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How Las Vegas Is Turning Into the Nation’s New Sports Hub

| March 13, 2020 10:32 am PDT
Las Vegas Raiders, Golden Knights and Welcome Sign

Sport has always been big in Las Vegas. Millions of visitors have visited the self-proclaimed Sin City to watch events such as the Super Bowl and world championship boxing matches over the years. But as far as Las Vegas being a city of sports teams goes, not so much.

But all that is changing now. The Vegas Golden Knights have been in town for a few years now and have turned this city in the desert into one of the most ardent hockey towns in the country. And the Raiders will bring their commitment to excellence to the Las Vegas Strip later in the year, bringing the NFL to the city after relocating from Oakland.

From professional major league teams to huge sporting events, Las Vegas is fast becoming the sports center of America. How did that happen? And what happens next?

Let’s explore how Las Vegas is turning into the nation’s new sports hub.

What Happened With Sports in Vegas?

Traditionally viewed as having a transient, if ever-growing, population, Las Vegas was always overlooked when it came to having its own major league sports team. The same old reasons were always trotted out when fans would question why that was.

The NFL was probably the biggest opponent of bringing a team to Nevada. Due to the city’s strong connection to sports betting, the NFL didn’t want anything to do with the place. The league even refused to show adverts for any Las Vegas-related business or activity during the Super Bowl. Savvy business people got used to talking about “The Big Game,” rather than using the term “Super Bowl.”

Other sports shunned Las Vegas for the same reasons. The reputation for gambling and the potential for the fixing of events was just too big a problem to even consider the city as a home for an expansion team.

The Supreme Court ruling concerning the legalizing of sports betting in 2018 altered a lot of perceptions, but changes had been coming for a few years previous to that. Whereas XFL, various basketball teams, and even the Canadian Football League failed to keep a team going in Las Vegas for long, the time seemed right for Sin City to have its own major league sports team.

Vegas Golden Knights

It does seem somewhat ironic that the first major professional sports team that Las Vegas can truly call its own plays on ice. But a lack of hockey history in the city has not stopped the public from taking the Vegas Golden Knights to their hearts.

The expansion team played its first game in 2017 and unbelievably went all the way to the Stanley Cup finals in its first season. Only the experience of Alex Ovechkin and the rest of his Washington Capitals ended a dream debut. But that instant success is only one of the reasons why the Golden Knights are so popular. A terrible mass shooting that killed 58 people on the Strip occurred just days before the team’s first-ever game, and the players immediately won over the local community with their actions of community and city love.

The feeling that most of the players were unwanted by existing teams didn’t hurt, either. Dubbed the “Golden Misfits,” the fans identified with these players, many who had been told that they were not good enough for the league. The Vegas Golden Knights currently lead the Pacific Division and are now one of the favorites to win this year’s Stanley Cup, but it was in that inaugural season that the team won the city over.

Las Vegas is officially a hockey town now.

Las Vegas Raiders

If the NFL is good at anything, it is recognizing a success story and building its own version. There had been talks for a while about a football team moving to Vegas, and Oakland had regularly been involved in those conversations thanks to its owner’s displeasure at the reluctance on behalf of the Bay City to pay for a much-needed improved stadium.

As mentioned earlier, the NFL had traditionally shied away from Vegas as a possible location for a franchise, but times change. From this year, the newly revamped Las Vegas Raiders will be playing in the soon-to-be-finished Allegiant Stadium, right next to the Mandalay Bay casino in the heart of the city.

If the Golden Knights won over Las Vegas with their personality, the Raiders would seem to be a perfect match for Sin City. The Black and Silver hordes that turn each Raiders home game into a carnival atmosphere more akin to a European soccer match will be right at home in Vegas. The brash, in-your-face attitude that was cultivated by owners and coaches in both Oakland and Los Angeles will seem even more at home in Las Vegas.

Home fans will revel in other teams not liking the Raiders, and you can expect there to be a huge increase in the already high demand for team merchandise. The high visibility of Golden Knights caps, shirts, and hoodies shows that the locals will want to parade their new team colors. It doesn’t hurt that those colors already fit in perfectly, black and silver.

Other Teams and Sports

The soon-to-be two major league teams will be the main focus when it comes to sports in Las Vegas. But it is not as if there is nothing else going on in Nevada.

Even though there has never been an NBA team in the city, basketball is massively popular. The NBA Summer League has been a fixture in Vegas since 2004 when there were only six teams competing. Now there are 30, plus two from overseas. The NBA also brought its All-Star game to town as long ago as 2007.

But there is already a major league hoops team in the city. The WNBA Las Vegas Aces are one of the best in the women’s game. For basketball fans, that’s all on top of the NCAA tournaments already being played.

Las Vegas has had a love affair with hoops since at least the glory days of the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels of the 1980s. The 1990 National Championship was the end of the good times with the basketball program at the school, but it sowed a seed of affection for the game in the city’s population.

The university has also been a major player in the sports scene in the city since before the Golden Knights were even a twinkle in Bill Foley’s eye.

There are also a number of minor league sports teams that represent the area. The AAA baseball team, the Las Vegas Aviators, has been around for a long time, and Las Vegas Lights is the local soccer team. A developmental hockey team has just been moved from San Antonio, too.

The Future of Sports in Vegas

With the Raiders joining the incredibly successful Golden Knights later this year, Las Vegas will suddenly be represented in two of the major sports leagues in the US. Both these organizations will have an immensely loyal fan base and a level of brand recognition that already far surpasses many of their rivals.

With the issues concerning problems relating to sports betting a thing of the past, Las Vegas looks like it will soon become one of the major sports hubs in the country. Talk of further expansion teams coming to the city never really goes away, but there is nothing definite on the horizon at the moment.

The most likely addition to the Vegas sports scene would seem to be an NBA team. There are no expansion plans for the league, but a relocation might be possible. The T-Mobile Arena, home of the Golden Knights, could easily be used for basketball as well as hockey, and there have been rumors, at least, about the Spurs heading out of San Antonio.

Rumors are all there is at the moment, however. But with the major leagues recognizing the financial potential of a franchise in Las Vegas compared to some of the existing smaller markets, it would not be a surprise if another sport got in on the Sin City action in the near future.

Dan Roberts
Dan Roberts

Dan Roberts is an experienced freelance writer specialising in sports and sports betting. He is particularly knowledgeable about world soccer, but also writes about football, basketball and cricket.

As a fan of Nottingham Forest, New York Knicks, Minnesota Vikings and New York Mets, Dan has not had much to celebrate recently.

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