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Las Vegas is a good bet for baseball
The city loves sports, and has no trouble drawing a crowd.
In 2015, I pissed off pretty much the entire city of Las Vegas by predicting that the Golden Knights, the then newly-minted NHL expansion franchise, were likely to be a failure.
Well, I was completely wrong. The Knights are among the top teams in the league in ticket revenue. They also won the Stanley Cup last year. And as a frequent Las Vegas visitor, I’ve been to a half-dozen Knights games and can personally vouch for the product. The venue itself, T-Mobile Arena, is nothing particularly special. But the fans are very into hockey, and the presentation is pretty special, from a pregame show that would be over-the-top anywhere else but works well enough in Vegas, to a slot-machine type jingle that sounds whenever the Knights score. Overall it’s an experience that generally makes you feel like it was worth the time and expense. Combine that with a team that has been competitive on the ice from the inception of the franchise, it’s not surprising that the Knights draw well.
Yesterday, the Knights and Las Vegas Raiders got some additional company, with Major League Baseball approving the move of the Oakland A’s to Las Vegas. It’s going to be awkward for a few years — the A’s full-time new stadium isn’t expected to be ready until 2028. But having been burned on the Knights, I’m not ready to bet against the A’s eventually finding success too.
Complaints about sports in Las Vegas tend to focus on the relatively small size of the metro area, which currently ranks 29th in the country with 2.3 million people — in the same general vicinity as Pittsburgh, Sacramento, Cincinnati and Kansas City. That’s a canonical list of “small market” cities that sometimes struggle to support MLB teams.
And yet, empirically, Vegas performs well as a sports city. Depending on which list you look at, the Knights are either the 11th or 16th most valuable franchise from among the 32 NHL teams, while the Raiders are either the 6th or 10th most valuable NFL franchise. Las Vegas has been a solidly average-to-above-average sports market despite its small-ish population, in other words.
Why? There are some obvious and not-so-obvious reasons.
There are a lot of tourists in Las Vegas, which increases the city’s de facto population.
Las Vegas gets around 40 million tourist arrivals per year. Assuming an average stay of 3 days, that means that there are around 300,000 tourists at any given time — enough for about two people in each of the city’s 150,000 hotel rooms.
Adding another 300K potential customers is a big deal to begin with, but keep in mind that these are people who are actively looking for ways to be entertained. But are they looking to be entertained by baseball? True, there’s a lot of inventory to fill — baseball teams play 81 home games, and the product isn’t as sexy as something like the NFL. But I’d say the following. First, the threshold for what passes for entertainment in Las Vegas isn’t necessarily all that high. And second, if your friends are like mine, they don’t need much of an excuse to go to Vegas. Somewhere between 40 to 50 percent of crowds at Allegiant Stadium, where the Raiders play, are out-of-towners. My anecdotal experience at Knights games is that this percentage is considerably lower for hockey. Still, there are going to plenty of groups of college buddies who decide to get the band back together for, say, a Vegas road trip in April ostensibly centered around a Twins-A’s series after having been stuck in Minneapolis all winter.
Las Vegas has high sports avidity.
Maybe it’s the sports gambling culture — although sportsbooks are a relatively small slice of Las Vegas’s overall revenue pie. Maybe it’s the fact that Vegas is a competitive, fun-loving place. But sports are often on the mind in Las Vegas, with TVs showing the game everywhere you turn. In fact, despite not having a franchise itself, Las Vegas is one of the top markets in the US for Google searches for Major League Baseball:
Las Vegas is compact and it’s easy to get to the stadium.
I don’t think I’ve ever seen urban planning types herald Las Vegas as a marvel of high-density design. But the city — hemmed in by mountains, canyons and Lake Mead, is in fact quite dense. Compare Las Vegas, for instance…
…to the far more sprawling Phoenix on the same scale:
Or compare it to something like Miami, where the population is spread out along a north-south axis instead of in a radial shape.
What this means is that for pretty much all of the 2.3 million residents and 0.3 million tourists in the metro area, getting to the stadium is a viable proposition. There isn’t really an “other side of town” in Las Vegas; even the more far-flung suburbs are maybe a 20- or 30-minute drive from the Strip.
What about the weather? Well, the stadium’s going to have a retractable roof. But honestly, that roof might be open more often than you’d think. The weather in Vegas gets a bad rap. Fall and spring are downright pleasant, it cools off a lot at night, and yes, seriously, the dry heat thing matters — I’d far sooner take a 105-degree day in Las Vegas than 90 degrees in Miami.
Now, I do want to stipulate that I don’t think the Vegas A’s will be as successful as the Knights or Raiders. The Knights had the benefit of being the first franchise in town, and the NFL — with just 8 or 9 regular-season home games — has the sort of special event feel that Vegas excels at. (Although, Las Vegas’s first-ever F1 race has been a bit of a nightmare so far.) The lack of a major-league-quality stadium until 2028, plus the fact that the A’s are terrible, aren’t going to give the franchise a lot of momentum out of the gate.
But I think they’ll do just fine in the end. And am I looking forward to high-tailing it to an A’s game the minute I bust out of some event in the 2028 World Series of Poker? You bet I am.
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