When Jim Murren arrived in Las Vegas in 1998, the thought of a gaming company like MGM Resorts International becoming a partner with an NFL team was unthinkable. The divide between sports leagues like the NFL and the gaming industry was wide.
“It’s a humbling thing for me,” Murren said Thursday at Mandalay Bay following the announcement of a sponsorship deal between MGM and the Las Vegas Raiders. “When I came here 21 years ago, the thought that the NFL would be willing to come to Las Vegas as a host city … it just shows how far the gaming industry has come.”
MGM will have a robust advertising presence at Allegiant Stadium, home of the NFL Raiders in a few quick months. The company will also have an exclusive “MGM Club” luxury area at the stadium and host MGM-themed pre- and post-game party venues within walking distance of the $2 billion stadium, which is located across Interstate 15 from Mandalay Bay.
“We’re going to create the world’s best tailgate experience,” Murren said. “Between Mandalay Bay and Luxor, we have a lot of property. It will be something that you will not see at another stadium in the United States.”
Of course, it was long assumed that gaming entities like MGM would have an adverse effect on leagues like the NFL, NBA, NHL and Major League Baseball. The NFL in 2015 even banned Tony Romo from attending a fantasy football convention here.
But that mindset started to change when an NHL expansion franchise was announced for Las Vegas in 2016. The Golden Knights are in their third season and regularly play before sold-out crowds at T-Mobile Arena, which is partially owned by MGM. There are also plenty of opportunities to bet on the game near the arena, or on mobile devices while inside.
“The leagues are recognizing that we’re a good partner,” Murren said. “I want to call out Gary Bettman. There was trepidation, before the Knights even took to the ice, that there would be some form of pressure around betting patterns because the Knights would be playing professional hockey in Las Vegas. We wanted to be clear that there was no degradation of the ethics of the product, including in-game betting. The commissioner and MGM had a ‘trust me’ moment and, because of that, we have history as our guide now.”
Trust is something that Murren likes to talk about. Handshakes are “everything” to him, he said Thursday.
Businessman Phil Ruffin recently said it was a handshake with Murren last year that signified an agreement for the $825 million sale of the Circus Circus property on the Strip from MGM to Ruffin’s company.
Murren said he’s also developed that kind of trust with owner Mark Davis and the Raiders.
“Mr. Davis and (Raiders president) Marc Badain, they’re planting deep roots here,” Murren said. “That means more to me than almost anything else. There’s a commitment and a level of trust. The Raiders have a global brand — every time I’m in China or Europe or the Middle East, I see Raiders swag — and not every NFL team can say that. To have a global brand like that in a global city like Las Vegas, it’s the perfect partnership.”
As for how the NFL might further embrace sports betting, that remains to be seen. Murren, though, seems optimistic. After all, it’s now common for gaming companies to secure deals with teams and leagues. The NFL has an agreement with Caesars Entertainment, which is helping to host the NFL Draft in late April.
“I believe it’s our duty at MGM to earn the trust of any one of our partners,” Murren said. “I think we have to earn the right and that takes one step at a time. The move by NFL team owners to approve the Raiders moving here, that was a big step.”
The trust Murren mentioned seems to be reciprocated by the Raiders.
“MGM has been with us pretty much from Day One, from the first meetings that Mark and I had back when we started talking about coming here,” Badain said. “They gave us a lot of good advice and have always come through with what they said they were going to come through with. It’s been a great partnership since way before this announcement.”
Before they ever play a down of football at Allegiant Stadium, the Raiders are already winning in their new city, Murren said.
“I’m really jazzed,” Murren said. “It wasn’t long ago that Las Vegas was considered kind of a sports desert. We’ve gone from being a sports desert to being a sports capital and the crowning achievement will be when the Raiders take the field.”