Sunday, July 15, 2012 | 2 a.m.
- Race is on to build Las Vegas’ next big crowd pleaser
- Las Vegas’ history filled with failed stadium, arena projects
- Expert says look for final cost of new stadium or arena to exceed sticker price
- Ticket-holders, tourists, taxpayers all play part in paying for new arenas
- At a glance: Downtown arena
- Mayor hangs onto her NBA dream: If you build it, they will come
- At a glance: Las Vegas Arena Foundation
- At a glance: UNLV Now
- Rebels AD envisions transformed game days with on-campus stadium
- At Minnesota, new on-campus stadium proves a 'game-changer'
- UNLV president: On-campus stadium looking like a reality, could be filled with more events than UNLV football
- At a glance: Las Vegas National Sports Complex (Henderson)
A Clark County study released two years ago found that the five arenas operating in Las Vegas were underutilized.
Logic might dictate that adding a sixth, or even a seventh, could sound like a death knell for some existing structures. But that’s not necessarily the case, according to local arena officials.
If any venues are constructed, most in the arena business are confident they could keep their own buildings viable.
“The competition would have an effect, but you know what? Competition in Las Vegas, by and large, has proven to be a great thing over the years,” MGM Resorts International spokesman Alan Feldman said. “If private industries come here and invest money, the hope is they raise the bar for everyone.”
MGM Resorts, however, has opposed Caesars Entertainment’s proposal to build a $500 million arena in the area behind Harrah’s. Conventional wisdom may assume it’s because the new venue would make MGM Grand Garden Arena and Mandalay Bay Events Center appear outdated down the road.
But Feldman is adamant that’s not a factor. MGM objects only to Caesars’ plan to use public funding in the form of 9/10-cent tax increase in a three-mile district around the proposed site.
If Caesars wanted to build the arena with its own capital, Feldman said, MGM would neither object nor fear for the future of its arenas.
“When there are big events in Las Vegas, it’s good for everyone,” Feldman said. “If we were able to draw new events, and I’m not sure we would when we have five arenas in Vegas, that’s all well and good. The question becomes whether the public should really have to pay for it.”
It’s hard to imagine a new arena not stunting business for its competitors. But the niches the five venues have settled into while sharing the market for years could prove sustainable.
Grand Garden Arena is one of the nation’s top-grossing concert venues and synonymous with boxing and UFC cards. Its capacity — up to 17,000 depending on the configuration — suits those events well.
Only a handful of musicians could require a larger capacity than that. Of five major fighting events in 2012, UFC 148 is the only one to have sold out the Grand Garden.
Mandalay Bay Events Center hosts as many conventions and trade shows as sporting events and concerts.
The Thomas & Mack Center, of course, is home to the city’s most popular attraction, the UNLV basketball team.
The Orleans Arena has minor-league hockey with the Las Vegas Wranglers, and South Point Arena mostly sticks to equestrian events.
“Equestrian is No. 1 and motor sports is No. 2 for what we go after,” South Point Arena General Manager Steve Stallworth said. “So as far as these other venues affecting us, I don’t think they would very much. We have a pretty clear focus on what we’re going after.”
South Point has 1,200 climate-controlled horse stalls below the arena, an amenity that no other arena could come close to matching even if it wanted to lure an equestrian event.
But Stallworth, who helped open the Orleans Arena and was once in charge of the Thomas & Mack Center, is candid when expressing hesitation about what happens to the rest of the city’s arena landscape.
“If another arena is built, it’s going to clearly cannibalize the other arenas in town,” Stallworth said. “I just don’t think another arena brings any new events to Las Vegas. I think any arena event out there can already be hosted by what we have.”
Although Stallworth may think a new arena is unnecessary, he’s “a big fan” of the UNLV Now campus stadium project.
UNLV Now could endanger one structure in particular more than any other proposal, though. Discussions will have to take place about whether it’s worth keeping Sam Boyd Stadium, where Rebels home football games are played.
Disgruntled UNLV football fans have undoubtedly started envisioning Sam Boyd’s demolition. But Daren Libonati, president of Justice Entertainment Group and former executive director of Sam Boyd and the Thomas & Mack, thinks that would be a mistake.
He said Sam Boyd would continue to hold value even if UNLV Now advances.
“It’s an option to anyone who is creative and wants to book events that will do between 10,000 and 20,000,” Libonati said. “It’s going to be very comfortable and very sexy for those smaller events. Sometimes, stadiums are too big and you need them to be smaller. Sometimes, stadiums are too small and you need them to be bigger.”
No current venue has made concrete plans for how it would react to competition. But no one sounds ready to back down.
“We’ll respond whatever we feel is the right way to respond,” Feldman said. “We’re going to do whatever we can to maintain and grow our market share.”