It’s difficult to imagine now, but just a few short years ago, the idea of Las Vegas as a potential location for a pro sports franchise was met with disdain much more often than approval. And for the most part, the main arguments against expanding or relocating franchises to the self-proclaimed “Entertainment Capital of the World” had nothing to do with gambling.
Prior to the success of the NHL’s Golden Knights and the NFL’s Raiders over the past five years, naysayers had numerous reasons why pro sports teams would find greener pastures in other markets.
At the top of the list were two key considerations:
Not enough people; not enough money. Las Vegas is the 25th largest city in the U.S. The current metropolitan area population is 2.84 million people.
According to Nielsen, it is the country’s 40th largest Designated Market Area, with a TV household population of 757,840. That puts it just behind West Palm Beach/Fort Pierce, Fla. and just ahead of Grand Rapids/Kalamazoo/Battle Creek, Mich.
Also according to Nielsen, average annual household income in the area is $35,951 and the median income is $52,971.
Too much competition. Although Las Vegas attracts about 43 million visitors a year, the competition for their attention and their dollars is fierce.
In Pittsburgh, a Steelers home game is guaranteed to be the largest event in town on any given weekend. In Vegas, there are world-class casinos; headliner musicians, comedians and additional live entertainment offerings; award-winning restaurants and other attractions, not to mention one-off sports events like the National Finals Rodeo and two annual NASCAR Cup races.
But beginning with the first Golden Knights games at T-Mobile Arena and continuing with the opening of the Raiders’ Allegiant Stadium—not to mention the success of the WNBA Aces, the AHL Henderson Silver Knights, the Triple-A baseball Aviators, the G-League Ignite and the Indoor Football League Knight Hawks—Las Vegas has flipped those arguments on their head.
On the local front, the Golden Knights have built a robust fan base, with home games featuring—as team president and co-CEO Kerry Bubolz said in his All Access Interview Series podcast episode, “nine out of 10 people…decked out in Golden Knights jerseys and gear.”
For the 41 home dates of the 2021-22 season, despite it being the first time in the franchise’s brief history that it did not make the playoffs, the team averaged an announced attendance of 18,100 per game the sixth highest in the NHL. That equates to 104 percent of capacity at T-Mobile Arena, a figure that led the league. The average ticket price was more than $120.
As for the Raiders, with higher ticket prices and a 65,000-seat stadium to fill, it was clear from the beginning that they would have to pry visitors away from the gambling tables and other attractions. According to Sportico, they have done just that, securing the NFL’s highest ticket revenue from general and club seating (not including suites) during the 2021 season—$119 million.
Raiders tickets at Allegiant Stadium also averaged $595 on the secondary market, which far-surpassed the second-highest team, the Miami Dolphins, which averaged $387.
Instead of siphoning tourist dollars away from professional sports, the amount of entertainment options available in Vegas has become the prime example of “a rising tide lifts all boats.” A visitor’s primary reason for a trip may be the casinos or Adele in residency at Caesars, but they are going to a Raiders game as well—and vice versa.
For sponsors, the diversity of sports events (and audiences) available in the market—with more coming, including next year’s Formula One race—offers multiple opportunities for local, national and global targeting and activation.
Although it once may have been a figurative, as well as literal, desert for brands outside of the gaming and travel industries, the success of professional sports has transformed Las Vegas into a fruitful marketing oasis.