The engine of sports tourism in Las Vegas is revving up with new teams, facilities and events attracting visitors from around the world.
In less than six years, Las Vegas has spawned three major league teams and three minor league teams, as well as two stadiums and two arenas, which collectively added 104,000 seats to the city’s inventory of entertainment venues and 1.5 million additional annual ticket sales.
Those with skin in the game say the party has just begun.
In the nine months to press time, the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority sponsored 36 sporting events that drew 962,000 fans, according to Lisa Motley, the organization’s senior director of sports marketing and special events. That number will only increase now that the market has won nine NCAA postseason events over the next four years.
The NCAA had never accepted an offer from Las Vegas until recently, and Motley’s team has bid on more than 100 events. Each of these offers had to meet sport-specific criteria, offer various benefits and, of course, have enough rooms for participants and fans. With more than 168,000 rooms, Las Vegas has more beds than any US market, according to STR, a division of the CoStar Group that provides market data on the hospitality industry. The nine NCAA championships on the city’s record will generate a minimum of 10,000 room nights, according to a tally in bid documents.
“Divisions II and III are lucrative and also need houses. When the next cycle comes around, we’ll go pedal to the metal,” Motley said.
And it’s not just college sports that represent the city’s future growth.
Just over 3 million people visited Las Vegas from outside North America between 2015 and 2019, according to LVCVA data analyzed by Sports Business Journal. Overall, 13.1% of these overseas travelers indicated that they were attending a sporting event.
Impact of tourism
Sports trip consisting of:
$41 million, or 8%, of the total domestic travel market in 2018, resulting in 190 million domestic trips to attend or participate in a sporting event.
On average, sports travelers spend 3.9nights to destination.
The average group size for sports travelers was 3.2 people — slightly higher than that of all leisure travellers.
Source: US Travel Association 2019 Report “The Impact of Sports on the Travel Industry”
It means last month’s announcement that Formula 1 will hold a Saturday night race on the Strip in November 2023 could become the busiest entertainment event the city has ever staged – an honor that belongs to the Grateful Dead, whose last performance in Las Vegas, a show from Sam Boyd Stadium in 1995, drew 125,533 fans, as well as the largest international TV audience in the market. The LVCVA predicts the F1 spectacle will generate 400,000 hotel nights and the tourism organization will shell out more than $18 million in fees and costs on the three-year contract.
Also last month, Oak View Group announced it had acquired 25 acres in Las Vegas and would build a $3 billion entertainment district including a 20,000-seat arena, casino and hotel. The company does not believe the city is near its seat capacity saturation point.
“This city thrives on evolution, and Vegas needs another state-of-the-art arena,” said former Las Vegas Raiders president Marc Badain, who is leading the effort for OVG. “Look at the historical growth patterns of Las Vegas. The city never gets left behind. Population and tourism growth and site development all increase approximately every 10 years. By the time our new building comes online, it will reflect the next wave of population and tourism growth.
Allegiant Stadium hosted its first Pac-12 football championship last December and will be the site of Super Bowl LVIII in 2024. Images: getty
The site will be built to NBA standards, just in case, and the site is adjacent to 110 acres of land that is expected to house a new stadium, should MLS decide to expand there.
And the Oakland A’s, who have openly explored a possible relocation to Las Vegas, have selected five sites for a proposed $1 billion, up to 35,000 seat, retractable-roof stadium.
Appropriately, the advertising and marketing budget for LVCVA, Southern Nevada’s official destination marketing organization, is expected to be $90 million in fiscal year 2022-23, up from 10% against this year’s expenditure.
The goal, of course, is to generate hotel revenue, said Dale Eeles, vice president of Las Vegas Events, the private nonprofit group that bids and produces events with the rights holder.
“We all win when we sell rooms,” he said.
The city’s hotel brands are also getting more involved in the bidding process.
Number of hotels: 390
Number of rooms: 168,393
Recent wins:2022 NFL Draft; Super Bowl LVIII in 2024; several NCAA post-season events; 2024 Division III Men’s and Women’s Soccer Final Four; national collegiate women’s bowling finals; 2023 Division I Men’s Basketball Regional Championships; 2026 Division I Men’s Ice Hockey Frozen Four
To resume: 2021 Concacaf Gold Cup Finals; 2022 NHL All-Star Game; 2022 NFL Pro Bowl; 2021 Pac-12 Soccer Championship; 2022 Pac-12, Mountain West and West Coast Basketball Championships
Who to know: Dale Eele, Vice President of Development, Las Vegas Events
Eeles joined the 15-person privately funded organization in 2005 as director of corporate marketing and was promoted to his current position in 2012. He developed the idea that the Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon takes place at night on the Strip, creating a unique event and enticing attendees to stay in town an extra night.
MGM Resorts International, for example, was the prime bidder that secured the rights to the 2023 NCAA Men’s Division I Basketball Regional Championships and the 2026 Men’s Division I Frozen Four. Both events will take place at T -Mobile Arena, which is a joint venture between MGM Resorts and AEG and the home of the NHL’s Vegas Golden Knights, who participated in the deals.
“Our initial strategy nine years ago was to align with the NACDA in hopes that building relationships with athletic directors could help influence policy changes at the NCAA,” said Daniel Rush, vice-president. president of global sports and events sales at MGM Resorts. “In the end, it did.”
Rush said all room blocks associated with the regional basketball championships and the Frozen Four should stay at one of 13 nearby MGM Resorts properties, all within two miles of the T-Mobile Arena.
Last year’s first Pac-12 Coast-to-Coast Challenge presented by MGM Resorts, a basketball tournament featuring men’s and women’s teams from the Pac-12 and Big Ten, was held at T -Mobile Arena.
Additionally, the South Point Hotel Casino & Spa, located about 15 minutes from the Strip, will host the 2023 NCAA National Collegiate Women’s Bowling Championship, and MGM, Caesars and Wynn Resorts helped attract the F1 race.
The newness of all the teams, venues and events means it’s too early to measure the returns on the city’s sports investments, Motley said.
“But we spend more on sport. We will continue to invest in all types of sports programs.