The Las Vegas Raiders only won their first NFL home game in their brand-new stadium on September 21, 2020, but no one in the sports world was surprised when just 15 months later the NFL awarded the city its first Super Bowl, which will be hosted here in 2024. That’s not all – though an official announcement is still pending, multiple news outlets have reported that Vegas also landed the biggest game in college football, the National Championship, for 2025. On top of this, March Madness is coming to town next year, as the city’s T-Mobile Arena will host the 2023 NCAA Division I men’s basketball regional. Then it is the biggest event in college hockey, the 2026 Frozen Four. And that’s likely just the start…
This all makes sense because in just a few short years Las Vegas has quickly repositioned itself as the in-person sports and entertainment capital of the country – if not the world. Just yesterday, in a string of such announcements, it was released that the city is getting a Formula One race next year, one the biggest global sporting events. Stefano Domenicali, Formula 1 President and CEO, put it best: “Las Vegas is a destination known around the world for its excitement, hospitality, thrills, and of course, the famous Strip. There is no better place for Formula 1 to race than in the global entertainment capital of the world and we cannot wait to be here next year.”
Las Vegas has reinvented itself so many times it is hard to keep track, and sports is the next big thing. While always successful at attracting gamblers, the rest of the tourism formula has been repeatedly tweaked to appeal to families (with mixed results), newlyweds, bachelors and bachelorettes, music lovers, and gourmands. The latter has been one of the most successful paradigm changes, moving Sin City’s image from cheap food in large quantities to one of the best fine dining cities in the world, with just about every important chef represented. Yet since a big part of the city’s travel appeal is catering to all tastes and budgets, the famous buffets remain – and are better than ever.
Live entertainment, both music and production shows, have always been important here, with the likes of Sinatra and the Rat Pack back in the day, but none of the headliners then had theaters built for them or came for residencies that spanned years. More than anything it was the success of marketing Las Vegas as the live entertainment capital that paved the way for the current boom of spectator sports as entertainment, and the two go hand in hand. There is no place else where you can catch your favorite team playing one night and an A-List headliner the next. And the next. And the next.
The logic behind music and sports is very similar. Let’s say you are a fan of a band, and they go on tour. You can catch them when they come to an arena near you, which is geographically easy. But if you are going to take a road trip to see them, there is no place that can compete for your attention like Las Vegas, where you get the concert plus a highly coveted vacation with access to all the great food, other entertainment, world class pools, world class golf, world class nightlife, and of course, gaming. In addition, it is a very user-friendly destination, with tons of non-stop flights from all over – usually cheap – a very convenient, close-by airport, and the major concert venues are very easy to get to and from when staying at the most popular hotels. This is definitely not the case for catching shows at venues like the Meadowlands.
The same goes for sports. When the Las Vegas Golden Knights of the NHL took to the ice in 2017, it quickly became apparent that if hockey fans were up for a road trip to see their team play elsewhere, it was going to be Vegas. It is hard to believe that was just five years ago, and until then Las Vegas was the biggest urban market in the nation without a team in the “Big Four” professional sports, its offerings limited to a WNBA Team, the Las Vegas Aces (with one of the league’s best venues, the Michelob Ultra Arena in Mandalay Bay) and minor league baseball, the AAA Aviators, who also have a great ballpark, brand new just three years ago. The Knights, Aces, and now the Raiders all play on or within walking distance of the Strip. The Knights (and many major concerts) are at the T-Mobile Arena, just behind New York New York and the Park MGM, the Aces at Mandalay Bay and the Raiders just behind it, in the new state of the art Allegiant Stadium (also the new home of the city’s college football team, the UNLV Rebels).
Since the Knights hit town, it has been a non-stop gold rush for Las Vegas and sports, but more importantly for fans of sports and travel. The NHL brought its All-Star game here two months ago. The NFL just moved the Pro Bowl here. These are all events cities fight tooth and nail for. There was a weekend last year when you could have come to town and seen an NHL game, an NFL game and a Heavyweight World Championship fight in the same weekend. Not only doesn’t that happen anyplace else, but it’s not even rare here, and will happen again.
