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Downtown Las Vegas welcomes buzz of NFL draft celebrities, fans

Updated April 29, 2022 - 11:07 pm

To Derek Stevens, the best part about the NFL draft in Las Vegas is the buzz.

Though it’s great that hundreds of thousands of fans are in Southern Nevada this weekend, the Circa owner said that what’s special about the draft is the people it brought — and how they’re spending their time.

“It’s been a great week for all our properties,” he said Friday.

Stevens noted the many special events going on in connection with the draft.

“That’s what made things a bit different,” he said. “Ten thousand cases of beer, we do that every week. It’s all the special events and coordination. A lot of big, private dinners and cabanas requested at Stadium Swim — it’s just there’s a lot of celebrities in town and that really makes it a lot of fun for everybody.”

Look no further than Kayvon Thibodeaux, the fifth overall pick drafted by the New York Giants. The former edge rusher for the Oregon Ducks was seen at Circa’s rooftop bar, Legacy Club and Stadium Swim — a six-pool, dayclublike venue with a 143-foot-high LED screen — to celebrate his draft.

Fans elated

Tourists downtown were happy to take part in the buzz.

Chaska, Minnesota, resident Ryan Grapentine said he and his friends visit Las Vegas for most NFL drafts and were excited when they heard the event would be here this year. The five Vikings fans were staying at Circa for three days, splitting their time between downtown and the Strip’s NFL Draft Experience events. They hadn’t spotted any celebrities during their stay, he said. But being around other fans was enough.

“All of the fans are a lot of fun to hang out with, it’s a lot of chirping back and forth,” Grapentine said. “We see Packers fans, and as Vikings fans, we hate each other but it’s still friendly banter back and forth.”

The draft’s impact could be spotted beyond the pools and casino floor of Circa and at other casino properties. Many tourists walking around the Fremont Street Experience on Friday wore team jerseys and shopped at sports-related vendors.

BigBallsLasVegas.com, a Fremont Street Experience vendor, sells more than NFL gear. Medallions come in logos of other leagues, along with necklaces of honking chickens and giant disco balls, the latter being where the booth gets its name. But it’s the $54.99 torso-sized football team necklaces that are grabbing shoppers’ attention this week.

“It’s lighter than I thought,” said Jake Kline, a Colts fan who purchased the sports chain.

‘We’ve never experienced something like this’

The larger medallions can be removed from the necklace and hung on a wall or used as a magnet. Supervisor Ruben Ascencio said the necklaces are often top sellers during football season as out-of-town fans travel for Raiders home games, but are even more popular during the draft. Lions gear, in particular, has been a hit this week, he said.

“The past few days, our sales have skyrocketed,” Ascencio said. “We’ve never experienced something like this but we got our inventory here.”

It’s that welcome sports fandom that makes Stevens hopeful for future growth of the sports market in Las Vegas. He said the impact of the Golden Knights, Raiders and success around major sporting events has shown a strong appetite for the industry coming to Southern Nevada.

“I’ve always been one that thought Las Vegas was an underserved sports market,” Stevens said. “I still think Vegas can support more professional teams. Not just with their Vegas community, but with the tourism it creates. This is the best city in the world for sports tourism, and that affects jobs and so much in the community. I don’t want to say it’s here. It’s still in its infancy for Las Vegas tourism.”

McKenna Ross is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms. Contact her at mross@reviewjournal.com. Follow @mckenna_ross_ on Twitter.

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