Thursday, Nov. 5, 2009 | 2 a.m.
In Today's Sun
One more reason why I love Las Vegas: I can get the mayor on the phone even when I don’t leave a message.
When I wrote that Mayor Oscar Goodman should wear a fake nose and glasses the next time he talks about this group or that group building a new downtown sports arena lest we take him seriously, I expected him to chuckle. Because whereas the mayor knows I love him, he also knows that has never stopped me from cracking wise at his expense.
I didn’t really expect him to call, however.
“So tell me, are you a betting man?” Mayor Goodman asked.
“No, Mayor, not really.” The last bet I made was when a pal with “inside information” told me to dig into the couch cushions for everything I had and put it on Frank Tate against Michael Nunn in their 1988 boxing match. That cured me of becoming a gambling man. That said, I told the mayor I had a feeling I was about to become one again.
Right, he said.
The mayor wanted to wager we will have a downtown sports arena within four years.
Upon learning I am a beer drinker, Mayor Goodman said he would put up a case of Yuengling, Philadelphia’s finest, to prove that whereas his intuition about these arena projects has been wrong before, it’s right this time.
I, of course, agreed to put up the usual fifth of Bombay Sapphire gin the mayor requires to get out of bed in the morning. (Actually, I think I will put up the biggest bottle I can find/afford at Lee’s Discount Liquor, if for no other reason than the mayor has always been such a good sport when I crack wise at his expense.)
The mayor told me The Cordish Companies, a real estate developer based in Baltimore that has developed the entertainment district around the new Sprint Center in Kansas City (among others), is the real deal. As real as hotels on Boardwalk. He said REI Neon, which was going to build the last downtown arena and entertainment district, was not the real deal. A couple of houses on Baltic Avenue, as it were.
The mayor said he had said that all along. I was at that council meeting with the REI Neon folks. I must have gone to feed the meter in the parking garage when he said that.
The mayor thought I would agree that if we build it, they — a pro sports franchise looking to hold somebody for ransom over a better lease deal or worse, an expansion team — might come.
I told him that if we build it, we shouldn’t give one hoot if the NBA or NHL comes.
In other words, I stand by what I wrote in 2007: That if somebody coughs up $500 million in a sluggish economy to build a new sports arena in downtown Las Vegas, we/they/it shouldn’t monopolize it with 41 home games featuring the decrepit Las Vegas Kings, formerly of Sacramento, unless they could work a deal to play the Lakers 41 times.
Guys such as Daren Libonati, who runs the Thomas & Mack Center and Sam Boyd Stadium, and Pat Christenson, who used to have those jobs before moving on to head Las Vegas Events, have been telling me for years that instead of limiting ourselves to a series of meaningless Las Vegas Kings vs. Oklahoma City Thunder or Memphis Grizzlies games, Las Vegas would be better served by building an arena for the kind of special events that have always packed ’em in here, even on a Tuesday night in December.
We’re talking U2, talking Springsteen, talking The Stones. We’re talking, really loud now, the National Finals Rodeo and Manny Pacquiao and the UFC and Supercross motorcycles and Billy Joel and John Cena and his pro wrestling pals and guys from Brazil who jump over stuff on horses and Garth Brooks and every all-star game we can lay our hands on. Or Madonna.
We’re not talking the Las Vegas Kings of the NBA or the Las Vegas Coyotes of the NHL.
Yeah, I know most of those mentioned already play here. But could you imagine an entire weekend of U2 shows, with corporate types paying great sums of money to watch from actual luxury suites with actual restrooms? Promoters wouldn’t be handcuffed by fitting in Bono and The Edge when the UNLV football or basketball team is on the road.
This isn’t some crazy, outside-the-box thinking, although Libonati can be pretty persuasive while serving the Kool-Aid. Even Mayor Goodman says a downtown Las Vegas arena would be successful with or without a pro sports tenant. Not that I don’t trust the mayor, but there are facts to prove the latter point.
Through the third quarter of the year, seven of the top 10 arenas in the world in number of seats sold do not have a full-time pro sports tenant, or at least the equivalent of one of ours. Seven of the 10 — The 02 in London, the Manchester Evening News Arena in England, the 02 in Dublin, Sportpaleis Antwerpen in Belgium, the Bell Centre in Montreal, Arena Monterrey in Mexico and Wembley Arena in England — are not in the United States.
The only American arenas listed among the top 10 in tickets sold are Madison Square Garden, Phillips Arena in Atlanta and the new Sprint Center in Kansas City.
The Sprint Center is the one worth looking at. It has sold the ninth-most tickets heading into the final three months of the year despite not having an NBA or NHL tenant.
In 2009 the Sprint Center has hosted sold-out concerts featuring Celine Dion, AC/DC, the Eagles, Keith Urban and Taylor Swift, Kenny Chesney, Fleetwood Mac and Britney Spears. It has hosted sold-out, nationally televised events such as the first and second rounds of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, the Professional Bull Riders tour, WWE Raw and WWE Smackdown.
Just wait until the guys from Brazil who jump over stuff on their horses ride down 18th and Vine.
Curiously, Cordish claims the Sprint Center is underachieving financially because it has not landed an NBA or NHL team. Usually, you don’t associate underachieving with full houses, so let’s hope the Cordish folks know more about these things than I do.
Goodman told me he’s just partial to pro team sports, that he thinks we can’t truly be considered a major-league city without the presence of the Las Vegas Kings or the Las Vegas Coyotes, Nordiques or Really Zealous High Stickers.
But his closing thought was in the form of a question.
“How many beers in a case?”