July 15, 2010
To outsiders, Las Vegas looks like a booming money maker. If you've been around the city for the last few years, the true story can be told by near 15 percent unemployment and several unfinished billion-dollar casino projects. So why exactly is Sin City mentioned as a destination for professional sports? The leagues and owners may want to look at the UFC as an example of what Vegas can and can't support.
When the New York Islanders' wishes for a new arena have been consistently rebuffed, Las Vegas is mentioned as a possible destination. The same goes for NBA clubs on the brink like Memphis, Detroit and Indiana. The NBA is an expensive proposition for the average fan. The three NBA clubs rumored to be in trouble average roughly $45 per ticket. That's 41 times a season. There's serious doubt that Las Vegas fans and tourists would fill a 20,000 arena on a nightly basis.
The UFC is a prime example of what's happening in Las Vegas. While expanding across the world, the promotion has cut back it's Las Vegas schedule to roughly six-seven cards a year. It may need to cut a few more events. UFC 116 is a prime example. The event did a monster top-5 all-time gate at over $4 million but only had 12,740 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena, which can hold close to 17,000. It also comped over 3,000 tickets and had more than 2,000 unsold. It's no knock on the product or the fight card. Brock Lesnar is one of the biggest names in the sport and the card likely pulled down one of the top pay-per-view buy rates in the history of MMA. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to decifer the reasons.
Yet this week, Chris Milam, the CEO of International Development Management LLC who is pushing for funding to build a 20,000-seat arena on the Las Vegas strip, threw out this juicy nugget via the Las Vegas Sun:
"We have an NBA team under contract," Milam said, declining to name the franchise. But the deal will take effect only if "other pieces of the puzzle fall into place: One of those pieces will be that a building (arena) is approved," he said.
Milam presents his case for the second time in front of Clark County commissioners on Aug. 4. The first time, he and three separate arena-project backers, we're quickly shot down by the powers that be.
A new, state-of-the-art arena would be dynamite for the city and it's only current pro franchise, the UFC, but it seems like a longshot that anything will sell out in Vegas at high-dollar prices for a long time to come.
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