One of the big stories of 2019 has been the influence of major-league sports on Las Vegas.
Hardly a month has gone by without some organization presenting a speaker or panel discussion about the economic impact of our three current and future big-league franchises — the Vegas Golden Knights, the Las Vegas Aces and, next year, the Las Vegas Raiders.
Little is said about how much these teams donate, possibly because they are a little modest about that.
Plenty has been said and written about how game days have drawn more tourists to the city, because pairing an appearance by a favorite team with a long weekend stay in the Entertainment Capital of the World is a natural fit. Hotels, restaurants, shows and other attractions, as well as their suppliers, have benefitted from the phenomenon.
Anyone who has gone to a Knights game has seen dozens of fans wearing the sweaters of the rival team. Sure, some of those people are transplants who still support the team they grew up with. But many more people from Calgary, Winnipeg, New York, Boston, Chicago and elsewhere have circled the date those teams are in Las Vegas, purchased airfare and made reservations for a memorable time here.
There’s another benefit to having these teams in town that many forget about except around this time of year, when the holidays bring out our spirit of giving.
Every major-league team has a philanthropic branch, a foundation that takes up community causes that improve the quality of life in our city.
Foundations are nonprofit organizations that enjoy tax benefits, but they also support causes that are important to us.
The Golden Knights Foundation, for example, supports initiatives that are funded through corporate sponsorships, ticket sales, signature events, in-game programs and merchandise sales. At every home game, the Knights have a 51-49 raffle — kind of a gambling joke about the odds being better than 50-50 — with one lucky winner getting 51 percent of the pot at the end of the night.
But the reality is that Las Vegas wins because 49 percent goes to the foundation that supports youth programs, health and wellness, K-12 public school programs, Las Vegas military and first-responder families and programs battling hunger and homelessness.
The Aces, which made the WNBA playoffs this year, are in their offseason now. But you wouldn’t know it by the list of team activities and public appearances in December alone.
One of the star players, A’ja Wilson, surprised winners of the Nike Game Growers competition with an appearance at Pinecrest Academy St. Rose. She also served as the grand marshal of the Las Vegas Great Santa Run supporting Opportunity Village.
Just last week, current player Jackie Young and retired player Rushia Brown put on a basketball clinic for Henderson Therapeutic Rec and Inclusion Services for teens and adults with disabilities. Young also served as a celebrity coach for a charity basketball game at the Doolittle Community Center.
And then there are the Raiders. The team hasn’t even moved to Las Vegas, but you wouldn’t know it by its philanthropy. Since 2017, when the Raiders announced their plan to move to Southern Nevada, they have been involved in or supported over 400 events here. That’s in addition to charitable activities in Oakland, California, where the team played its last home game this month.
Charitable events don’t get as much attention as Derek Carr’s stat line, and the Raiders haven’t won as much on the field as they would have liked this year. But they’re winning the hearts of the local community, with Community Relations and Raiders Foundation programming totalling more than $2 million.
Raiders representatives who support these causes include former and current players, coaches, staff, Raiderettes and Raider Rusher, a “youth ambassador.” Alumni have represented the Raiders at over 100 events in Southern Nevada.
Not surprisingly, the Raiders have supported youth football, donating equipment, cleats and other materials to programs here, in Washoe County and in Oakland.
The city’s big-league teams aren’t just giving during the Christmas season — it’s a year-round mission.
It’s one more way big-league sports are changing Southern Nevada.