It’s been a good seven days for UNLV football, with the long-beleaguered program getting its first bowl bid in 13 years and finally seeing some momentum for a new on-campus stadium. As the Review-Journal’s Alan Snel reported, the Rebels were one of the focal points of Thursday’s stadium authority board meeting, where consultant Mark Rosentraub outlined several potential benefits for the team.
The stadium would be a shot in the arm for a UNLV program working its way toward respectability, and it would be far more appealing to fans, recruits and sponsors than completely outdated Sam Boyd Stadium, which sits many miles from campus. To be sure, much of what Mr. Rosentraub pointed out was correct.
However, there should be no doubt that the real economic driver for this project — the reason to build it and the way to pay for it — is the myriad other events the stadium would host.
Consider: UNLV generally hosts no more than seven football games a year, as it has the past two seasons. That leaves 358 other days on the calendar, each one an opportunity to generate revenues that would vastly exceed whatever UNLV football brings to the table.
The stadium board must present a plan to build and fund the stadium to state lawmakers by Sept. 30. The biggest question is not whether the stadium is UNLV football’s ticket to the big time. It is this: Will the public be asked to pay part of the bill, and if so, what is the public’s stake in the stadium’s returns?
If the answer to the first half of that question is yes, then the answer to the second half must go beyond the increased tourism and regional economic benefits of a new entertainment venue.
Would an on-campus stadium help UNLV and its athletic department become stronger, more successful and financially self-sufficient? Absolutely. Mr. Rosentraub said the project could one day make UNLV more appealing to a major athletic conference and the huge TV revenues that come with such an affiliation. But such an observation is speculative at best and too far down the road to be a serious consideration today.
A modern stadium that’s close to the Strip is this valley’s missing piece of tourism infrastructure. Its construction requires the support of gaming leaders, the higher education system, taxpayers and elected officials. And the stadium board has yet to address just how to pay for the project, which will cost hundreds of millions of dollars. If the plan is bad, the stadium won’t be built.
To come up with the right plan, authority board members need to keep their eye on the ball: Build a multipurpose stadium geared for special events first, UNLV football second.