The ultimate buffet of big-time sports events is being served up in Las Vegas this month as the tourism industry plans to welcome fans from across the country for everything from NASCAR races and Major League Baseball games to a high-profile boxing card and no less than four college basketball conference tournaments.
A similar smorgasbord of tasty March sports events helped deliver the most visitors to Las Vegas of any month last year — 3.54 million people, according to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.
“The beauty is that it’s different sports disciplines. You have a great cross-section of folks coming into town,” said Julian Dugas, the authority’s sports marketing director. He predicted March will be the busiest visitor month for 2014, too.
The boxers, led by former world champ and Mexican star Canelo Alvarez, began arriving at MGM Grand Garden Arena on Tuesday. NASCAR drivers will soon arrive for this weekend’s Sprint Cup and Nationwide series races at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Major League Baseball’s New York Mets and Chicago Cubs are visiting for Big League Weekend at Cashman Field on March 15-16.
And several dozen college hoops teams are making their annual Las Vegas pilgrimage for tourney championships: West Coast Conference (March 6-11, Orleans Arena), Western Athletic Conference (March 12-15, Orleans Arena); Pac-12 (March 12-15, MGM Grand Garden Arena); Mountain West (March 12-15, Thomas &Mack Center).
Then, thousands of college basketball fans from every corner of America will descend on Las Vegas for the first four-day weekend of the national college basketball tournament starting March 20, packing sports books citywide.
March’s sports bonanza means big revenue for hotels across the valley. The authority said each sports event visitor spends an average of $676 on food and lodging in Las Vegas. That doesn’t count gambling, which is also known to take place.
“It’s that time of the year when weather gets really nice and people are getting ready to get out of the snow, coupled with events that bring large numbers of people such as NASCAR,” said Ryan Growney, general manager of South Point, which is sold out this week for NASCAR weekend. South Point is a sponsor of the No. 62 car driven by Brendan Gaughan, son of South Point owner Michael Gaughan.
As many as 125,000 people are expected to visit Las Vegas this week for the car races, which spawn hundreds of side-parties and related events. That translates into $83 million in local spending, the authority reports. The big NASCAR attraction is the Kobalt 400 Sprint Cup race Sunday. Saturday’s event is the Boyd Gaming 300 Nationwide race, a Triple A-level race.
March is a monster month for motor sports, with the Monster Jam World Finals at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas’ Sam Boyd Stadium. In the desert, the popular Mint 400 car race is expected to attract 7,000 to 8,000 visitors March 12-15. And the National Hot Rod Association ends the month at the Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway with another 25,000 to 28,000 out-of-town visitors March 28-30, Dugas said.
Major League Baseball comes to town next weekend with the Mets and Cubs playing Saturday and Sunday. Those games bring 3,500 to 4,000 visitors, but Las Vegas also benefits by exposure for its tourism options as the games are broadcast in the New York and Chicago megamarkets.
The first college basketball fans also roll into town this week, with the first West Coast Conference tourney game set for Thursday at Orleans Arena. The authority projects 4,000 visitors for the West Coast Conference tourney, 3,000 for Western Athletic, 11,000 for Pac-12 and 8,000 for Mountain West.
Besides selling rooms for NASCAR this week, South Point will also generate revenue from three Mountain West basketball teams — New Mexico, Boise State and San Jose State — staying at the hotel, Growney said. He said the teams’ bands and cheerleaders march through the casino as they head out to Thomas &Mack for the tourney games.
And his hotel — like so many others — is staging basketball parties when the NCAA Tournament begins in about two weeks. The initial weekend — March 20-23 — has more than 60 teams across the country in play, with games tipping off one after another.
“The Super Bowl is one game and four hours, but the first weekend of March Madness is four days,” Growney said. For the fans, it gives you a lot of bang for the buck. There’s no better weekend than March Madness.”
Boxing is also a hit this week. On Saturday, Alvarez battles Alfredo “El Perro” Angulo, and 15,000 visitors are expected to be in Las Vegas for the fight.
Contact reporter Alan Snel at email@example.com or 702-387-5273. Follow @BicycleManSnel on Twitter.