Back in the good old days, when life was normal, there were presentations and panels across the valley about how important the popularity of sports was going to be to expanding Southern Nevada’s tourism industry.
Now, it’s clear that it’s not just important to growth; it’s a catalyst to recovery.
Completion of Allegiant Stadium will be an important part of the toolbox for getting Las Vegas on track for attracting visitors when effects of the pandemic subside — assuming the public will be able to use it.
Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority President and CEO Steve Hill, who also chairs the Las Vegas Stadium Authority, agrees that sports will play an important role in the city’s recovery.
“It’s going to be a big driver that will provide a specific event for people who want to come to Las Vegas and experience a football game, a hockey game or a UFC fight and everything that Las Vegas has around that,” Hill said. “What Las Vegas had going into this is what we’re going to have coming out of it as well, and sports is going to be a big part of it.”
It’s clear sports mean a lot to people in our city.
Fans routinely fill T-Mobile Arena to watch the Vegas Golden Knights, a team that began a meaningful late-season surge before the NHL shut games down in March.
The Las Vegas Aces, the city’s WNBA team, built a strong following last year as they battled into the league semifinals.
The Las Vegas Aviators, our Pacific Coast League AAA team, enjoyed the highest attendance of any minor league team in the nation at their new home, Las Vegas Ballpark in Summerlin. Even though the Aviators aren’t a huge tourism draw, they add to our city’s quality of life.
So do the Las Vegas Lights, our minor league soccer team, which brings big crowds to Cashman Field.
The NBA ignited some excitement for Las Vegas when it was disclosed that the league was considering staging a tournament in town as a conclusion to the shortened 2019-20 season.
The downside: The games would be played in empty arenas.
Finally, there’s the Las Vegas Raiders, the planned new residents of Allegiant Stadium. While the NFL intends to play the season as planned beginning in September — and the stadium is still on track for substantial completion by the end of July — skepticism remains as to whether any fans will be allowed in the building when the games begin.
It’s too early to tell whether Raiders games will be played before 65,000-plus fans in September or just in front of television cameras.
But give credit to the Raiders. Despite the turmoil leading up to the start of their inaugural season in Las Vegas, they’ve contributed to relief efforts within the city and embraced it as their own.
In the meantime, Hill, like the rest of us, will have to wait to see what transpires. And another Hill — sportsbook operator William Hill — is taking all kinds of proposition wagers on everything from table tennis to how many quarterbacks will be taken in the first round of the NFL draft, an event we were expecting to be in town later this month. It’s another testament to how much people care about sports.
“I think everybody knows that the health and safety of our citizens and our visitors is the most important thing,” Steve Hill said. “While it would be a shame if (the fans weren’t allowed to watch), if that’s the right thing to do, that’s what everybody will do.”