Saturday, Dec. 8, 2018 | 2 a.m.
The Vegas Golden Knights have been given a lot of credit for injecting plenty of Vegas-style entertainment into hockey games at T-Mobile Arena, and deservedly so. In the team’s inaugural season, only its winning ways generated more buzz in the NHL than the pregame shows and vibrant, loud atmosphere created around home ice.
But big-time sports events had a monster presence in Las Vegas before the Knights stormed the Strip and the officials presenting those events have always had a way of escalating the entertainment surrounding the game. One great example is the Las Vegas Bowl, which will kick off college football’s bowl season on Saturday, December 15, when Arizona State plays Fresno State at Sam Boyd Stadium.
Held every December at the 40,000-capacity stadium since 1992, the game offers all the pageantry and tradition of college football with plenty of extra Vegas — and it starts well before kickoff. When the teams arrive on Tuesday, the players will be greeted by an Elvis impersonator and the coaches and their wives will be feted with a reception and aerial tour of Las Vegas via Maverick Helicopters. Another welcome reception is set for Wednesday at downtown’s iconic Fremont Street Experience and Friday’s annual Kickoff Luncheon will be held at the Joint at the Hard Rock Hotel featuring guest speaker Trent Dilfer. The pep rally on Fremont Street sets the tone Friday night for Saturday’s Bud Light fan fest, a massive tailgate experience featuring live music, food, games and a battle of the bands from each team.
The game itself is packed with entertainment innovations unique to the Las Vegas Bowl, including a first quarter performance from rising country rock group The Powell Brothers (who are also scheduled to perform the National Anthem), artists from the new Cosmopolitan show “Opium” performing at halftime and more acts from “Absinthe” at Caesars Palace in the second half.
Like Knights games, the Las Vegas Bowl is a nonstop show, and it has been for at least the last decade. Executive Director John Saccenti says incorporating entertainment into sports is simply the Vegas way of doing things.
“I’ll never forget that before the Knights played a single game, one of our guys invited [team president] Kerry Bubolz out to our game,” Saccenti says. “He’s an entertainment guy and he came from the Cleveland Cavaliers and they’ve always done a great job, and he told me, ‘What you guys do is phenomenal.’ He recognized that we have people coming in from two other destinations that want Vegas entertainment.
“The Knights get a ton of credit for reinventing the entertainment side of sporting events and what they do is beyond phenomenal, and I’m not taking credit for that, but hopefully our game helped put it in his head that you need to be special here. And I think you see everybody else in town stepping up their game.”
Each college bowl game is different in their programming but most focus on the traditional aspects of the game. The Las Vegas Bowl aims to maintain those traditions while also promoting the destination to its big TV audience as well as the fans in the stadium.
“We always have Elvis do ‘Viva Las Vegas’ and while we’re always going to talk about and find different ways to entertain fans inside the stadium, one thing to remember is that it’s part of our job to sell the destination of Las Vegas to 6 million people watching on TV,” Saccenti says. “That’s huge for us and for Vegas.”
But TV viewers won’t get a glimpse of the Fan Fest, an incredible party that only comes around once a year.
“The entertainment on game day is awesome but the entertainment before the game is just as great, and in Vegas we just don’t typically do that for college football,” Saccenti says. “For locals, it’s not like a UNLV game at all. This is truly what college football is supposed to be about.”
Of course, football in Las Vegas is about to explode — for UNLV, the NFL’s Raiders and the bowl game — when the new stadium arrives in two years. It’s safe to say the Las Vegas Bowl will be bigger and better than ever in 2020.
“We are very close to finalizing what the future looks like. We’re talking with different conferences about what that game looks like, we’re talking to the Raiders about what it will look like at the stadium,” Saccenti says. “Some people are buying tickets because of the prospects of a bigger, better game and they don’t want to be shut out. We couldn’t [extend] our title sponsorship with Mitsubishi past a two-year deal because we didn’t know the inventory at the stadium. There were too many unknowns. But they came on board for the future, so the stadium has already helped us secure that type of sponsor.”
The annual bowl game will likely be only one major college sports event taking place at the new stadium as Saccenti says the Pac-12 Conference is considering moving its conference championship to Las Vegas. “I believe the College Football National Championship will eventually be here,” he says.