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October 31, 2014

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Cowboys’ stadium is big, but it’s not Vegas

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Steve Marcus

George Strait, Entertainer of the Year, greets Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones in the photo room during the 49th Academy of Country Music Awards at the MGM Grand Garden Arena Sunday, April 6, 2014. The 2015 ACMA show will be held at the AT&T Stadium in Texas.

Well, this was bound to happen: Jerry Jones, clambering onto a Las Vegas stage to bang the drum for a big event he’d plucked from the Strip and moved to Dallas.

At the 49th annual Academy of Country Music Awards show at MGM Grand Garden Arena, Jones told the sold-out crowd and a national TV audience that the 50th anniversary of the prestigious awards show would be celebrated in Texas. As Jones trumpeted, “It’s gonna be the event of a lifetime, and it’s going to be at AT&T Stadium, home of the Dallas Cowboys.”

Unlike a Tony Romo pass late in the fourth quarter, there will be no intercepting this toss from Vegas to Dallas. But just as important, the show will be back in Las Vegas in 2016 and beyond.

Nor is it a surprise, despite Jones’ theatrics onstage . ACM chief Bob Romeo said two years ago the show would mark its 50th anniversary in Dallas. “We’ve sold out the two largest venues in Las Vegas, and now we’re going to Jerry’s house and put 54,000 to 55,000 people in there.”

This move marks a moment of resignation for Las Vegas tourism and resort officials. Since then-Cowboys Stadium (later renamed with the corporate sponsor partnership) opened in 2009, we have been wondering what sort of draw that facility would have on our city. We’re finding out.

Manny Pacquiao has twice within nine months fought in the Cowboys’ home stadium, drawing more than 40,000. Jones would love to stage a Pacquiao-Floyd Mayweather fight, of course, a bout he has said would draw more than 100,000 fans.

Las Vegas is facing this daunting challenge in large part because public money in Texas was funneled into the project. Don’t believe for a moment that Jones’ own money alone financed the construction of the $1 billion-plus venue.

As the Cowboys previous home, crappy Texas Stadium, lapsed into obsolescence in the fall of 2004, voters in Arlington, which is home to AT&T Stadium, approved the increase of the city’s sales tax by .5 percent, the hotel occupancy tax by 2 percent and car rental tax by 5 percent. The city contributed more than $325 million (including interest) in bonds as funding for the project.

Meantime, Southern Nevada has pinched its nose at any type of public funding for arena projects. Finally, after years of debate, false starts and renderings of stadiums that were never developed, MGM Resorts has advanced a plan for a 20,000-seat, $350 million arena behind Monte Carlo and New York-New York.

“The difference between Dallas and Las Vegas is, in Dallas you are in a stadium — a big, big stadium,” Las Vegas Events President Pat Christenson said. “In Las Vegas, the event is the city. I can see where, for one year, Dallas might work. But the fact is, the fans and all the stars who came to this event, the intimacy and commitment of the whole city, would be tough for Dallas to top.”

Jones is game, and so is Dallas. The peripheral shows and Fan Jam in 2015 are scheduled for the Ballpark in Arlington, home of the Texas Rangers (another venue boosted by bond revenue). Tens of thousands of fans will file into those shows before the main event even starts.

Meantime, Vegas is filling the dates left open by the ACM Awards’ one-year exodus by welcoming back the International Equestrian Federation Reem Acra FEI World Cup Dressage Final and the Longines FEI World Cup Jumping events. The dates for what is considered the Super Bowl of equestrian competition are April 15-19. Similar to how it began aligning sponsors, contestants and stock contractors when it seemed the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo was headed to Florida (or elsewhere) after 2015, LVE leaves no dates unaccounted for.

As for how Dallas was able to wrangle the country showcase, Christenson said the lure of that stadium is inevitable. But it is not Vegas.

“I think this was an extenuating circumstance, and an opportunity you really couldn’t blame ACM for taking,” he said. “To do a one-time, big-time stadium event. I mean … what could we say?”

About all that’s left to say is, “See you in 2016.”

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