Despite not having a college in Las Vegas, the Pac-12 Conference is making its presence felt in the city.
This academic year, the city will again host the men’s and women’s Pac-12 basketball tournaments and, beginning next season, the city begins hosting the Pac-12 football championship in 2020 and 2021.
While the Pac-12 is all-in on the relationship with Las Vegas, the city is just as invested in the conference’s presence in Southern Nevada.
The conference’s relationship with Las Vegas dates back to 2001, as a Pac-12 team is typically featured in the Las Vegas Bowl. But things ramped up even further in 2013 when the men’s basketball tournament made its debut at MGM Grand Garden Arena.
“At the time, there was still skepticism about sports betting, but even Las Vegas as a collegiate event destination,” said Pat Christenson, president of Las Vegas Events, the events promotion arm of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority. “To me, the Pac-12 was something that was easy to understand would be successful. But it’s one thing to write a check and go after an event. It’s another to commit to its success.”
In August, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported the LVCVA board of directors approved a $3 million payment to host the football championship. The approval included $1 million for sponsorship and $300,000 for team hotels.
According to the LVCVA, the Pac-12 men’s tournament results in a $21 million economic impact.
Aside from money, a major benefit to the conference events in Las Vegas is the geographic proximity to five Pac-12 schools, including Arizona State, Arizona, Southern California, UCLA, and Utah. While there is a solid alumni base of many Pac-12 schools in Las Vegas, Pac-12 Chief Marketing Officer Danette Leighton said there is also an opportunity to curate a local fanbase to all the conference schools.
“You can get there directly from every one of our markets,” Leighton said. “The ease of getting there is a huge plus.”
There’s a co-marketing agreement in place, so Las Vegas as a destination is marketed throughout the conference season, Christenson said. Beyond sharing the news of the Pac-12’s presence in Las Vegas, it reminds the schools’ fanbases of the destination and its hotels, dining, and variety of entertainment options aside from sports.
Christenson said 85 to 90% of event tickets come from out-of-market.
The women’s tournament started last season at the Grand Garden Arena and will continue this year, at Mandalay Bay Events Center. Allegiant Stadium will host the football tournament, for at least two years starting in 2020. The newly-opened T-Mobile Arena, the soon to be opened Allegiant Stadium or the renovated Mandalay Bay arena – for the WNBA Las Vegas Aces – are now also helping draw events like this as well.
“It used to be the other cities have the venues and we had the great city, not the venues,” Christenson said. “Now we have both and it’s a competitive combo.
Leighton said Las Vegas itself provides the conference the ability to build a destination event.
“What’s so unique about the opportunity is the reality we can do a lot of unique things with the fans in terms of shared entertainment, for us to embrace what Las Vegas has to offer,” she said. “The environment allows fans to have a great experience and that’s an added value for us.
“Most of the time, you pick up and leave when you lose. In Las Vegas, that’s not the case, they stay and go to other games, or shows or great dining.”
Leighton said maintaining a strong partnership with MGM – which owns Mandalay Bay and T-Mobile Arena – helps build the destination aspect of the events, as the company can offer Pac-12 fans all sorts of lodging and entertainment deals.
The strategy of bringing the Pac-12 events to Las Vegas is deeper than just hosting the major conference. It’s a larger play by Las Vegas power brokers to become a bigger sports destination. Christenson said the city is making bids for at least five NCAA events now that the city isn’t blacklisted from hosting events, including a men’s basketball regional, women’s basketball super regional, wrestling, volleyball and Frozen Four.
The relationship with the men’s and women’s Pac-12 basketball tournaments runs through at least 2022.
The Pac-12 is just adding to a resume of collegiate events in Las Vegas, starting with UNLV, growing with the Las Vegas Bowl and other conference championships, such as the Western Athletic Conference and Mountain West.
“This is a natural progression for us, we would have done it a long time ago if we were allowed,” Christenson said