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December 18, 2014

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Ray Brewer: From the Pressbox

ray brewer:

If done right, a pro soccer team could help bring Las Vegas other sports franchises

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An artist’s rendering shows a proposed design for a future Major League Soccer stadium to be located in Symphony Park near the Smith Center. The proposal was announced Wednesday, May 14, 2014, by Findlay Sports and Cordish Companies.

If a proposed Major League Soccer expansion franchise comes to downtown Las Vegas, it must be a success or other professional leagues — the NBA or NHL — might think twice about coming to the area.

If soccer thrives, it would open the door for more leagues to follow suit. But if games are played in a half-empty stadium, it would be another deterrent for those considering to relocate.

Sooner than later, we’ll get that first franchise. I’m convinced of that, especially after listening Wednesday to Justin Findlay, the man leading the charge to bring soccer to his hometown, address the Las Vegas City Council.

The Findlay Sports and Entertainment Group and stadium developer the Cordish Cos. were given the green light by a 6-1 vote to continue pursuing a proposed 24,000-seat stadium for a MLS franchise at Symphony Park. They have until Sept. 1 to secure financing and Dec. 1 to reach a development agreement.

Findlay, whose group would manage the team, joked he would handle disgruntled fans if a player or coach doesn’t perform up to expectations. He can only hope to have those problems, which would indicate residents care about the outcome on the field.

Games need to be sold-out, nearby bars packed before and after games, and everyone involved better to turn a profit. If apparel sales, part-time jobs at the stadium, construction jobs and hotel room occupancy spike because of soccer, then a professional sports team tenant for the under-construction arena from MGM Resorts International and AEG near the Strip is more likely.

It’s speculation to guess how many fans they would need to average on about 20 home days to survive, but a night of soccer likely won’t be outrageous. Tickets for Saturday’s Columbus Crew game range from $18.39 to $60 on stubhub.com, giving an indication of what prices could be in a similar-sized market such as Las Vegas.

I’m not certain Las Vegans would support soccer or any professional team. But I’m also not convinced we wouldn’t support it, either.

Sure, tourists would attend games by the thousands. But, the only way for professional sports to work is for locals to be the driving force. The Las Vegas team can’t feel like it’s playing a road game in its own stadium.

Just because our parks are bursting at the seams on weekends with children playing soccer doesn’t mean those families will be season ticket holders. Soccer is a popular youth activity, just like taking a class at a library.

Just because Las Vegas has a heavy Hispanic population doesn’t mean those families would support our team. Rather, they are loyal to teams from their native countries, and some hold a low opinion of American soccer. Even when two popular Mexican teams played at Sam Boyd Stadium last July, just 14,600 attended.

If it were anyone other than Findlay, especially an outsider, I wouldn’t support the idea. I got the same feeling from a few of the council members.

And, most important, just because Las Vegas is attempting to get a stadium doesn’t mean an expansion team will be awarded to the city. MLS is growing from 19 to 24 teams, and just one franchise is left for five remaining suitors: Las Vegas, Minneapolis, San Diego, Sacramento and San Antonio.

Findlay is a fifth-generation Nevadan. His grandfather Pete Findlay and father, Cliff Findlay, have operated car dealerships in Las Vegas since the 1960s. It’s one of the area’s most respected, influential and generous families.

Mayor Pro Tem Stavros Anthony voted against an arena project in late January when it was only Cordish making the proposal. He flipped his vote today because “Justin Findlay got involved. That adds the local touch, which is important to me.”

Justin Findlay is confident he can persuade MLS to come here. He’s also willing to put up significant money to make it happen. The project is estimated at $300 million — $200 million for the stadium, which would be owned by the city, and $100 million to acquire the team.

An undisclosed amount of public money — bonds paid for by arena revenue — would be involved, which raises a red flag for some in the community. They fail to realize it would be worth the investment, giving Las Vegas another notch on its belt and increasing our city’s status.

Plus, if done right, it could lead to bigger and better things.

Ray Brewer can be reached at 990-2662 or [email protected]. Follow Ray on Twitter at twitter.com/raybrewer21.

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