On match days, the football pilgrimage begins on the other side of the highway.
Crowds flock to the casinos with their gaudy, pyramid-shaped and gaudy panels, before emerging onto a street that has become pedestrianized. Before us is Allegiant Stadium, home of the Las Vegas Raiders, valued at $2 billion. But the scene also reveals something more: a new vision of Las Vegas itself.
While most fans who make the trip from the famous Las Vegas Strip are local, more than half are not. It seems that professional football has become part of the Vegas tourist experience. When local officials agreed to foot $750 million toward the stadium bill, they expected a profit of 450,000 visitors a year. The reality is almost double. The arrival of the Super Bowl on February 11 alone is expected to attract 330,000 fans.
For a city built on play and then renewed through constant evolution, professional sport is the next big thing. As America’s attitude toward gambling changes, the city is finally taking a prominent place in the professional sports landscape.
For generations, professional sports avoided Las Vegas because of its association with gambling. “Twenty years ago, Las Vegas tried to advertise the Super Bowl, but the NFL wouldn’t allow it,” says Michael Green, professor and chair of the history department at the University of Nevada. in Las Vegas. “Times have changed, to say the least. »
However, the transformation is not limited to money. For many people in Las Vegas, it also brought a new sense of identity. For the city of twinkling lights, often criticized as ephemeral, professional sports brought a new sense of belonging and stability. Not to mention something to lean on together.
“Usually before the game, if it’s someone new, you look at each other and say, ‘We’re probably going to hug at some point during the game.’ Are we OK with this?’ said Sondra Cosgrove, who has season tickets to the two-time Women’s National Basketball Association champion Las Vegas Aces.
In 2014, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver wrote an opinion piece in The New York Times calling for the legalization and regulation of sports betting. Four years later, the United States Supreme Court struck down the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, which prohibited states except Nevada from allowing sports gambling.
The “economy of sport”
In Las Vegas, the transformation in recent years has been surprising. On a December weekend, the National Football League’s Raiders took on the Minnesota Vikings at Allegiant Stadium, the National Hockey League’s Vegas Golden Knights took on the San Jose Sharks and the season-opening tournament of the National Basketball Association ended at T-Mobile Arena. A month earlier, Major League Baseball officials approved the Oakland Athletics’ move to Las Vegas.
For the city, it was a rebirth. “We had the family-friendly ’90s, the nightclub era of the 2000s, the trade show boom, and now we’re really in the sports economy,” says board member Michael Naft of Clark County Commissioners. who governs the Gaza Strip.
Las Vegas’ first Super Bowl will mark the christening of the city’s new status as a professional sports destination.
Historically, about a quarter of the U.S. population hasn’t had much interest in visiting Las Vegas, says Steve Hill, CEO of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.
“It’s pretty tough for us to get through this quarter…and what sports has done has brought that number down,” he said.
His data suggests that 60% of fans attending Raiders games during the 2022 season came from out of town.
Among those who came to the stadium, there was also Jerry Armstrong. The season ticket holder regularly visits a wall-high window overlooking the Las Vegas Valley. The view of shopping malls and hotels stretching toward the mountain peaks on the horizon is now our home, and professional sports are one of the main reasons why.
Mr. Armstrong had moved from Texas to Las Vegas after inheriting a house from his father, but was considering returning to the Lone Star State. Then state lawmakers announced the stadium deal to woo the Oakland, California, Raiders. “They made the announcement, I stayed,” he says. “I decided I would stay here for the rest of my life.”
Mr. Armstrong may be an unusual case, but his situation shows the extent to which professional sports has become a unifying force of civic pride.
Jeff Jensen, a 30-year Las Vegas resident, says the professional sports scene symbolizes the transition from a “tourist town to a really regular town.”
If this transition had a date, perhaps it would be October 10, 2017. The Vegas Golden Knights hockey team played its first regular game.
game of the season nine days after a man opened fire on spectators attending the nearby Route 91 Harvest country music festival. It was the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history.
Before the game, hockey players participated in blood drives and delivered groceries to first responders. The community embraced the team, which won that emotional first game and made it all the way to the Stanley Cup Final that season.
“That’s the first thing they wanted to do: they wanted to help us,” says Pammi Blackmon, a member of the VGK Ladies fan group. “Well, they did.”
This spirit of generosity has been adopted by fans. The VGK Ladies Facebook group now has over 10,000 members. Messages range from gaming banter and VGK-inspired nail design to calls for friendship or support.
Blackmon says the connections made online or at watch parties have transcended sports fandom.
“We have a surprise team that shows up at someone’s house every once in a while with gifts,” she says. “It’s usually because they’re going through a really tough time or because they’ve lost a loved one. … There may be several reasons for this.”
“This is very fun”
The Super Bowl could be Las Vegas’ biggest arc on the professional sports scene. But for the residents here, sport has already changed the city. It has long been presented as an escape from reality. Today, residents are having the same experience.
Dr. Cosgrove, a history professor at the College of Southern Nevada, never considered herself a big sportswoman until she decided to root for the Las Vegas Aces.
They hung on to it — and not just because the team won back-to-back WNBA championships.
“I’m like, wait, this is a lot of fun,” she says. “For two hours, I don’t have to think about things that depress me and I feel better when I leave.”
And it’s a victory, whatever the final score. ρ