A Look At The Evolution Of Las Vegas As A Pro Sports Town

Written By Marc Meltzer on April 18, 2022
Pro Sports Town In Las Vegas Looks Into Their Evolution

The evolution of Las Vegas into a sports city is explosive. Prior to the NHL Vegas Golden Knights starting play in 2017, the minor league Las Vegas 51s were the only professional team to call Las Vegas home.

In the five years since the Golden Knights have been playing in Las Vegas, there have been a number of professional sports teams that are calling Las Vegas their home. There are even more pro sports teams expected to begin operations in the next few years.

Pro sports offer a different form of entertainment for tourists visiting Las Vegas. These are considered arena and stadium-sized events. Much like touring performers or residencies, these events fill venues and generate revenue for everyone from venue operators to casino and hotel companies.

Sports fills the event calendar for locals and tourists alike. In addition to being the home of numerous pro sports teams, Las Vegas is hosting more live sporting events than ever.

Not only does this offer local residents a team to root for, but the added live events give tourists an “excuse” to visit Las Vegas.

Las Vegas sports for locals and tourists

Prior to the team’s first season in Las Vegas, 60% of Raiders Personal Seat Licenses (PSL) in 2020 were purchased by Nevada residents. Last s
eason, the first with fans in attendance for games, about 60% of fans were rooting for the road team against the Las Vegas Raiders.

Anecdotally, the Vegas Golden Knights games may also have close to 60% or more fans cheering for the road team. The tourists don’t hide their fandom. It’s not uncommon to see fans wearing jerseys of the teams playing games in Las Vegas while walking through casinos on the Vegas Strip on game day.

The mix of locals and tourists rooting against one another makes for an interesting game day experience.

That’s life in a small city with a large market for tourists. For reference, there are just under 700,000 residents in Las Vegas this year. In 2019, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, there were more than 42 million visitors to Las Vegas. Analysts expect visitation to return to a similar level next year.

The mix of locals and tourists at games of Las Vegas teams will continue.

Pro teams currently playing in Las Vegas

The NFL, NBA, MLB, and NHL make up the “Big Four” of professional sports leagues in the US. These are the leagues with the most talented players in their respective sports. These are the teams that get the most exposure.

The Las Vegas Raiders of the NFL and Vegas Golden Knights of the NHL are the two teams in the Big Four that call the gambling capital of the world their home. However, there are a couple of Big Four adjacent teams in Las Vegas.

The WNBA’s Las Vegas Aces and minor league baseball team, the Las Vegas Aviators, are both teams related to the Big Four.

Both of these teams could prove to be the beginning of all of Las Vegas becoming home to a team from every Big Four sports league.

Minor league teams in Las Vegas

The Las Vegas Aviators have a long lineage in the desert. Prior to becoming the Aviators and moving to the Summerlin part of Las Vegas, the team played downtown and were known as the Stars and 51s. Next year will be the 40th year of minor league baseball in Las Vegas.

While minor league baseball has been in Las Vegas for years, there are other minor league teams in Las Vegas. The USL’s Las Vegas Lights play in the downtown stadium once used by the minor league baseball teams.

Henderson Silver Knights are the minor league team of the Vegas Golden Knights. Henderson’s new Dollar Loan Center arena is about 20 minutes away from the Vegas Strip.

The venue in the Las Vegas suburbs is also home to the Vegas Knight Hawks of the IFL. The venue opened this year and hosted the Big West College Basketball Championship.

Henderson is a rapidly growing part of town, and it would not be a surprise if more teams and events start taking place a short drive from the Vegas Strip.

Big sporting events in Las Vegas

Las Vegas is a big event city. The entertainment world has known this for years, with some of the most popular artists performing over the years.

So many artists between the Rat Pack and Lady Gaga have performed regularly in Las Vegas. Sports is finally jumping on board the live event train in Las Vegas.

There was a time when there were very few live sports in Las Vegas besides those including teams from UNLV. That’s no longer the case, and major sporting events are clamoring to have their events in Las Vegas.

Once again, college basketball is leading the way. Various college basketball leagues now hold their conference tournaments in Las Vegas regardless if they have a college in Nevada. The following NCAA Basketball Conference Tournaments took place in Las Vegas:

  • Big West Conference at Dollar Loan Center in Henderson
  • Mountain West Conference at Thomas and Mack Center
  • Pac 12 (Men) at T-Mobile Arena
  • Pac 12 (Women) at Michelob ULTRA Arena inside Mandalay Bay
  • Western Athletic Conference (WAC) at Michelob ULTRA Arena inside Mandalay Bay and Orleans Arena inside The Orleans

This year, the NFL and NHL held their All-Star Games in Las Vegas at Allegiant Stadium and T-Mobile Arena, respectively. The NHL even brought a few skills competition events outside to the Vegas Strip.

The 2022 NFL Draft will take place in Las Vegas at the end of the month. Looking forward, Las Vegas will host the Super Bowl in 2024.

College sports events in Las Vegas will go to another level starting next year. The first weekend of March Madness is one of the busiest sports weekends in Las Vegas.

Next year the West Regional (Sweet 16 and Elite 8) of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament will take place at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. In 2025, Las Vegas will host the College Football Playoff Championship game at Allegiant Stadium.

Allegiant Stadium and T-Mobile Arena also host a variety of one-off events such as college football and basketball, respectively. Allegiant Stadium is also becoming one of the few US stadiums to be in the mix for international soccer matches. Real Madrid and Barcelona are rumored to be playing a friendly at the home of the Raiders next year.

The latest addition to the Las Vegas live sports calendar is the Las Vegas Grand Prix. The first of three Formula 1 races will take place on and off the Vegas Strip beginning in November 2023.

There’s so much demand for live events in Las Vegas that another new arena is slated to break ground four miles south of Mandalay Bay next year.

More pro teams possibly on their way to Las Vegas

Being home to all of the Big Four professional sports leagues in America is still a goal for Las Vegas. Rumors persist that two of the four leagues are looking to have a team based in Las Vegas.

On top of these sports, it looks likely that the biggest US soccer league will have a team based in Las Vegas.

The new arena being planned for Las Vegas could become home to an NBA expansion team. Even if the project is started and completed, the arena might have to wait a minute for an NBA team.

The chatter about new pro sports teams in Las Vegas grows, and rumors persist that the Oakland A’s will move to the “gross desert” if there isn’t a new stadium district in the Bay Area in California.

The A’s move to Las Vegas is still a longshot. It appears as though Oakland residents are in favor of building the stadium district that will keep the A’s in California.

Additionally, for years there have been rumors that Las Vegas will become home to a Major League Soccer (MLS) team. It seems as though this will happen sooner than later. Las Vegas is currently the favorite to land the next MLS team.

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Marc Meltzer

Marc grew up on the mean streets of the South Bronx. He’s the rare combination of Yankees and Jets fan which explains his often contrarian point of view. Marc is a freelance writer and social media consultant. Writing about steak, booze, gambling and Las Vegas is a tough job but somebody has to do it.

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