Tag Archives: Las Vegas

Viva Las Vegas: The future home of US sport

“It’s hard to imagine a bigger desert oasis than Las Vegas,” according to author Cinnamon Stomberger.

For the best part of a century, the neon-lit Nevada watering hole has drawn gamblers and pleasure-seekers in their millions.

On my flight to San Francisco late last year, Canadian tourist Jenny told me visits Vegas at least three times a year and has done for the past decade. She said there is nowhere else like it in the world and that it has everything that she could ever want from a city break.

But while boxing and, more recently, the UFC have thrived on ‘The Strip’, the one thing Vegas has never had historically is franchises from the big four US sports – the NFL, NBA, MLB and NHL.

For many years, its ‘gambling capital of the world’ identity – with its shadowy connotations and clear links to organised crime – served to deter the major leagues.

But Las Vegas is now the 28th largest city in the US, with a population of well over 600,00 (and still rising fast), with that number swelled year-round by hordes of visitors from around the globe.

The saying ‘What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas’ now seems to (mostly) belong to its sleazy past – its future is a lot shinier and corporate, making it prime territory for the big four sports.

Fight night

But those big fight nights are still a major part of the sports scene in ‘America’s Playground’, and being there in early October for the UFC 229 clash between Conor McGregor and Khabib Nurmagomedov was like nothing I had ever experienced before.

Legions of Irish and Russian fans filled Vegas, having spent small fortunes on tickets, hotels and airfares to see their respective idols fight at The T-Mobile Arena.

The bad blood and feuding in the build-up to their bout almost inevitably led to ugly scenes in the aftermath of Nurmagomedov’s victory, with the Russian brawling outside the octagon with McGregor’s team, and the Irishman fighting inside it with his opponent’s entourage.

Both men received bans and fines, having sullied the UFC’s reputation – and by extension that of Vegas as a newly emergent location for respectable sports.

Afterward, the T-Mobile Arena went back to its regular role of hosting home games for the city’s first major league franchise, the Las Vegas Golden Knights.

The Knights made their NHL debut in late 2017 amid the backdrop of one of the most horrific massacres in American history, which occurred when a gunman opened fire from the Mandalay Bay Hotel on music fans attending the Route 91 Harvest Festival, killing 58 people and leaving 851 injured.

‘Vegas Strong’

Perhaps inspired by their mission to represent the city in the wake of this atrocity, the Knights went on to reach the Stanley Cup Finals.

Becoming the first expansion team for half a century to reach the NHL showpiece, they lost the series 4-1 to the Washington Capitals.

The T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas

But as head coach Gerard Gallant, reflecting on that first season, said: “It wasn’t about our team winning, it was about the first responders and the tragedy that happened the week before [the Knights inaugural home game].”

Knights forward James Neal said: “You’re suddenly playing for a lot more than yourself and the team. It goes further, it means more.”

The slogan ‘Vegas Strong’ became part of the city’s mantra and hangs on a flag as you enter the arrivals gate at the Macarran Airport. It’s on every other car’s bumper and has even become a popular choice of design in local tattoo parlours.

Driving around The Strip with ‘Native Las Vegan’ Brian Wall, it became clear just how important the Knights had become to life in Vegas.

“Growing up here, you would occasionally visit The Strip perhaps for a special occasion like a birthday. But now all that’s changed because of the hockey; every week you have 20,000 people coming out to support their team.

“Almost everyone in Las Vegas is originally from somewhere else, and we all bring our sports loyalties – Cubs, Cowboys, Lakers – with us. It’s great now with the Golden Knights to actually have a team that feels like it belongs to all of us.”

Raiders arriving

We drove past where the Route 91 Harvest Festival had been held; it was really just a massive parking lot. The thing that struck me was the distance that the attacker had been able to fire on it from was at least 400 yards. He fired more than 1,000 rounds of ammunition before killing himself.

The new stadium for the Raiders takes shape in Vegas

His murderous deeds could have destroyed the optimistic feel that permeates Vegas but failed to do so. Certainly, its sporting future continues to look bright.

Just 10 minutes drive down The Strip from the Mandalay Bay Hotel is the construction site for one of the most expensive stadium ventures ever undertaken.

In early 2017, the NFL’s Oakland Raiders announced that they would move to Las Vegas, building a stadium that will cost more than $2bn.

The move has met with some criticism, especially from the West Coast fans. However, NFL followers in Nevada and Utah are ecstatic about the changing sports landscape in Vegas.

The cost of the Raiders’ new home, due to open for the 2020 season, will eclipse that of the Mercedes-Benz Stadium, home of the Atlanta Falcons, which ran to around $1.6bn.

It will have a capacity of up to 72,000 and plug yet more visitors into the massive range of surrounding hotels and attractions in the Vegas area.

More to come?

The arrival of the Raiders may not be the end of expansion by the major leagues into Sin City.

In the summer of 2018, rumours began to circulate that an NBA team could relocate to the Mojave Desert.

I was assured by Brian Wall that these rumours have been swirling around for some time but have only grown stronger with the success of the Knights and the incoming Raiders.

‘It’s clear there’s a love for the unique culture on offer in Las Vegas, perhaps the last city where the American Dream still feels real’

Adding substance to them is the fact that the MGM Group has a lot of partnerships in the NBA along with massive investments in Vegas.

The new Las Vegas Stadium (awaiting sponsorship naming rights) could also be home to an MLS team in the near future. In Atlanta, the Falcons share their stadium with Atlanta United FC.

With the MLS and NFL seasons running at different times in the year, it isn’t a stretch to see a ‘soccer’ team move or be founded in Vegas.

