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Las Vegas pro lacrosse team ownership group has NBA, NHL ties

Updated June 21, 2021 - 5:49 pm

Las Vegas’ future National Lacrosse League team features an all-star ownership lineup.

The NLL’s 15th franchise belongs to Brooklyn Nets owner Joseph Tsai, NHL legend Wayne Gretzky, former NBA MVP and current Nets coach Steve Nash and PGA Tour star Dustin Johnson, the team announced Monday.

Tsai said it was a no-brainer when he was approached by the league about bringing an expansion franchise to Las Vegas.

“The fact that we have this ownership group, and Las Vegas being the entertainment capital of the world, I really jumped at the opportunity,” said Tsai, who also owns the San Diego Seals of the NLL. “If you look at the city, the metropolitan area, not just Las Vegas and the city here but also the suburb of Summerlin, Henderson, there is 2.7 million people, and about half of them, 1.3 million people, we did the research, they’re sports fans.”

The team is set to play at Michelob Ultra Arena at Mandalay Bay starting in the 2022-23 season. Its CEO is Mark Fine, the vice president of team marketing for the Nets.

“The National Lacrosse League will be a great addition to the destination and Mandalay Bay’s Michelob Ultra Arena’s lineup of events,” Mandalay Bay President Chuck Bowling said. “Las Vegas has proven itself a true professional sports town with the arrivals of the Vegas Golden Knights and the Las Vegas Raiders, and we’re certain locals and tourists will share that passion with our newest team.”

Basing the attendance projection on the league’s average data, Tsai said he expects 8,000 to 12,000 fans at each game.

Gretzky said he has a long relationship with the game while growing up in Canada and was brought into the fold by Tsai.

“I grew up loving lacrosse and developed a relationship with Joe,” Gretzky said. “When you have somebody like that driving the whole ship — he’s really excited and enthusiastic about it — I thought, ‘You know, this is going to be a lot of fun.’”

Given the success of the Golden Knights and the Raiders selling out Allegiant Stadium before it was completed, Gretzky envisions the team finding its niche in the growing professional sports market.

“The Golden Knights are a great success, and we’re not trying to be the Golden Knights,” Gretzky said. “This a team and a league that’s going to find its own sort of market in their own area.”

Gretzky said part of the team’s plan to grow the sport in the Las Vegas Valley could mean him making appearances at events.

The growth aspect is important to Tsai, who recalled attending a lacrosse tournament at Heritage Park in Henderson and realized there’s a youth market to be tapped into.

“What we’re looking at is the possibility of a practice facility; we want to make investments here,” Tsai said. “Just think about a field where we could put in several box rinks so that our team can practice, but also the kids can come and play tournaments here.”

The announcement marked the end of the journey to bring an NLL team to Southern Nevada.

“It all started two years ago with a meeting and an idea, and here we are today,” NLL commissioner Nick Sakiewicz in a statement. “When our industry looks back years from now on the growth of box lacrosse as a sport and Las Vegas as a home of a first-class franchise, we believe this will be one of the seminal days in NLL history. The people in this community are going to be in for a treat both on the floor and in the community.”

Las Vegas’ team name, colors and logo will be announced later, with the team urging fans to provide feedback via the team’s website.

“If we really wanted to be part of the community, let’s let the fans pick the name,” Tsai said. “It’s not just the name, it’s the logo, it’s how we present ourselves, jerseys, what it looks like and maybe even the mascot, you get to name the mascot.”

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

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