Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2016 | 3:53 p.m.
Bookended by a marching band performance of “Viva Las Vegas” and a shower of red, white and blue confetti, a UNLV ceremony today unveiling the strategy for marketing its first presidential debate concluded on this hopeful note: the event could be a game-changer for Las Vegas.
The university found out in September that it had been picked to host the last presidential debate before the general election.
Since then, the university and the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority have been hard at work coming up with a brand to differentiate the debate, which will be Oct. 19 at the Thomas & Mack Center, from the two others in Dayton, Ohio, and St. Louis.
The fruit of their efforts: an official logo emblazoned over a silhouette of the Las Vegas welcome sign, and a motto, “Let freedom ring.”
The debate also has an official website, lasvegasdebate2016.com, and a rather long hashtag, #UNLVegasDebate2016.
“The eyes of the world will be on Las Vegas,” Gov. Brian Sandoval said. “Nevada is the gateway to the West, and the issues that affect the Silver State reflect the issues that impact the rest of the region.”
Held at the Cox Pavilion, the campaign-style event drew a who’s who of local political and business leaders to watch Sandoval and university President Len Jessup share a stage with Frank Fahrenkopf, co-chair of the Commission on Presidential Debates. The group has the final say over where the debates are held.
Fahrenkopf, a former Nevada resident, was instrumental in bringing the debate to the city, along with Don Snyder, UNLV’s presidential advisor for strategic initiatives.
“You don’t know how long I’ve waited to be able to stand at a podium with my fellow Nevadans and say that we are going to have a presidential debate here,” Fahrenkopf said. “There’s a marvelous opportunity for Las Vegas, Clark County and Southern Nevada to show the world what we have to offer here.”
All told, the debate is expected to attract about 2,500 journalists to the city and millions of viewers around the world. The publicity alone for Las Vegas is valued at about $50 million, and the LVCVA estimates $6 million in direct economic benefit to the area.
“Las Vegas evolved to host people and that’s what we do the best,” said LVCVA President Rossi Ralenkotter. “We deliver on our brand promise.”
The debate in Las Vegas is being likened to the seventh game of the World Series, as it will be the last debate before voters take to the polls in November. To add local flavor, Sandoval said, he would like to see issues like Yucca Mountain, public lands and the sage grouse brought up during the debate.
On the academic side, UNLV has carefully used the debate to show the university is on the upswing.
“This is incredible exposure for UNLV as we move to become a top-tier university,” Jessup said.
The university is swinging into high gear in preparation for the event. A set of 100-member university committees are currently working to figure out logistics for the event and how to get students engaged in the weeks leading up to it.
Some departments, including journalism and political science, could re-engineer certain classes to make the debate their focal point, Jessup said.
It wasn’t easy bringing the debate to Nevada.
Previous attempts to bring a presidential debate to Reno failed because of concerns over financing, according to Snyder, but this time the LVCVA agreed to underwrite the $4 million required to host it. It is looking to recoup the money through sponsorships.
“It’s so competitive,” Jessup said. “To be honest, we didn’t think we had a shot.”