With a 2010 metropolitan statistical area (MSA) population of nearly 2 million, Las Vegas is the 30th largest city in the United States. The city's MSA population puts it in the same peer group as Cleveland, Kansas City, Cincinnati, and Indianapolis. One glaring difference between Las Vegas and its peer cities, however, is that Las Vegas is home to no major professional sports franchises. Las Vegas is the largest city in the U.S. by MSA that does not have major pro sports. The closest thing the city has is a minor league baseball team, the Las Vegas 51s.
Failed Las Vegas Professional Sports Attempts
While professional sports teams have been attempted in Las Vegas, none were from the four major leagues in the U.S.: the National Football League (NFL), National Basketball Association (NBA), Major League Baseball (MLB) and National Hockey League (NHL).
The Canadian Football League attempted expansion into U.S. markets, including Las Vegas, in 1994. However, its Las Vegas franchise folded after one season of play, with league executives citing big losses at the box office as the reason.
In 2001, the XFL's debut included the Las Vegas Outlaws. The entire league dissolved after its first season due to lack of profitability.
Another attempt at pro sports in Las Vegas came in 2009 when the United States Football League emerged as a hopeful competitor to the NFL. Its roster of teams featured one in Las Vegas. This proved the city's most successful attempt, with the team and league lasting three seasons. However, both went under in 2012, and as of 2015, no further attempts have been made to put a professional sports team in Las Vegas.
Challenges for Professional Sports Teams in Las Vegas
Industry analysts cite several reasons why professional sports have yet to become viable in Las Vegas, despite the city being a robust market in terms of population.
1. Odd Hours
One reason is the unique nature of the city's labor force. The entertainment industry employs a large percentage of workers in Las Vegas, and this translates to a lot of shift work, weekend work, and unpredictable hours. While roughly the same number of people reside in the Las Vegas area as reside in Cleveland or Cincinnati, a much smaller percentage of those residents are available to spend their Sundays at the stadium cheering on an NFL team. Pro sports leagues attempt to schedule games at times when the highest number of fans are off work and able to attend. However, those times are less uniform and less concrete in a city such as Las Vegas, making it more challenging to fill seats.
2. Too Much to Do
Las Vegas also features myriad entertainment options that may provide pro sports teams with too much competition for locals' leisure time and discretionary spending. Casinos, clubs, shows, and other world-class nightlife constantly beckon, and a day at the ballpark or inside an ice rink become less enticing when juxtaposed with these flashier choices. It's doubtful that a Las Vegas sports team could count on a full house every weekend when they would regularly compete against must-see boxing and UFC cards, and once-in-a-lifetime concerts.
3. Scandals Waiting to Happen
The stigma of Las Vegas as the gambling mecca of the United States remains a major turnoff for professional sports leagues. Even the appearance of possible impropriety is enough to make leagues exceedingly cautious about placing a franchise in Las Vegas. Leagues are stepping up efforts to present their sports as wholesome, family-oriented entertainment. Issues such as domestic violence in the NFL and performance-enhancing drug use in MLB have presented enough of a public relations nightmare; league executives are wary of potentially adding gambling to the mix.
Hopeful for Hockey
One professional sports league, the NHL, has Las Vegas on its expansion short list as of 2015. The league has several reasons for optimism about the viability of a Las Vegas franchise. A trial season-ticket drive topped 11,000 in ticket sales. MGM is already building a suitable arena with a capacity of over 17,000 on the Las Vegas strip. Corporate clients have lined up to purchase season tickets if and when they become available. Despite these positive signs, league executives stated in April 2015 that an expansion to Las Vegas, if it happens, will not occur before 2017. Plus, there's always a concern that the early interest will fade like many other Vegas novelty acts, leaving the NHL with a second bankrupt hockey team withering in the desert.