Vegas makes strong case for sports fan paradise

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Las Vegas Ballpark is the new home of the Las Vegas Aviators, the city’s Pacific Coast League baseball team affiliated with the Oakland Athletics. The $150 million stadium features the largest scoreboard in the minor leagues.
Las Vegas Ballpark is the new home of the Las Vegas Aviators, the city’s Pacific Coast League baseball team affiliated with the Oakland Athletics. The $150 million stadium features the largest scoreboard in the minor leagues.

To attend a major league sporting event in Las Vegas in the past meant high-profile boxing cards, mixed martial arts, Nascar or the National Finals Rodeo. But now the city is busting out of those confines with new professional sports teams and facilities to attract not only homegrown fans but also tourists.

The most obvious manifestation of the sports era dawning in Las Vegas is the $1.8 billion, 65,000-seat stadium under construction across the Strip from Mandalay Bay. Those flying into McCarran Airport can't miss the structure, now half complete, being built to accommodate the NFL's Raiders and UNLV's football program beginning in 2020.

An innovative translucent roof will top the black-glassed exterior. Distinctive lanai doors in an opening 80 feet tall and 215 feet wide facing the Strip can be opened or closed as weather permits. Manica Architecture designed the stadium to ensure both an outdoor ambience and a comfortable temperature. A massive tray with a natural-grass playing field can be rolled into the facility for the Raiders.

A large torch in honor of late Raiders owner Al Davis will be another iconic feature of Las Vegas' newest landmark, expected to become a magnet for fans of visiting teams and a host for the Super Bowl, the NCAA Final Four and other prominent events.

The Vegas Golden Knights surprised everyone by reaching the Stanley Cup Finals in their inaugural season. Their home ice is in T-Mobile Arena, which has four locker rooms, meaning it could host an NBA franchise in the future.
The Vegas Golden Knights surprised everyone by reaching the Stanley Cup Finals in their inaugural season. Their home ice is in T-Mobile Arena, which has four locker rooms, meaning it could host an NBA franchise in the future.

• Ice hockey in the desert: The event that launched this new momentum for Las Vegas sports as firmly as a slap shot from the blue line was the NHL's decision to locate an expansion franchise in southern Nevada, the Vegas Golden Knights.

The 18,000-seat, $350 million T-Mobile Arena was built on the Las Vegas Strip in anticipation of the NHL coming. With its four locker rooms, the arena could even accommodate an NBA team. 

A joint venture of MGM Resorts International and the Anschutz Entertainment Group, T-Mobile Arena was voted the best atmosphere in the league in an annual poll of NHL players, receiving 42.5% of the votes.

The 41-game home schedule routinely garners standing-room-only crowds, including prominent attendance from visiting teams' supporters. A stunning pregame spectacle with pulsating music, pyrotechnics and skating swordsmen ignites the atmosphere. Beyond Toshiba Plaza, where fans party before and after games, is the Park, a dynamic retail and dining space between New York-New York and the Park MGM.

The Golden Knights surprised everyone by reaching the Stanley Cup Finals in their inaugural 2017-2018 season and appeared in the playoffs in their sophomore season. 

• New venue for minor league baseball: Already attracting new fans is the Las Vegas Ballpark, a 10,000-seat, $150 million stadium that opened in April for the Las Vegas Aviators, a AAA team (one level below Major League Baseball) in the Pacific Coast League affiliated with the Oakland Athletics.

Built next to Red Rock Casino Resort & Spa, the most lavish resort off the Strip, Las Vegas Ballpark hosts games through early September. The name Aviators and some of the park's architectural features serve as a tribute to Las Vegas visionary and renowned pilot Howard Hughes. The team is owned by the Howard Hughes Corp., which developed the master-planned community of Summerlin, home of the park located a few minutes west of the Las Vegas Strip.

The venue boasts the largest scoreboard in the minor leagues at 3,940 square feet, 22 suites, a swimming pool behind the right-center field fence and breathable mesh seats for fans' comfort in the summer.

"The Ballpark was designed with flexibility in mind to ensure it can easily host a variety of events and gatherings," said Steve Hill, CEO and president of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority. "Las Vegas Ballpark joins a growing list of sports venues and facilities including City National Arena [practice facility for the NHL's Golden Knights] and Las Vegas Stadium, the future home of the Raiders, that are elevating the city's profile as a sports destination for locals and tourists alike."

• Lighting up Cashman Field: Home of the minor league baseball team for more than three decades, Cashman Field has become the home of Las Vegas Lights FC of the United Soccer League, a Division II professional soccer league. The downtown Las Vegas facility is adjacent to the Neon Museum, which houses some of Las Vegas' most famous neon signs of the past.

The Lights, in their second season and coached by National Soccer Hall of Fame inductee Eric Wynalda, play 17 home games through October. Zany events dot their promotional calendar, including the $10,000 Helicopter Money Drop presented by the Plaza Hotel & Casino on Sept. 7. 

Courtside at the Mandalay Bay Events Center, home of the WNBA’s Las Vegas Aces.
Courtside at the Mandalay Bay Events Center, home of the WNBA’s Las Vegas Aces. Photo Credit: Courtesy of MGM Resorts International

• All Aces on the court: Also just beginning their sophomore season, the Las Vegas Aces are expected to compete for the WNBA championship, according to the league's annual preseason survey of general managers. The team, owned by MGM Resorts International and coached by former Detroit Pistons star Bill Laimbeer, plays through September.

Their home, the 12,000-seat Mandalay Bay Events Center, will also host the 2019 WNBA All-Star Game on July 27. 

The success of the Golden Knights and the imminent arrival of the Raiders and the other fresh teams and venues are making Las Vegas a vibrant destination for fans, not just for the well-known sports books but to be a part of the roaring crowds at the games.

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