Is Vegas ready for NBA or MLB? Sports executive panel weighs in

The Vegas Golden Knights mascot Chance the Golden Gila Monster poses with fans during a Vegas Golden Knights Fan Fest at the Fremont Street Experience in downtown Las Vegas Sunday, Jan. 14, 2018.

Las Vegas has become a big league sports destination and could host an NHL All-Star Game or even a Super Bowl, but it’s not ready for the NBA or MLB, according to at least one of the sports executives at a commercial real estate panel Thursday at the Orleans.

Hosted by the local chapter of the National Association for Industrial and Office Parks, the panel included: Kerry Bubolz, president of the Vegas Golden Knights; Lawrence Epstein, chief operating officer of the UFC; and Terry Jicinsky, senior vice president of operations of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority. (A scheduling conflict prevented a Raiders representative from attending, said UNLV President Len Jessup, the panel’s moderator.)

Bubolz said there are practical limits, at least for now, about the size of the sports industry in Las Vegas.

When asked if recently added teams (including the Aces of the WNBA and the Lights of the United Soccer League) will be in competition with each other, Bubolz said they have different schedules, appeal to different people and make money in different ways.

“But as we look ahead at the NBA or Major League Baseball, we have to have some caution and make sure our market is ready in terms of population and industry and can truly support them,” he said.

Bubolz compared Las Vegas to Phoenix, which has the NFL, NBA, NHL, MLB and NASCAR in addition to hosting PGA tournaments and NCAA sports at Arizona State.

“I think they grew a little too fast, and it’s unfortunate … it created an environment where some people are saying Phoenix won’t be able to support all those teams,” Bubolz said.

Bubolz and Epstein also spoke about the direct economic impact the Golden Knights and UFC have had in Las Vegas. But the city could become a even more of a global sports capital now that it’s the host for NHL (and soon NFL) broadcasts.

“I think Las Vegas in 10 years will become the most important city for sports in the world,” Epstein said. “Look at Manchester (England). It was a city that didn’t have any of the assets that Las Vegas has. But it decided it wanted to reinvent itself as a city of sports in the U.K.

“Ultimately, every single major sports industry in the U.K. now has headquarters based in Manchester. All of their training facilities are there. That’s my vision for Las Vegas,” Epstein said.

Las Vegas’ infrastructure and expertise in hosting events allow it to develop one-off sporting events to become much larger than what was originally planned, Jicinsky said.

“There is the ability for ancillary brands to build out around your activity,” he said. “When the National Finals Rodeo is here, there are 35 other events occurring where people don’t actually go to the Thomas & Mack Center to watch the main event. All sporting events have the same opportunity to add conventions and fan fests around what they are planning.”

Epstein and Jessup were optimistic when asked if Las Vegas would end up hosting more events. Eventually, they said, Las Vegas will probably host a Super Bowl, the NFL draft and NCAA championships.

When it comes to hockey, Bubolz said Las Vegas could expect to host the NCAA’s Frozen Four and possibly the NHL All-Star Game.

“At some point down the road, when we’re ready, we’re going to approach the National Hockey League about the All-Star Game,” he said. “It’s really just ‘when,’ as opposed to ‘if.’”

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