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NBA commissioner says league keeping eye on Las Vegas

Whenever NBA expansion rumors pop up, Las Vegas is firmly atop most lists as a potential destination.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver told the Review-Journal in an exclusive interview that while the league has an eye on Las Vegas, expansion specific talks have yet to occur.

Before those talks can happen, he said, the NBA has to work through some key issues, including a changing media landscape.

Silver said a shift to streaming services could work in Las Vegas’ favor as “maybe the size of local markets become less relevant than they did historically.”

He noted that “Vegas has a huge footprint, but from a conventional standpoint, in terms of the number of TVs in households is a relatively small market.”

“How we divvy up our (media) rights going forward will impact the value of a franchise here (Las Vegas) as well,” Silver said. “So, for all those reasons we’re just not going to engage at this moment.”

Silver said he believes Southern Nevada can accommodate an NBA team as well as the other pro sports teams that have taken root here.

“My personal view is there’s room for everybody,” Silver said. “I think in part because it is a very non-traditional market.”

NBA’s Vegas footprint

Silver noted the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas has grown to be a massive success. This year’s 10-day event is estimated to have an economic impact of $125 million, with over 135,000 tickets sold and about 70,000 hotel rooms filled.

“An economic impact bigger than an all-star game,” Silver said.

In a sense, Silver sees the summer league as Las Vegas’ unofficial NBA team and he still claims that the NBA was first the professional sport in Las Vegas, not the NHL or NFL.

“We have a big presence, so nobody can have any doubt how much we enjoy being in this market.”

Steve Hill, president and CEO of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, said the agency has had recent talks with NBA officials. Those talks didn’t revolve around expansion but rather further growing the league’s footprint in Las Vegas.

“We’ve talked to the NBA about a number of opportunities in Las Vegas,” Hill said. “We think their brand and the Las Vegas brand make a lot of sense together. We’ve not talked to the NBA about an expansion team or a move here, but I know others in Las Vegas have.”

Hill didn’t go into specifics about those opportunities, but the NBA has various marquee events such as the annual NBA draft and All-Star game, which the city hosted in 2007.

Silver didn’t name specific possibilities for Las Vegas either, but noted the league is open to bringing any of its events to Las Vegas, calling the city an expert at hosting events.

“All of our events, when we’re thinking about going to so-called neutral markets, Las Vegas is always in a top group of cities we can consider,” Silver said. “You have incredible hotels, entertainment outside of basketball and great facilities. Without being specific as to the events, we’re always thinking of Vegas as a possible destination.”

Contact with governor

On Sunday, Silver sat next to Gov. Steve Sisolak courtside at Thomas &Mack Center, chatting during a game between the Charlotte Hornets and Los Angeles Lakers.

That wasn’t the only recent conversation between the two. Sisolak said they are in regular contact.

“I talk to him on occasion. When some of those rumors come up, we stay in touch the best we possibly can,” Sisolak said. “He’s been a good supporter for a long time. Every year I get to see him at Summer League, this will continue that conversation.”

With the explosion of professional sports in the Las Vegas Valley, Sisolak said the chance of landing an NBA team in Las Vegas this decade is real.

“I think it’s always a possibility … a lot of people are talking about it,” Sisolak told the Review-Journal. “I see it as a real possibility sometime in the next five years or so.”

There are a pair of arena projects in the works on Las Vegas Boulevard that have hopes of landing an NBA team — the long-talked about All Net Arena project on the north Strip and the recently announced arena-resort project south of the Strip headed by the Oak View Group.

The Oak View project has the backing of Tim Leiweke, former president of the Denver Nuggets. He and OVG have a long track history of building and operating successful arena projects. Oak View brought in former Raiders President Marc Badain to lead its arena charge in Las Vegas. Badain was a key player in construction and opening of Allegiant Stadium, bringing a wealth of local knowledge to the project.

Sisolak sees the project as a great fit for an NBA team.

“I know their hope is to get an NBA team in there and ultimately I think that would be a good fit. It’s a good location, it’s not right there in the middle of the Strip, so we don’t have the traffic problems. I think it will draw a lot more people to town, which is what this is all about,” he said.

The league is aware of OVG’s plans and Silver said that certainly doesn’t hurt the potential of an expansion NBA team calling Las Vegas home someday.

“It always helps to have first-class facilities in a market, but we’re not engaged in any direct discussions with them,” Silver said. “I certainly know Tim Leiweke and Irving Azoff very well. Both veterans of the sports and entertainment industry. I have enormous confidence in them, but we’re not yet at the point where we’re engaged with anyone directly.”

If and when the NBA is ready to look at expansion, Hill said Las Vegas would be a perfect destination.

“It makes a bunch of sense and we’ve got a long history with the NBA,” Hill said. “We’ve also shown with hockey and football that professional sports franchises here can be exceptionally successful. … If you do it right there’s probably no better city to think about for the NBA than Las Vegas.”

Contact Mick Akers at makers@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2920. Follow @mickakers on Twitter.

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