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Local sports executives navigate busy Las Vegas sports scene

Updated May 1, 2017 - 11:57 pm

First came the Golden Knights and later news the Raiders would eventually arrive, a lot to take in for a Las Vegas sports market that hasn’t had any major professional teams.

But even though the Knights don’t take the ice until this fall and the Raiders aren’t expected in town until 2020, speculation about the NBA and Major League Baseball coming here has been made at even sports’ highest levels.

Las Vegas, however, still needs to prove it can support two major teams.

“I would just say let’s grow into it,” Knights president Kerry Bubolz said. “I don’t know that today the marketplace would be significant enough to handle a third team that quickly as part of the growth.”

Bubolz was one of four executives who spoke at a forum Monday at the Las Vegas Review-Journal, which was moderated by Bill Bradley, R-J assistant managing editor/sports. UFC chief operating officer Lawrence Epstein, Professional Bull Riders CEO Sean Gleason and UNLV deputy athletic director Darryl Seibel also took part in the discussion that was part of the Associated Press Sports Editors’ West Region meetings.

The Raiders were not able to send a representative, but they were a major topic of discussion even in absentia. They will bring one of the top brands in American professional sports as well as the weight of the behemoth that is the NFL.

“There are going to be a lot of national companies that currently align themselves with the NFL that maybe because of our market size wouldn’t look at Las Vegas as an opportunity,” Bubolz said. “Now they’re going to be exposed to a marketplace, and we’re going to have an opportunity to show them our story and talk about how we can create an impact for them and ultimately drive revenue from it.”

In Las Vegas, the sports organizations don’t simply compete against each other for ticket and sponsorship revenue.

“As an out-of-towner that brings his own fans and sponsors, our challenge is the glut of entertainment product that is available,” Gleason said. “It’s not just sports, but now that the Golden Knights are here, now that there’s a football game that could or could not fall on the Sunday of PBR World Finals, there’s just a lot of competition for attention and resources. Sometimes that translates into ticket sales. It also translates into the accommodations’ costs. When SEMA is over the top of us or there’s something else, the hotel rooms are filling up, and you can’t get a room that’s less than $500, $750 a night.”

Preceding the arrivals of the Knights and Raiders was T-Mobile Arena.

“It certainly changed the game for UFC,” Epstein said. “We’re doing 41, 42 events per year in arenas all around the world, and we’re typically playing in premium arenas. What we’ve come to discover is the consumer experience at the arena is in many ways just as important as the actual event.

“The reality is we had an arena in our sport, the MGM Grand, that just wasn’t, frankly, up to the global standard that everything else in Las Vegas is. So when the prospect of the T-Mobile came on, we were really excited about that. It was absolutely transformative for our business.”

T-Mobile already has had a major impact, drawing the Pac-12 Conference men’s basketball tournament from the MGM Garden Arena.

Then there is the Raiders’ new stadium, which will be built south of the Strip, which also will house UNLV football.

“One of the single biggest things to happen in the history of UNLV football,” said Seibel, who next week leaves to join the Mountain West offices. “To be able to move into a state-of-the-art facility that will have an international brand and profile, it’s impossible to state all the ways it will favorably impact UNLV football.”

Contact Mark Anderson at manderson@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2914. Follow @markanderson65 on Twitter.

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