As soon as the NFL schedule for last season was released, the first thing I did was look to see if the Bills, my team, would be playing in Vegas, because that is worth a special trip. While the 2022 schedule has not been released yet (probably another 6 weeks) CBS Sports has reported the Raiders home opponents for next season: Chiefs, Broncos, Chargers, Texans, Colts, Patriots, Cardinals, and 49ers. If you are a fan of one of those, you might want to start thinking about Vegas.
The latest shoe to drop was the of Formula One announcement. F1 is one of the most popular sports in the world, though not as big for American audiences, though Vegas might help change that. Either way, it will likely be a huge hit, since few F1 fans can afford to attend the sport’s Holy Grail, Monaco, which has led to rapid growth for top tier alternatives such as Singapore. But race fans around the world will probably leap at the chance to combine their favorite sport with one of the planet’s most legendary tourism destinations.
Instead of a purpose-built racetrack like Texas’ Circuit of the Americas, this is an old school urban street grand prix, like Monaco, and will include some of the world’s most famous asphalt, Las Vegas Boulevard, aka “The Strip.” The 2023 Las Vegas Grand Prix will take place at night, on a Saturday in November, with the route zooming past the city’s most recognizable landmarks and casino resorts, with neon lights as its backdrop. The 50-lap race circuit will span 3.8 miles with three main straightaways and anticipated speeds up to 212mph.
A writer for the official F1 site previewed the course and wrote, “Aside the from the grandstands that’ll pop up, there’s so many places to watch from. Think Monaco, where fans hang off balconies, lampposts, and trees and multiply it by a hundred. There’s just so many terraces, extravagant suites, swimming pool decks and bar balconies to recline on which also boast an impeccable view of the circuit.” This much automotive action has not been seen here since Matt Damon drove cars around and through the Aria in Jason Bourne, the last installment of his hit spy movie franchise. Local casino and hotel operators Caesars Entertainment, MGM Resorts International, and Wynn Las Vegas are all highest tier founding partners of the event.
This will become a marquee event at a relatively slow time of year in the city, but it is far from the only notable part of the explosive sports tourism growth Las Vegas has set itself on a path towards. The city lacks a Major League Baseball team (seems like just a matter of time) but has become an annual host city to MLB spring training and its Big League Weekend. It hosts major NCAA football and basketball games, I saw the sole U.S. edition of the Rugby World Cup here, and of course there are frequent major championship boxing and MMA matches. Las Vegas hosts the final each season of TV hit American Ninja Warrior, and the NFL Draft, which for some reason people care about watching.
Vegas would be a great place to see sports without gambling, but the ease of placing bets and the city’s many excellent venues to watch sports while wagering (and eating and drinking well) have made it THE place to go for biggies such as the Super Bowl, NCAA March Madness and any major horse race, if you can’t be at the event in person, no matter where they are held. The recent sports-centric Circa Resort & Casino is the latest part of the city’s Downtown renaissance and home to the world’s largest sportsbook, a 3-story stadium-style venue for up to 1,000 guests that can screen 19 games simultaneously. Even the rooftop pool complex, “Stadium Swim,” has a sports theme, with six pools, two swim-up bars, and a 143 x 40 foot drive-in theater style outdoor screen so guests don’t miss a second of the action.
Other Las Vegas casinos have revamped their sports books to hitch a ride on the city’s latest tourism craze, including the sports bar cum betting spot BetMGM Sportsbook & Bar, added when the old Monte Carlo was transformed into the more upscale Park MGM casino resort. Even more recent is Stadia, in Caesars Palace, self-described as “Stadia offers next-level sports viewing experience with lavish amenities, numerous large HD TVs, a menu overflowing with high-end and unique cocktail selections and more.” The latest is the Dawg House Saloon & Sports Book in Resorts World, the first new build Strip mega-resort in decades. It is very large, less like a typical sports book with more restaurant flair, but lots of screens, and bills itself as a “classic Nashville sports bar,” whatever that means.
For the foreseeable future Las Vegas will be host to one big game after another, from NFL and NHL games weekly to the annual F1 race to the biggest one-off events in sports. If you love sports, you are probably going to be heading to Vegas – even if you don’t have a ticket.