(For)give Sin City sports
March 11, 2017
Stan “not the man” Kroenke called St. Louis a “two-sport city,” and we in Kirkwood felt the burn. How could he insult the business potential of our bustling (first in crime is still first in something, right?) metropolitan area? How will we survive without the validation that belonging to a three-sport city brings? Now when someone points out St. Louis’s downfall, I can only reply, “the Blues will win in the playoffs this time” or “at least we have the Cardinals.” But it’s not like the Cardinals win enough championships to go around, right? They only played in four of the last 12 World Series, for Pioneer Pete’s sake.
Well, you know how many teams Las Vegas has? Zero. Yep. Las Vegas has been a zero-sport city with zero championships since being founded May 15, 1905. And you thought the Cubs had a bad streak going.
“But it’s different,” you might insist. The Chicago metropolitan area’s population exceeded 9.4 million in 2015, and over 2.9 million people lived in the Greater St. Louis area that year. Meanwhile, Las Vegas Valley housed a comparatively meager 2 million residents. How could Vegas deserve as many sports teams as The Lou with only two thirds of its population?
As with Kirkwood School District’s need for increased funding, Vegas’s need for sports stems from healthy population growth. Nevada’s population rose 8.9 percent from 2010-16, while Missouri’s rose only 1.7 percent and Illinois’s declined 0.2 percent. The American migration exists, and sending sports franchises to Las Vegas isn’t a blind cash grab; it’s an investment into the futures of the NFL, NHL and potentially even more leagues down the road.
So why Vegas? Aren’t casinos and strip clubs enough to keep all people happy? Doesn’t the neighboring state of California have enough sports teams to go around already?
To answer these questions, one must first recognize that nearly one quarter of Nevada’s population is under 18 years old. People want family bonding activities, and getting tipsy in a dimly lit room full of scantily clad dancers, scam artists and slot machines doesn’t exactly fit the bill for most parents.
Not to mention, the potential television reach of Las Vegas sports would justify any discrepancies in actual stadium attendance. A meager six NFL teams represent cities west of Kansas, and half of them reside in California alone.
Similarly, three of the eight NHL teams west of Kansas are in Canada, and another three are in (sigh) California. Folks in Utah, Idaho and Wyoming can’t be too happy about that, but bringing NFL and NHL teams to Nevada would also bring sports closer to these states. And proximity means a lot in determining which teams to support over the radio waves. Just ask citizens of the 10 states in which stations broadcast Cardinals games. A Las Vegas franchise could create a similar ripple effect for western sports fans who dislike their few existing options.
Still, Las Vegas suffers from the stigma of its gambling background. Wouldn’t a professional team only increase the intensity of illegal sports activities in the area?
No, not in the slightest, especially given the proliferation of online gambling across the country. The University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV) offers a case study on the location’s lack of influence on local sports betting.
“[We’ve] been booking for years with the UNLV basketball team,” Johnny Avello, executive director of Wynn Las Vegas sportsbook, said in an interview with Forbes last year. “We’ve done the NBA Summer League. We’ve done NCAA, preseason games and all of that. You can just look at the history here and see it’s not unusual.”
Still not convinced? Let me quote the website of St. Louis’s very own Lumière Place Casino; “Lumière Place isn’t just the heart of St. Louis, it drives the rhythm.” Improper grammar aside, it’s safe to say St. Louis (and any other city, really) has its own connections to gambling, but we don’t constantly suspect Cardinals and Blues players of corruption, do we? Instead, “the best fans in baseball” attack Dexter Fowler for acknowledging the existence of politics. Right.
Las Vegas doesn’t hold the rich sports history of cities like St. Louis and Chicago, but ignoring it for this is like ignoring Stanford University because it isn’t an Ivy League school. Thomas Jefferson acquired what would become California in 1803, but the land didn’t receive attention until the gold rush of 1848. Now the state represents America’s greatest economic hub.
No major professional sports team has ever represented Nevada, but the Vegas Golden Knights NHL franchise will look for a gold rush of their own in 2017. And if Mark Davis plays his cards correctly, his Oakland Raiders NFL team will join the Golden Knights as soon as 2019.
Maybe the Las Vegas “Panty” Raiders will crumble under the corruption of casino life. Maybe the Vegas Golden Knights will melt under the heat of the Calgary Flames or blow away amid the Carolina Hurricanes. Regardless of the Vegas experiment’s results, our Rams returned to Los Angeles to play in a half-empty stadium; let’s quit dealing teams to the same old cities and give our patient friends a hand.