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Lakers partnership with MGM can be boon for both

It was a move the Los Angeles Lakers likely would have made years ago — had their new Las Vegas preseason home had a basketball court.

The Lakers, who called the Thomas &Mack Center their Las Vegas home for years, have moved down the street to the MGM Grand Garden. The arena, which is set up for just more than 13,000 seats, about 5,000 fewer for basketball than the Thomas &Mack, purchased its own floor a year ago and now has the ability to host an NBA game.

But the relocation is more than just about basketball. It’s about marketing two brands and about the city’s NBA future.

“We have a relationship with Las Vegas that goes back a long time,” said Tim Harris, the Lakers’ vice president of business operations and the team’s chief marketing officer. “From a marketing standpoint, we had a deal with the Mirage back in 2004 where we felt we were helping promote the Mirage’s brand in Southern California and the Mirage promoted the Lakers’ brand in Las Vegas.

“Now what we’ve done is taken that original concept and broadened it to include all of the MGM’s properties.”

Scott Sibella, the MGM’s president and chief operating officer who brokered that original Lakers-Mirage deal and who orchestrated the current package, said once the Grand Garden had the capability to host an NBA game that it was only natural for the MGM to pursue bringing the Lakers over.

“We’re all over Staples Center,” Sibella said of the MGM’s brand in terms of signage and other exposure inside the arena. “Their market is the same target audience as ours, so it’s a partnership that makes a lot of sense.”

And dollars. Harris said the partnership is a chance for the Lakers to grow, not just in Las Vegas but in Southern California as well by taking a page from the MGM’s loyalty rewards program — MLife.

“We’re talking to the MGM about how we can implement something similar to MLife with the Lakers where we can have our own loyalty rewards program,” Harris said. “The technology is there. We just have to figure out the best way to use it.”

Many sports teams have implemented such programs the past few years in which fans scan their membership card and accumulate points that can be redeemed for a variety of awards, from free food to special opportunities to interact with players and coaches.

“The opportunities are endless,” Harris said. “It would enable us to track our fans’ spending habits at Staples Center and offer them specifically tailored discounts and specials while at the game by sending a message to their smartphones.

“The MGM does a great job of marketing, and when it comes to hospitality, they’ve got it down.”

The Lakers are extending that kind of hospitality to their most loyal fans. In addition to bringing its corporate sponsors to town for a couple of days to experience the city, the team also is flying in 150 of its longtime season-ticket holders to enjoy the game.

Tickets for Thursday’s game are not cheap, $25 to $150 plus applicable fees. In part, the higher prices are because fewer seats are available. Last year’s game at the Thomas &Mack, which drew 17,792 and saw the Kings defeat the Lakers 103-98, cost from $13 to $113.

“Logistically, it makes sense for us because even though the Thomas &Mack has been wonderful to us, having the MGM with its own floor makes it easier,” Harris said. “Our players are just an elevator ride away; we don’t have to bus anywhere.”

As for the future, Thursday’s game doesn’t have any direct impact on the MGM landing an NBA team should its new arena get built across the street. Sibella said he’s not prepared to speculate as to whether or not the new arena, which will be built behind Monte Carlo and New York-New York, ultimately will have the NBA as an anchor tenant.

“It’s way too premature to discuss that,” Sibella said. “But we’ve got a good relationship with the NBA, and I’m sure having the Lakers and the Clippers play on our properties gives us some equity to an extent.

“Right now, we’re just focused on the present, and we’re excited about having the Lakers play on our property and growing our relationship with them.”

Contact reporter Steve Carp at scarp@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2913. Follow him on Twitter: @stevecarprj.

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