Famed podcaster Bill Simmons made a big point as to why things are about to change for Sin City’s potential NBA expansion team.
It wasn’t long ago that Las Vegas, arguably the number one city for entertainment in the United States, also had the incongruous distinction of being the only large city in the country without a major professional sports franchise.
The major reason cited for this was Sin City’s culture of legalized sports gambling. Professional sports leagues such as the National Football League and Major League Baseball considered any perception that players, coaches or front office types might be gambling on games to be an existential threat. So naturally, keeping teams out of the the nation’s odds-making Mecca seemed to be essential.
Of course, people have always associated sports with Las Vegas, but that was largely because of the betting involved. One of the only teams of any note that was actually based in Las Vegas was the University of Nevada Las Vegas collegiate basketball team that Jerry Tarkanian coached from 1973 to 1992. “Tark the Shark” took the Runnin’ Rebels to four Final Fours during that stretch, including a national championship in 1990. Even so, the UNLV team was frequently under investigation and surrounded by scandal.
As laws and attitudes toward gambling on sports began to change, including momentum toward a Supreme Court ruling in 2018 that moved decisions about it to the states, the professional sports leagues began to see the bias against having teams in Las Vegas as becoming less relevant. They also began to see it as a potential gold mine for revenue, and that, of course, changed everything.
The National Hockey League’s Vegas Golden Knights entered the league in 2017. The WNBA’s Las Vegas Aces began playing in 2018 and won the WNBA Finals in 2022. The Oakland Raiders became the Las Vegas Raiders in 2020.
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NBA Expansion Possible in 2024
Now, the NBA is toying with a piece of the action. And a couple projects are in the works to make sure a Las Vegas arena is ready if predictions are correct that professional basketball will decide expansion is in order after its current media deal expires in 2024.
The first is a plan by sports and entertainment venue builder Oak View Group to build a privately financed arena on the corner of Las Vegas Boulevard and Blue Diamond Road. The $3 billion project, called the OVG Las Vegas Hotel & Casino, will include an 850,000 square foot arena, a casino, a hotel, and an additional entertainment venue amphitheater.
Near that location is MGM Resorts International’s (MGM) – Get MGM Resorts International Report T-Mobile Arena that, with more than 17,000 seats, is plenty spacious enough to serve as a temporary home while a team waits for the Oak View Group project to be completed.
And that’s not the only existing plan to build an NBA-ready arena in Las Vegas. Another one gathering momentum is on the north Strip.
“A multibillion-dollar funding package was unveiled this week for former NBA player Jackie Robinson’s arena and hotel project, a long-sought venture on the north Strip that has seen other financing plans come and go,” the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported in February. Robinson has a local connection with the city after playing for UNLV in the 1970s.
And there are more multibillion-dollar discussions regarding the NBA happening at the moment. Let’s talk about Phoenix while we’re on the subject of high-dollar transactions.
Bill Simmons Predicts Suns’ Value
The Phoenix Suns are now up for sale, and experts agree that the franchise is one of the most desirable basketball teams in the league. For example, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski writes in a tweet that an investment bank has said the sale will involve the highest price ever paid for a team.
And SI’s FanNation reports on NBA Analyst Bill Simmons’ comments on the Suns sale taken directly from a recent podcast.
“Phoenix is a rich guy Mecca. Incredible fans, you have a whole history, you got Devin Booker in place,” Simmons says. “But the big thing – it’s an hour from LA and it’s an hour from the Bay area, you can pull in every rich guy from those two spots and they can fly in and be the owner of the team.”
Simmons continues and provides a prediction.
“This evaluation is going to go way higher than people think. I told you this with the Clippers eight years ago, and I’m telling you now: The Suns are going to be valued at over $4 billion. Mark my words, you can throw it in my face if I’m wrong. I’m not wrong. I think it can get close to $5 billion. I think it will be in the $4.5 to $5 billion range… My prediction, I’m going on the record. The Suns, I’m gonna say: $4.7 [billion].”
These comments make it clear that the value of any NBA franchise involves huge sums of money. An expansion team will likely sell for more than the Phoenix figure. And the very strong possibility exists that a relative absence of television money for some number of years would be part of the deal.
“The next TV deal, by most projections, will increase franchise values dramatically, which would naturally increase the expansion fee that the league can charge those one or two new teams,” writes NBC Sports. “It is likewise conceivable that owners could push to limit the initial share of the TV pie afforded to the new clubs.”
Las Vegas seems serious about its efforts to attract a team. The forthcoming financial maneuvering will be fascinating to watch.