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August 21, 2019

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Beyond the pigskin: What events are needed for stadium’s long-term viability

Raiders stadium

Courtesy of MANICA Architecture

A look at the proposed $1.9 billion domed football stadium for the Oakland Raiders and UNLV football in Las Vegas.

Years before they open their new $1.9 billion home, the Las Vegas Raiders need to line up a few wealthy houseguests.

What major events follow the Raiders and co-tenant UNLV football into the 65,000-seat facility will determine much of the project’s success, as the two teams will combine to occupy the building fewer than 20 dates a year.

The Raiders likely will outsource the separate events company — mandated by Senate Bill 1, the measure authorizing $750 million in public funding for the stadium — responsible for attracting major happenings to the facility to an industry powerhouse.

AEG Entertainment owns a Las Vegas foothold at the Colosseum at Caesars Palace and T-Mobile Arena, but discussion at the league meetings in Phoenix earlier this week focused on the potential for Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and his Legends company to earn the business.

Economic projections on which the stadium proposal was predicated show a need for 20-25 additional events to meet revenue goals.

“(The Raiders) showed me their pro formas and their analysis of their debt service and based on their assumptions — they’re not overly liberal, they’re not overly conservative — they’ll be able to service the debt,” Clark County Commissioner Steve Sisolak said last week. “They have to be able to book outside events, have to get the sponsorships, have to sell the (personal seat licenses), but it’s doable.”

Projections are based on an average event attendance of 43,000 people and an average of more than 25,000 room nights per event. That includes sellouts for every Raiders game and 30,000 for UNLV football — well above Rebels’ 10-year average of 20,000 fans per contest at Sam Boyd Stadium.

What could those events be? More football, major international soccer games, rugby matches, motorsports, concerts and corporate shows make up the bulk of what officials considered plausible during the Southern Nevada Tourism Infrastructure Committee process in 2016.

“Those aren’t 12,000-, 15,000-person events. Those are going to be 50,000-person events,” Sisolak said. “That’s hard to do.”

At the top of most lists is the Super Bowl and for good reason: The National Football League historically dangles its juiciest carrot as a reward for massive stadium projects.

The next four Super Bowls will be played in either brand-new buildings (U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis in 2018, Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta in 2019, the Rams/Chargers’ new stadium in Los Angeles in 2021) or significantly upgraded ones (the Dolphins’ renovated stadium in Miami Gardens in 2020.)

Studies from prior to the 2017 Super Bowl in Houston estimated an economic impact of between $190-350 million from the event.

The Final Four in men’s basketball also appears to fit well in the state-of-the-art building, but the NCAA’s stance against hosting collegiate national championships in Nevada because of gambling complicates that possibility.

The NCAA Board of Governors would have to revisit this position to clear a path to a Las Vegas Final Four. However, the four conference basketball championship tournaments held here annually in March appear to have softened the NCAA’s blockade a bit, as it allowed Las Vegas Events to bid recently on national championship events in basketball, ice hockey and wrestling.

The NCAA likely will consider bids for its next cycle, which will cover 2022-2025, next year. An NCAA document outlines what the organization considers in selecting sites for the three-day event:

• Venue: Must hold at least 60,000 fans

• Hotels: A minimum of 10,000 full-service hotel rooms within “reasonable proximity to the competition venue.”

• Transportation: No specific requirements are outlined, but a stadium at the Raiders’ preferred Russell Road site would be within a couple of miles of the Strip

Like the NFL, the NCAA loves shiny new arenas for the Final Four. Of the next four, a new Minnesota stadium (2019), Mercedes-Benz in Atlanta (2020) and Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis (2021) will host three.

“I think it will be a wonderful venue in a wonderful market,” Patriots owner Robert Kraft said of the Las Vegas facility.

The Super Bowl and Final Four schedules create a challenge for the stadium in its first 18 months because neither could be held here until 2022.

Neutral-site college football games featuring big-name schools with traveling fan bases — think Alabama vs. Wisconsin — easily could sell out the facility. Most of those, though, occur during the first two weeks of the college season and that could present a scheduling challenge with UNLV and the Raiders. Stadium events company officials also would need to convince one of the schools to give up the revenue of a home date.

The Las Vegas Bowl and USA Sevens rugby weekend could move from Sam Boyd Stadium to the new stadium as well. International soccer matches also represent a drawing opportunity, as English star David Beckham told the Southern Nevada Tourism Infrastructure Committee in April. The drafts for all four major professional sports leagues could be in play as well.

Concert acts with the drawing power to fill up the stadium might include Beyoncé, Coldplay, The Rolling Stones, Justin Timberlake and Taylor Swift. These acts already play in Las Vegas, but cannot attract more than roughly 18,000 fans per night in current venues. Most of those would take place between May and October of a given year.

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