- The Washington Times - Friday, February 16, 2007

This Sunday’s NBA All-Star game has naturally raised the question of whether Las Vegas will ever land a major professional sports team. The NBA’s decision to hold the game in the land of craps, cards and Celine Dion has raised a few eyebrows and is leading people to wonder if David Stern has some expansion plans up his sleeve.

Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman, meanwhile, has been very open about his desire to land a team, whether it be from the NBA, Major League Baseball or even the NFL. He has met with Stern on more than one occasion and hasn’t been rebuffed. It’s too soon to tell what the NBA or any other sports league might do, but there’s probably something to the fact that when anyone utters the words “expansion” or “relocation,” the name “Las Vegas” is close behind.

But does putting a pro sports team in Las Vegas make sense? Let’s look at a few pros and cons.

PROS:

1) The city is growing like crazy. The U.S. Census Bureau reports Las Vegas has about 2 million people, more than double the population in the early 1990s. 2 million people isn’t gigantic, but it’s a larger market than Jacksonville, Green Bay, Indianapolis and Salt Lake City, all of which have teams.

2) Good business climate. Generally, the casinos in Las Vegas are doing well. And operators have, on occasion, offered to help pay for a new stadium or arena provided they get something in return, such as the rights to expand. In recent years, obtaining help from the private sector to pay for a facility has proven to be possible.

CONS:

1) The gambling issue. Sports leagues, particularly baseball, are wary of associating themselves with gambling interests. Leagues have inquired as to whether casinos would be willing to remove their sports from betting lines, but have received a lukewarm response. The NBA’s Stern is reportedly open to some sort of compromise on the issue, but it remains a key sticking point. Moreover, any league placing a team in Las Vegas would no doubt get some scrutiny from Congress, which has taken a stronger anti-gambling stance of late.

2) Demographics. While Las Vegas is growing, many of the new residents are senior citizens and retirees. While older Americans can be passionate sports fans, they don’t spend money the same way as young people with families. (The struggles of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays are a case in point.)

3) TV Market. When examining sports markets, it’s important to look at how many people live within that team’s viewing area, which can stretch for several hundred miles in all directions. In the case of Las Vegas, the city itself might support a team, the area outside the suburbs is not nearly as populous.

The Wild Card in Las Vegas is the tourists. On one hand, the city can boast of millions of people each year traveling to the city to spend money. One has to assume that at least a portion of those visitors will extricate themselves from the allure of the one-armed bandit to watch a game.

But the entertainment options in Las Vegas are so unique that tourists may not find a sporting event too exciting. Furthermore, the 24-hour nature of the city suggests that tourism workers — casino staff, parking attendants, etc. — aren’t going to be available at 7 p.m. each night to watch a game.

Perhaps this weekend’s game will give an indication of Las Vegas’ capabilities when it comes to sports. My guess is the city will get a team at some point, but it’s anyone’s guess as to how soon.

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