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Chris Jones

Las Vegas's Latest Bid for a Pro Sports Event Keeps the Ball Rolling

19 April 2005

LAS VEGAS -- Whether its bid to land NBA All-Star Weekend sails through the net or ricochets off the backboard, Las Vegas has scored another basket in its ongoing quest to land the community's first major professional sports franchise, sources said.

Fresh off its unsuccessful but high-profile effort to secure a Major League Baseball franchise last year, Las Vegas recently emerged as a surprise contender for professional basketball's premier exhibition in February 2007.

That both efforts received serious consideration from sports executives once adverse to the city demonstrates remarkable progress, Marc Ganis, president of Sportscorp Ltd., a Chicago-based sports consultancy firm, said Monday.

"The fact that David Stern, who's been perceived as one of the roadblocks to getting an NBA team in Las Vegas, would be looking there for an All-Star game, his premier event, gives Vegas more credibility," Ganis said of Stern, the National Basketball Association commissioner. "This (bid) is nice. It helps keep Las Vegas in the news."

And though his appraisal is admittedly biased, Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority President Rossi Ralenkotter also said the NBA's willingness to discuss an All-Star game will bolster the next push to bring a pro sports franchise to Southern Nevada, whenever that option arises.

"I think the Expos showed to the sports world how serious Las Vegas is and the strength of market that we bring to the table. The next time something opens up, we'll be at the top of people's list," Ralenkotter said of 2004's attempt to lure baseball's Montreal Expos here before league owners shifted the franchise to Washington, D.C.

"If (All-Star weekend) happens, it will raise the bar to show we can be part of baseball, football or basketball," Ralenkotter added.

Las Vegas' latest hoop dream is still far from reality, however. NBA team owners and league representatives will meet this Thursday and Friday in New York City, with Las Vegas' bid probably a subject of discussion.

Should that bid move forward, Ralenkotter said, the next step would involve a formal presentation to NBA representatives sometime within the next 30 days.

All-Star bids typically are organized by the prospective host city's NBA franchise. Because Las Vegas does not have a team, Ralenkotter said, the convention authority probably would put together the city's formal proposal.

Ralenkotter described last week's visit by Ski Austin, the NBA's senior vice president of events and attractions, as a "fact-finding" mission that gave league representatives a chance to personally inspect several local venues that could be used during All-Star Weekend. Sites toured include the Thomas & Mack Center, which would house the bulk of such a weekend's basketball activities, as well as the Las Vegas Convention Center, Sands Expo and Convention Center and Mandalay Bay Convention Center.

The NBA's interactive All-Star Jam Session requires a large exhibition center to house its many basketball-related activities, including player practices, meet-and-greet sessions and concerts by popular music acts. This year's Jam Session used more than 350,000 square feet of space at Denver's Colorado Convention Center, and plans for next year's event call for a similar amount of space in Houston.

Ralenkotter hopes to use All-Star weekend to promote the Las Vegas brand before a vast international audience, as well as the many high-profile entertainers and sports celebrities likely to attend. The game would likely bring tens of millions of dollars to the local economy as well as generate invaluable media exposure.

Ganis said Las Vegas is still a long shot to become the first non-NBA city to host All-Star weekend, though he concedes the city's bid has its strengths.

"More of their sponsors, and sponsors' guests, might want to come than go to a city like Denver, which did a fine job of hosting the All-Star game this year, but there wasn't anything special about it," Ganis said. "Whereas a game in Las Vegas, there would be something quite special about it."

Looking long-term, Ganis said Las Vegas already has the right demographic mix to support a franchise on a full-time basis.

"The fact that you'd be the only (local team), at least for a while, is very relevant," Ganis said.

Added Ralenkotter: "We're probably the largest metropolitan area in the United States without one of the four major leagues. Because of the high profile Las Vegas has, bringing a team here would be a very sold business decision."

In truth, there are three more-populous Metropolitan Statistical Areas that do not currently have a Major League Baseball, NBA, National Football League or National Hockey League franchise, according to the U.S. Census Department. But 14th-ranked Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, Calif., is effectively an extension of the Los Angeles submarket, while the 32nd-ranked Providence-New Bedford-Fall River area of Rhode Island and Massachusetts is within an easy drive of both Boston and Foxboro, Mass., home of the NFL's New England Patriots.

That leaves 33rd-ranked Virginia Beach-Norfolk-Newport News, Va., as the only U.S. area with more residents than Las Vegas but no major sports team nearby. Its closest pro franchises are a three-hour drive away in Washington, D.C. Las Vegas was the 36th largest MSA in 2000, the census said.

Despite those perceived advantages, locals could still wait awhile before Las Vegas gets a pro team. The NHL is mired in a labor struggle that canceled the current season and has raised questions of eliminating franchises from the 30-team league.

Also, the NFL, NBA and Major League Baseball have no current plans to add new teams or shift an existing franchise. In addition, both the NFL and NBA have stated their respective opposition to placing a team in Las Vegas unless their sports are removed from Nevada's legalized sports books, a step that's for now unlikely.

The NBA's Stern apparently became more receptive to letting Las Vegas host the All-Star events, however, after Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman obtained assurances from local gaming companies that they would not accept wagers on the All-Star if it was held here.