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All-star games cement Las Vegas as major pro sports city

Updated February 5, 2022 - 8:34 am

Las Vegas has quickly become the “sports capital of the world,” and nothing makes that more evident than the city hosting the all-star games of both the NHL and NFL this weekend.

Despite being in its infancy as a pro sports town, Las Vegas is the first city ever to hold the Pro Bowl and NHL All-Star Game in the same weekend.

The fact that it is occurring so quickly after the valley attracted its first major professional teams is a testament to all the area has to offer for large sporting events, according to Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority President and CEO Steve Hill.

“It’s great to have each of those events individually, but to have them together on top of the East-West Shrine Bowl, it’s a great week for Las Vegas,” Hill said. “It’s recognition that Vegas really is the sports and entertainment capital of the world, and no place does events like this better than this city.”

Las Vegas has 150,000 hotel rooms, more than enough to accommodate the fan bases of both sports and the other visitors in the city.

Hill said that the two events will draw fans from across the United States and Canada looking to make a weekend of it in Las Vegas.

“It also brings the eyes of sports fans across North America for a week,” he said.

Washington state residents Matt Darlington and his son Parker are part of the traveling fan group that Hill called a key demographic for the mega all-star weekend. The father-son duo drove to Las Vegas to take in both the Pro Bowl and NHL All-Star Game and the related events.

“We’ve been going every year since he was a little kid, and we’re going to circle around and hit Super Bowl week in L.A.,” the eldest Darlington said. “We’re die-hard NFL fans. Two weeks of madness, it’s going to be a blast.”

The Darlingtons attended the Pro Bowl practice Thursday, front row in one of the end zones, getting as many autographs as they could. They proudly displayed their football with Raiders linebacker Denzel Perryman’s signature on it.

“Las Vegas is an amazing place,” Darlington said. “It has so many hotel rooms. I talked to a casino host and he said there’s nowhere else that you hold this many people in one spot. I’m looking forward to Super Bowls being played here, all kinds of all-star games.

“It’s going to be the ultimate city for sports.”

NFL brass agree with that sentiment, as they will stage the NFL draft in Las Vegas in April and then the Super Bowl in 2024. When Las Vegas hosts Super Bowl LVIII, it will become the first city to host all three of the NFL’s marquee events.

“It’s very rare for us to have the opportunity to host a major event in a market and come back just a few months later, execute another one and come back a few years down the road,” said Matthew Shapiro, NFL vice president of event strategy. “The sequencing of these events is really fortunate for us.”

Offshoot events

Aside from the two all-star games, each league had offshoot events, including made-for-TV skills challenges, fan fests and community outreach events.

One standout event was an NHL All-Star skills contest — dubbed “21 in ’22” — in which a select group of players took part in a game of blackjack. Players shot pucks at an oversized deck of cards on Las Vegas Boulevard and attempted to achieve a hand of 21 in the least amount of shots without going bust.

Giving it an only-in-Las Vegas feel, a portion of the Strip in front of the Bellagio was closed to traffic Thursday night to film the event.

All-star Brady Tkachuk of the Ottawa Senators took part and said it was something to remember.

“It was pretty cool,” Tkachuk said. “I remember them saying there hasn’t been very many times they shut down the Strip for something like this. It was pretty cool to be out there with people watching.”

Tkachuk also praised the atmosphere in Las Vegas.

”There’s so much to do here, especially with the Pro Bowl here, so NFL guys, too. Overall, it’s been a really cool experience,” he said.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said he’s been impressed with the host city for this year’s all-star game.

“Where else would they let us shut down their main thoroughfare so that we could have a skills event?” Bettman said Friday, addressing the media at T-Mobile Arena. “So, we are grateful to Vegas.”

Having big-time sporting events that are such a draw for visitors is a credit to the hard work of area officials, according to Justin Jones, Clark County commissioner. And it’s what officials envisioned when they pushed to build new arenas and stadiums in the valley.

“I think it’s really testament to the work of the LVCVA and the resort industry over the last several decades to put us in the position to be in the spotlight for the country and for the world on these events,” Jones said. “I think it’s only going to continue.”

Jones added: “The Super Bowl is the flagship sports opportunity in our country, and to have that come even before the 2025 goal that was set out when the stadium was under construction is really a testament of how well we have accomplished the goals of professional sports in our town.”

Campaigning for decades

Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman and her husband, former Mayor Oscar Goodman, were a large part of the work that Jones cited, campaigning for decades to bring major league sports teams to the valley. Now with multiple teams and a big weekend on tap, all that work was worth it.

“It’s been a long time, and it was obvious that it would be coming,” the mayor said. “I’m very confident in the future that the NBA and MLS and every major league sport will look at the advantage of being part of this community.”

Goodman said she is excited to see the region reap the financial benefits that big league sports offer.

“There’s little wonder here that that’s occurring, and I think the excitement and economic benefit, the hotel rooms with heads in beds and the restaurants and all the entertainment is going to do nothing but benefit the city,” Goodman said. “It’s just a boon for the city and Southern Nevada as a whole.”

Fifteen years ago, Las Vegas got its first taste of all-star action when the Thomas & Mack Center hosted the NBA’s midseason showcase. It was a huge weekend for the city, but the behavior of some visitors made locals question whether they wanted major league sports here.

Despite that, Hill said it was a learning opportunity and a building block that helped Las Vegas to where it is now in the sports world.

“The All-Star Game then was a little bumpy, so I think we learned some things from that event,” Hill said. “Las Vegas is a different city than it was in 2007. We’ve probably added a third of our population since that time. We brought on venues like T-Mobile Arena and Allegiant Stadium.

“Having the (NBA) All-Star Game here certainly paved the way,” Hill added, “but a lot of things have happened here in the last 15 years.”

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

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