Las Vegas Sun

September 17, 2019

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Even before talk of pro pucks, Las Vegas has been a major league city

Sidney Crosby-Pasqual Dupuis-Fizz-Caesars Palace

Fizz

Sidney Crosby of the Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins and former Penguin Pascal Dupuis enjoy Moet Imperial Gold in the Stanley Cup on Tuesday, June 21, 2016, at Fizz in Caesars Palace.

Bill Foley Talks to Hockey Fans at Sunset Station

Bill Foley, the businessman trying to bring an NHL team to Las Vegas, answers questions for fans Wednesday, May 27, 2015, at Sunset Station. Launch slideshow »

National Hockey League Presser at MGM

Gary Bettman, commissioner of the NHL, addresses the crowd as Bill Foley, chairman of Fidelity National Financial Inc., Black Knight and FIS, listens during the “Let’s Bring Hockey to Las Vegas!” press conference Tuesday, Feb. 10, 2015, at MGM Grand Ballroom. Launch slideshow »

Garth Brooks at Las Vegas Arena

Country music superstar Garth Brooks talks to media Thursday, Dec. 3, 2015, as he announces his return to Las Vegas for exclusive performances at the new Las Vegas Arena still under construction and scheduled to open next April. Launch slideshow »

T-Mobile Arena Grand Opening Night

Opening night of T-Mobile Arena on Wednesday, April 6, 2016, on the Las Vegas Strip. Launch slideshow »

With all this talk of ice hockey, let’s run the Zamboni over a column I wrote some time ago.

Eight years ago, almost to the day, a group of experts with a deep education of pro sports visited the Las Vegas Sun offices for a round-table discussion about the city’s potential as a big-league city.

Those who took part were then-Thomas & Mack Center Director Daren Libonati, Las Vegas Events President Pat Christenson, Las Vegas 51s President and General Manager Don Logan and former Phoenix Suns and Arizona Diamondbacks owner Jerry Colangelo.

Colangelo also is the president of USA Basketball and was an important figure in the move of NHL’s Winnipeg Jets from Canada to Phoenix in 1996. He was the lone expert with no direct affiliation to Las Vegas and had this view of the city:

“The fact remains, if you don’t have a major league team, you’re not a major league city.”

Colangelo continued, “(Las Vegas) is a unique market, and you could build a facility and fill it up with all kinds of wonderful events, but you won’t be a major league city. The bottom line is you’ll have a successful building; you won’t be a major league city.”

We’ve taken that sentiment seriously over the years. It is the driving motivation behind the investment in T-Mobile Arena, the joint venture between MGM Resorts International and AEG that cost $375 million to build and on Friday and Saturday hosts a pair of concerts by Garth Brooks.

But T-Mobile was not envisioned and developed just for the likes of Brooks, George Strait, Guns N’ Roses, Billy Joel and The Rolling Stones — just a sampling of the superstars who have played, or are scheduled to, that arena.

From the beginning, it was designed — structurally and strategically — to bring NBA, NHL, NCAA and other top sports leagues and organizations to the city.

To make Las Vegas a “major league city,” as Colangelo described back in 2008.

As I said at that time, Las Vegas already is a major league city, or better, a world-class city, without an NHL expansion team. What the league is ensuring is that we are now a major league city in the context of professional sports.

Just last week, I was in conversation with a man with a deep knowledge of Las Vegas resorts, the Cosmopolitan President Bill McBeath, who learned his professional craft at the side of such industry superstars as Steve Wynn and Bobby Baldwin. McBeath has forged a history of hotel operations covering Treasure Island, Mirage, Bellagio and Aria.

In a column to be published this weekend in The Sunday, McBeath said: “People can travel to world-class hotels anywhere in the world, but you can’t get the critical mass of world-class hotels and gaming in the same environment anywhere other than Las Vegas.

“Macau is trying to get there, but even with that, when they are fully mature, there will be 15 hotels. There are 156,000 room nights here. I think having that critical mass of all these great assets, great brands and great operators is what makes Vegas such an attractive destination.”

That feels fairly major league to me. So does the fact that 44 million tourists a year descend on Las Vegas, about 400,000 of whom high-tailed it outta town Monday as the Electric Daisy Carnival finished its three-day run at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Yes, let’s not forget the 120,000-capacity LVMS facility and the Nextel Cup events it has hosted over the years. We roll through the neighborhood at the Strip and Tropicana Avenue with the oft-mentioned MGM Grand Garden Arena and Mandalay Bay Events Center.

The Thomas & Mack has recently undergone a multimillion-dollar overhaul as the home of UNLV hoops and the annual Wrangler National Finals Rodeo.

More major league affiliation: The UFC is centered in Las Vegas, the city remains a professional boxing mecca (home of Bob Arum’s Top Rank Boxing and Mayweather Promotions), and such high-profile events as the Pac-12 men’s basketball tournament and USA Basketball Showcase (Team USA meets Argentina on July 22 at T-Mobile) are set in Las Vegas.

And this is not even invoking the city’s lofty status as an international culinary, entertainment and shopping destination, home to the highly refined resorts McBeath reminds us of — such lavish and stylish hotels as the Cosmopolitan, Bellagio, Venetian/Palazzo and Wynn/Encore, where NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman has made the city’s expansion to his league official.

The great, unanswered question is not whether the NHL will push Las Vegas to any world-class level. We’re already there. The league and its 44 home dates represent another great entertainment option, one of many.

The hope here is that the league, the investors in T-Mobile and billionaire trailblazer Bill Foley will have delivered a galvanizing franchise for years to come. But it won’t be a guaranteed success, as nothing is in Las Vegas. This world-class city already has a lot going on.

Follow John Katsilometes on Twitter at Twitter.com/JohnnyKats. Also, follow Kats on Instagram at Instagram.com/JohnnyKats1.

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