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Chris Jones

Officials: Pro Sports Could Only Help Market Las Vegas

15 December 2004

The organizations whose "What happens here, stays here" advertising campaign helped make Las Vegas one of the hippest place for adults to play remain uncertain what roles they'd play should Southern Nevada's quest for a professional sports franchise become a reality.

But make no mistake: Coupling big-time sports with this city's existing amenities would be a marketing home run for the local tourism and travel industry, executives with the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority and advertising agency R&R Partners said Tuesday.

With visions of millionaire ballplayers and their visiting fans filling the city's luxury hotel rooms, game telecasts showcasing the Strip skyline and untold sports pages carrying the Las Vegas name to readers from San Diego to Boston, a local Major League Baseball franchise would greatly expand Las Vegas' profile while diversifying its appeal to prospective visitors, said Rossi Ralenkotter, the convention authority's president and chief executive officer.

"Similar to the restaurants that are being added or the shopping opportunities, golf and so forth ... (a baseball team) would be another attraction," said Ralenkotter. "It's a product we'd have from April to the playoffs (in October), and there would be a constant reminder that it's a Las Vegas team. There's a strong public relations impact."

Ralenkotter last week discussed the city's merits with representatives of baseball's Florida Marlins franchise, and he attended baseball's winter meetings in Anaheim, Calif., to support Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman in his efforts to land a team.

Ralenkotter said it's too soon to determine how the convention authority might help a franchise market to tourists, or what kind of financial support it would invest in such a venture. But Rob Dondero, an executive vice president with R&R Partners, said, "Anything that helps attract visitors (and) can promote the brand through the right media has to be taken seriously."

Las Vegas continues to garner the sporting spotlight through championship boxing and the annual National Finals Rodeo, but those events don't offer the same year-round exposure that accompanies fans around the nation wearing team jerseys or caps emblazoned with a Las Vegas logo.

That type of consumer-level identification has eluded the city since Jerry Tarkanian's college basketball dynasty faded from national prominence in the mid-1990s.

In the 1991-92 fiscal year, only two other schools sold more licensed apparel than the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, a spokeswoman with The Collegiate Licensing Co. said Tuesday. These days, UNLV products aren't included among the company's 50 best sellers.

While he hopes the city lands a professional team, Hal Rothman, a professor and chairman of the history department at UNLV, doubts baseball in Las Vegas would create a national stir similar to Tarkanian's Runnin' Rebels.

"In those days, there was a mystique about the Rebels that was remarkable. They were the glue that knit the town together, how you knew you were from here," Rothman said.

In the 1980s and early 1990s, UNLV and its gear developed a particular "street credibility," getting mentions in popular rap songs as well as a popular a Tupac Shakur video. Now that America is more accepting of legalized gambling, Rothman said, the city has lost its appeal to certain underground elements.

"It was a grass-roots, people who were at odds with mainstream society movement," Rothman said of UNLV's marketing heyday. "This (professional baseball) wouldn't be the same thing."

R&R and the convention authority routinely poll current and prospective visitors to learn what actvities they enjoy or would like to see in Las Vegas. The organizations have not discussed a permanent professional sports team in those surveys, but Dondero remains confident positive exposure would follow should Las Vegas get a team.

"We bring a big value to the league," he said, citing the city's projected 37 million visitors this year. "And the league brings a value to Las Vegas."