Whatever happens in the future, Las Vegas will surely stay good on its promise to never do anything in a half-hearted manner.

Sport has been a healer for this desert oasis; it has united a city probably for the first time in its history after something that could have torn it apart.

Speaking to visitors and locals alike, it’s clear there’s a love for the unique culture on offer in Las Vegas, perhaps the last city where the American Dream still feels real.

It is also very obvious that it is a united city pulling forward towards a bright and dazzling future.

Hunter S. Thompson, the author of Fear And Loathing in Las Vegas, said that “A little bit of this town goes a very long way.” This statement is probably truer now than it ever has been.

Why the Golden Knights are the hottest attraction in Las Vegas

Ice hockey in Las Vegas – does it work? Can the team get fans to show up? Do the locals really care?

Is the atmosphere anything close to a Montreal or Boston-like ‘hockeytown’? Is it worth your money to get tickets to Vegas and go catch a hockey game on the side?

When the National Hockey League first announced in June 2016 that its latest expansion team would be be based in the desert gambling hub, fans and journalists alike rolled their eyes and started polishing their best jokes and puns.

But as the 2017-18 hockey season got underway, the dream of the Las Vegas Golden Knights became a reality, and it dawned on people that the new franchise couldn’t be in a better city in terms of sports, betting and entertainment.

For now it’s a match made in heaven or, in this instance, Nevada.

Doubters

One might think a fresh expansion team such as the Golden Knights would struggle, especially in a location where the words ‘ice’ and ‘hockey’ are not deeply ingrained into the sporting culture.

But the team is fourth in the Western Conference with a record of 17 wins, 9 losses and one overtime victory after 27 games and seventh in the whole league of 31 teams.

Their roster is made of players who got put on the expansion draft list by their previous teams.

Simply put: the Knights consists of players who are skating with a serious chip on their shoulder to prove all doubters and former teams wrong.

I knew the Knights were on roll and simply had to find out what is all the buzz about. So, I flew to the desert and went to a game with high hopes of witnessing something extraordinary.

Viva Las Vegas

Las Vegas has never had a team in the big four major leagues in the United States. No NFL, no NBA, no MLB and certainly no NHL – until now.

The Golden Knights are hometown heroes and their logo can be seen everywhere in the city.

Every gift shop, corner stand or any other place of business that sells something in Vegas has Golden Knights merchandise.

The brand clearly has a place in the city’s tourism industry, and with the team winning as well as they are right now, more money will be invested in growing the franchise because they are the only major league sports product in town.

In true ‘Sin City’ fashion, I made things interesting and put down a $100 moneyline bet for the home team.

Myself and many others are one of the reasons why betting parlours are getting massive amounts of fresh cash flow due to the new betting attraction that is the Golden Knights.

As I made my way from the MGM Grand to the T-Mobile Arena, thousands of people sporting Knights shirts, hats, flags and jerseys walked by my side. It felt like these fans were out to prove something by showing passionate support for their team.

The locals have never had a big four team but now they do and they are, for the lack of a better word, possessed by it. ‘Hockeytown’ or not, the team has created a visible and supportive fan base.

The arena first opened its doors on April 6th in 2016 and definitely has the feel of a new and modern luxurious venue. After being in places like Nassau Coliseum or the rusty squared cage that is Loftus Road, the T-Mobile Arena looked like a five-star hotel, which enhanced the experience.

The fans were as loud as you can imagine. I could tell by the reactions during the game that everyone knew the rules and understood what was happening on the ice.

With all the lights, insanely loud bass heavy music and intermission entertainment by the famous Blue Man Group, it became clear that this was not just a regular season game but a proper sports entertainment product. The arena was packed and everyone came out to party alongside the Golden Knights.

Game time

The hockey itself was fast paced and high scoring. The visiting San Jose Sharks got left behind by a score of 4-1 at the start of the second period. The 18,000 people in attendance we’re getting louder and my bet looked like a shoe-in.

‘The question is, what happens when the honeymoon is over and the Golden Knights become just another Vegas attraction and just another team in the NHL?’

But expected the unexpected in Vegas – drama then ensued as the Sharks managed to score three unanswered goals and tie the game at 4-4 before the end of the second period. We saw no scoring in the third and thus went to overtime.

The pleasant thing about American sports is that there is always a winner. In the NHL, overtime hockey is played three a side. It resembles nothing short of a videogame and when witnessed live provides tons of close calls and exciting moments.

Lady luck graced me with her smile and the Golden Knights sealed the deal with Jonathan Marchessault’s overtime game-winning goal. Vegas won, the fans won and I won. My desert hockey experiment had paid off.

The big bad NFL

Obviously, it is still their inaugural season and the team has not yet faced any kind of adversity on the ice, nor financially since they are making revenue through tourism and the bucks of local sports fans who now have a team to support.

‘The Golden Knights are the talk of the town and you really have to see it to believe it’

The question is, what happens when the honeymoon is over and the Golden Knights become just another Vegas attraction and just another team in the NHL?

Right now, the show is a must-see since the team is playing exciting fan-friendly hockey. But once the dust settles and the team start going through the usual rough stretches of a regular season, will the fans stay or shout nay in unison?

These questions will be answered in due time but the real test begins in 2020 when the NFL comes to town and the current Oakland Raiders become the Las Vegas Raiders.

This aggressive move by the NFL will take the spotlight away from the NHL, perhaps permanently since American football is the biggest sport in every city and Las Vegas won’t be any different.

But until then, if you find yourself in Vegas and need your live sporting event fix, the Golden Knights are the talk of the town and you really have to see it to believe it.