Sin City Became a Sports Town

After decades of serving as America’s greatest destination for one-off sporting events, Las Vegas has positioned itself as an emerging sports city.

When the NFL expanded the season schedule to 18 weeks, it introduced a bit of a conundrum. The extra week of regular season play pushed Super Bowl LVIII back to Feb. 11, 2024, putting it square in the middle of New Orleans’ Mardi Gras celebrations. While New Orleans is on the shortlist of truly great Super Bowl destinations, the combination of football’s biggest event and the annual festival would be too much for one city to handle.

The NFL was left scrambling, but found a savior in its newest football city: Las Vegas.

Over the last several years, Vegas has positioned itself as a rising sports city. The shift comes after decades of wildly successful one-off events, including iconic boxing matches and UFC fights; there was even that chaotic NBA All-Star weekend in 2007. And this says nothing of its place as the beating heart of sports betting.

But until recently, Las Vegas was largely overlooked as a place that could sustain a hometown team.

Sign Up For Our Newsletters

Get on our list for sports business, industry trends, interviews, and more.

The Vegas Boom

There was a time when the thought of Las Vegas being the hometown host of a professional franchise was laughable. However, over the last five years, all that has changed.

2017:

  • The NHL was looking for a spark when it opened the door for the Las Vegas Golden Knights as its newest expansion team in 2017. The Golden Knights took root immediately. The upstart franchise drew a local crowd while fostering national interest as long-time hockey fans watched their favorite players head to Sin City.
  • After many years, the Oakland Raiders gave up their efforts to restore the Coliseum and set their sights on Vegas. The proposed move, spearheaded by primary owner Mark Davis, was approved by the NFL owners 31-1. The Raiders began construction on Allegiant Stadium that November, securing the final piece for the impending transition.

2018:

  • The San Antonio Stars became the Las Vegas Aces in advance of the 2018 season. The organization brought on veteran WNBA coach and former NBA All-Star Bill Laimbeer to lead the team.
  • The Golden Knights skated to the Stanley Cup Finals. After an unlikely run in just their second season, Las Vegas ultimately lost to Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals, but secured their place as a recurring contender in the NHL.

2020:

  • Perhaps the true piece de resistance in Vegas’s meteoric rise as a sports town came in 2020 when the Oakland Raiders finalized their move. Although the Raiders’ first season at Allegiant lacked a crowd due to COVID restrictions, the excitement surrounding the newly relocated NFL franchise began to build. As they enter their second year, Allegiant attracts a crowd at nearly 95% capacity for each home game. Not bad for a place that is best known as a transient city.
Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

2021:

  • Brooklyn Nets owner Joseph Tsai teamed up with coach Steve Nash, NHL legend Wayne Gretzky, and PGA Tour champ Dustin Johnson to purchase a National Lacrosse League expansion team, which is scheduled to launch in time for the 2022-23 season.
  • The NBA Summer League returned, following a pandemic-induced hiatus, and brought with it participation from all 30 teams.
  • Mark Davis doubled down on his new hometown, as he successfully completed his purchase of the Las Vegas Aces. Davis became an avid fan of the team, frequently seen in the stands, and approached Aces’ star — and 2020 WNBA MVP — A’ja Wilson before submitting his bid.

In classic Las Vegas fashion, each home team hosts a party with every home game, which attracts fans from near and far. At Allegiant, there is the Wynn Field Club, which brings the party vibes of a Vegas nightclub to the field level right behind the end zone.

What’s Next?

While the last five years have brought seismic changes to the Las Vegas sports landscape, it is safe to say that things are only getting started.

Just this month, MLS confirmed that Vegas is at the top of the list to receive an expansion team in the coming years. Wes Edens, who owns English Premier Team Aston Villa and the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks is reportedly spearheading the efforts for the league’s 30th team.

Additionally, similar to Las Vegas itself, Formula 1 has experienced an American renaissance due in large part to Netflix’s Drive to Survive series. There has been a groundswell of interest in the sport, sparking conversations around future events on American soil. As many cities around the country vie to host a Grand Prix, Nevada governor Steve Sisolak confirmed that the city is in serious discussions to host an event as early as 2023.

While Las Vegas used to be a place to stop over, make some wagers, and get out, recent years have proven its place in the broader terrain of sports. And It feels like a safe bet that it will be a core part of America’s sporting future.

Sign Up For Our Newsletters

Get on our list for sports business, industry trends, interviews, and more.

Subscribe

Enter your email below