How will Las Vegas' sports landscape continue to grow?
Nevada is currently at the center of the sports world. The Las Vegas Aces have won the WNBA championship two years in a row. The Vegas Golden Knights won the NHL’s Stanley Cup. The city now has an NFL team, it’s about to get an MLB team, the Oakland A’s, and it won’t be long before the NBA arrives. It’s a safe bet that major league soccer will be in Southern Nevada one day.
And yet, more change is on the way, from the development of new venues, to the shifting fortunes of college sports, to the effect of pro teams on the state’s sportsbooks.
Ray Brewer, longtime sports reporter and now managing editor of the Las Vegas Sun, and Chris Murray, co-host of Reno-based Nevada Sports Net Daily, reflected on the regional sports scene recently on KNPR’s State of Nevada. Here’s a summary of the major points they hit.
Raiders coach The Las Vegas Raiders fired their coach mid-season because the team was doing so badly. Meanwhile, there was a scandal brewing at the University of Michigan, where the football was alleged to be cheating. Football commentators speculated that Michigan’s coach, Jim Harbaugh — who was successful in the NFL and coached for the Raiders 20 years ago — could be candidate to lead the Raiders next year.
Brewer agreed, asserting that Harbaugh will have his pick of jobs when and/or if he leaves Michigan. “Obviously the scandal is not great for him in terms of his appearance … especially with some of his colleagues in college football, but the pros is a different animal,” he says. “And here’s a guy with a proven track record of getting his teams ready to play and winning games.” The Raiders would be “lucky” to land Harbaugh in the bidding war that would inevitably ensue were he on the market, Brewer added.
Sportsbooks The Michigan cheating scandal might have an effect here, too. Sportsbooks look at the past to create odds and lines. The alleged Michigan cheating could raise questions about how legitimate the results of games are, according to Murray. “You’ve seen that in the NBA. You watch any NFL game, and a call here or there can swing who wins and who covers a line,” he says. “For a long, long time, the NFL, MLB, NBA, and NHL wanted to (be) an arm’s reach away from those betting venues and say that they were completely isolated from them.” Murray adds that, with the obvious ability of these leagues to make revenue from partnering with sportsbooks, it will be even more difficult to safeguard the legitimacy of their results.
Venues Both northern and southern Nevada are poised to introduce major playing fields for professional and university sports. In Reno, Alex Meruelo has proposed a $400-million arena, where the UNR Wolf Pack will play basketball games. Murry says that could help improve the UNR basketball team’s status.
“That’s how people are going out and recruiting and retaining players,” he says, adding that the venue would put Nevada in the top 25, in terms of infrastructure, among the 360 Division One men’s basketball teams.
Meanwhile, in Southern Nevada, the UNLV Running Rebels’ arena, the Thomas and Mack Center, is 40 years old. Still, Brewer says it doesn’t need to be replaced. “They're consistently remaking that,” he says. “They added the Strip view lounge, one of the best venues in college basketball.”
Then there’s the Oakland A’s stadium, planned for the site of the current Tropicana casino resort on the Las Vegas Strip. The team has a terrible record, and A’s owner John Fisher isn’t known for investing in his team. Critics say nothing indicates that will change with Nevada’s commitment to help fund the stadium in this year’s legislative session.
“I was hoping that when the Nevada legislature approved the $380 million … they (would have) included a clause that said the team payroll had to be in the top 20 of payrolls of MLB,” Brewer says. “I understand that $380 million (in public funding) is a lot of money. But I also understand the value of having one of 32 MLB teams here.”
He adds that the team has made it clear they want to move to Las Vegas and start with a clean slate. “If it’s going to bring revenue to the city, it’s going to bring event dates to the city, (then) it’s going to help the city and give people jobs,” he says. “And it’s pro baseball … Why would you want to turn that down?”
In November, a Carson City judge ruled against a ballot question petition filed by the PAC, Schools Over Stadiums, that sought to nullify state funding for the stadium.
Guests: Chris Murray, columnist, Nevada Sports Net; Ray Brewer, managing editor, Las Vegas Sun