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Supercross in Las Vegas remains a big whoop-de-do

By Friday morning, 72 of the 97 spectator sections for Saturday night’s AMA Supercross season final at Sam Boyd Stadium were sold out.

Of the remaining 25 sections, 23 were listed as low availability. If you want to sit in section U-127, you might still be in luck. Tickets in that section — which cost $90 — were listed as medium availability.

This has got to drive Tony Sanchez crazy. And all the other guys who have preceded him as UNLV football coach, guys who probably would have traded three chapters of their offensive playbooks for the kind of crowds motorcycle racing draws.

One can almost count the events that have filled UNLV’s ancient football stadium to the fire marshal standard on one hand and a finger or two on the other: The Las Vegas Bowl, when Brigham Young is in it. The Grateful Dead, when Jerry Garcia was alive. U2, the Eagles, Sir Paul McCartney.

And AMA Supercross.

Saturday will mark the 29th time the dirt bikes have raced at Sam Boyd during springtime, making supercross one of Las Vegas’ longest standing sporting events. Almost all previous installments have been sellouts. The only time the UNLV football team can say that is when Wisconsin has an opening on its schedule.

But it’s not just Las Vegas where supercross fans flock like swallows to Capistrano. Consider the announced attendance of the past five races:

— 61,247 at East Rutherford, New Jersey.

— 59,718 in Denver (on a bitter cold night).

— 54,703 at Nashville, Tennessee.

— 49,183 at Houston.

— 58,721 at Seattle.

These are almost NFL football crowds, in NFL stadiums.

Gentlemen, start your whoop-de-dos.

Bucking the odds

Unlike NASCAR and other forms of motor sports where large swatches of seats are being removed from speedways and TV ratings are plummeting, supercross not only is holding steady but showing upticks in those areas.

“The access the fan has when they come to the stadium — they can get that autograph, they can interact with that rider, there are all sorts of things for them to do over at the fanfest,” said Ralph Sheheen, the voice of supercross on NBC. “And then to come into the grandstands and watch these athletes compete — even if you don’t know what’s going on with winning and losing, just the action itself is brilliant, watching these guys flying all over the place.”

As alluded, Sheheen says the supercross venues are nearly as popular as the riders.

“We’re in the Cowboys’ stadium in Arlington, we’re in the Vikings’ stadium in Minneapolis, the Falcons’ new stadium in Atlanta,” he said after moderating Friday’s news conference featuring championship contenders Cooper Webb and Eli Tomac and other top riders.

“These are places that have hosted Super Bowls and Final Fours — they’re the latest, greatest, most state-of-the-art venues. Comfort is there, the convenience of getting there, good food, great restrooms. Everything is provided, everything is right there. Supercross competes in these venues, and that encourages fans to come and see it.”

Growth potential

Sam Boyd Stadium offers none of those things. But supercross enthusiasts still come from Southern California and elsewhere in large numbers, because Las Vegas is a destination. So when the monolithic new Raiders’ stadium comes on board in 2020, Las Vegas will become an even more attractive destination for those fans. And the Uber and Lyft rides back to their hotels will be a lot cheaper.

“They’re opening in fall of ‘20, and our goal is to be racing there for a championship in ‘21,” said Dave Prater, director of operations for supercross producer Feld Motor Sports. “We’ll be here at Sam Boyd next year, and then move over to the Raiders’ stadium.

”There’s definitely potential (to grow). Fans obviously like the new amenities in the new houses.”

UNLV football fans should like them, too. But they’ll have to wait another season before the Raiders tell the Rebels what days they can use their palatial new digs.

As for 2019, UNLV will not open the season against Southern Utah at Sam Boyd for almost fourth months.

That should leave plenty of time to build some whoop-do-dos in the end zones.

Contact Ron Kantowski at rkantowski@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0352. Follow @ronkantowski on Twitter.

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