Updated October 10, 2020 - 4:53 pm
It wasn’t long ago that Las Vegas officials wouldn’t even think of applying to host NCAA championships because the state was prohibited from doing so because of its legalized sports betting.
But when the NCAA changed its policy in May 2019, the door opened for Las Vegas to host the College Football Playoff National Championship, Final Four and many other title events.
Local officials haven’t let their initial opportunity slip by.
MGM Resorts partnered with UNLV to apply for the 2023 and 2026 men’s basketball regionals and NCAA wrestling championships and collaborated with Las Vegas Events for the 2023 and 2026 Frozen Fours, which is hockey’s championship. If awarded, those events would take place at T-Mobile Arena.
The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority applied for multiple events from Division I to Division III between 2022 and 2026 to be held at venues throughout the valley.
The NCAA is scheduled to announce its host sites Wednesday.
“We were going to go for broke,” said Lisa Motley, LVCVA director of sports marketing and special events. “It was the first time we were able to put bids into the NCAA, and we’re serious about being the home for NCAA championships. We want those marquee events like the Final Four and the Frozen Four. We have to crawl, walk, run and prove to the NCAA that we can put on these marquee events.”
In men’s basketball, cities usually are advised to bid for first- and second-round games and prove those could be held successfully before applying for a regional. But when the NCAA basketball committee toured Las Vegas facilities early this year, local officials were advised to bid for a regional.
George Kliavkoff, MGM president of entertainment & sports, said he didn’t take that guidance as assurance Las Vegas would secure at least one regional bid during this cycle. But the recommendation was a vote of confidence by the NCAA.
“I think it’s consistent with our belief that sometime in the near future Allegiant Stadium is going to have the opportunity to bid on a Final Four and a national football championship,” Kliavkoff said. “I don’t take for granted that we’re going to win any of the bids. I think we’re a very compelling choice because of the facilities we have and because of the unique nature of Las Vegas.”
The Final Four and College Football Playoff National Championship events are on different bidding cycles from this current one the NCAA will soon announce. The earliest Las Vegas could host either would be the 2027 Final Four and the 2025 football championship.
LVE president Pat Christenson said if awarded championships in hockey and wrestling, it would represent an important shift because both sports seldom head to the West.
The last time the Frozen Four was played in the West was in 2008 in Denver. Tucson, Arizona, in 1976 was the last from the region to host the wrestling championship.
“They stay in the belts where you have most of the fans,” Christenson said. “I think Vegas is an opportunity for them to break out of that mold because there’s no real question about whether we would sell all the tickets in either of them.”
An aggressive approach
As for lesser-known events, the LVCVA turned in 98 applications, though that included multiple forms covering different years for the same event.
Motley said the NCAA encouraged Las Vegas to bid on Division II and III events in addition to those for Division I.
Some of the sports the LVCVA applied for included basketball, golf, gymnastics and tennis that would take place in various locations. UNLV would be the potential home to championships in baseball, softball and soccer.
“UNLV was so intimately involved with the LVCVA on these bids,” Motley said. “It’s a lot of work for them as well should we get these events. UNLV was the biggest champion, and that partnership was so fantastic.”
UNLV athletic director Desiree Reed-Francois, senior associate AD for external affairs John Gladchuk and Thomas & Mack Center executive director Mike Newcomb worked with the LVCVA on its plan. Motley said Newcomb, in particular, went through the details of all 98 proposals.
“It has been a collective effort putting together competitive and attractive bids, and we appreciate the teamwork with our local and regional leaders throughout this process,” Reed-Francois said. “Las Vegas is as well-equipped of any city in the nation to host NCAA championship events, and we are enthused about the opportunity, if awarded, for our student-athletes to have the experience of competing in the postseason in their own backyard.”
By the time the 2022-23 college athletics seasons arrive, Las Vegas hopes to be in a much different place economically than today because of the coronavirus pandemic. But by finding out soon that the city will serve as a future host also could start to create momentum for a recovery.
“I think every event would assist us in better establishing people’s habits of coming back to Vegas,” Christenson said.
When: 10 a.m. Wednesday
Bids awards: 86 of 90 NCAA championships
Years awarded: 2022-26
Las Vegas’ bids: Men’s basketball regional, Frozen Four, wrestling championship, multiple sports in Divisions I through III