Stadium fever isn’t measure of a ‘major league’ city

It seems odd that a city with the worldwide cache of Las Vegas feels it really, really needs a sports stadium and a professional sports franchise to validate its position as “major league.”

Folks, we passed that milestone some years ago.

Yet here we stand looking back at a week that history may record as the apex of stadium fever. Let’s take a minute to review the bidding.

The folks at MGM/AEG understand what “major league” means. They’ve been living it for years. The MGM Grand Garden arena has played host to major league concerts and sporting events and is a few weeks from hosting the next “Fight of the Century.” AEG has been an owner of sports franchises, a concert promoter an arena operator across the continent.

In fact, they’re so “major league” that they’re about to move into a second generation “major league” facility, rising behind New York-New York. And last week they added two world-class “founding sponsors” in Toshiba and Coca-Cola. Everybody connected with this venture knows Las Vegas is already “major league.” If the new arena eventually end up with a pro hockey or basketball franchise as a tenant, all the better. But that doesn’t define the project. Las Vegas’ status as an entertainment mecca simply demanded a larger, better venue, and private investors understood the wisdom of the proposition.

Stadiums also played a big role in last week’s municipal election.

You’d think the Goodmans, of all people, would understand the Las Vegas brand. Yet there had been Mayor Caroline Goodman trying to steamroller opponents to be the one to deliver major league sports to her city. And there was husband Oscar hectoring her opponent for making this an issue. None of this drama was necessary, Mr. &Mrs. Mayor.

The voters were irked enough to put a scare in the re-election campaign but not enough to fold a winning hand. After all, seldom has a couple done more to put a city on the map.

Still, the message was sent that a pro soccer team isn’t worth $56 million from the public till. We just have too many other needs and are so reticent to raise new money.

Then there’s the curious third story that broke last week — UNLV’s pursuit of a campus-friendly football stadium has led to a deal to buy 42 acres at Koval Lane and Tropicana Avenue. It’s being handled through the university’s nonprofit foundation for now because nobody has a clue where the $50 million price might come from, much less the full $523 million for the project. Or even if the will to proceed exists, given regime change at UNLV.

Acting President Don Snyder had pushed the stadium idea back two years to focus on gaining state funds for the university’s top priority — a medical school. Anybody notice that fight is not going all that well in Carson City? UNLV wants $27 million; Gov. Brian Sandoval is suggesting $9 million.

UNLV’s desire to raise its profile through football is understandable. But hasn’t UNLV already scaled that mountain once in basketball? We can be champions. Is there something more to be proved? And if so, at what cost?

Then there’s the effort to build an NBA arena on the Strip adjacent to the SLS Las Vegas. No intent to slight the developer there but that project didn’t hit the news last week.

So we’re left to ponder the question: In what universe does any city need to build four stadiums to prove its civic worth?

Los Angeles went for 20 years without an NFL franchise. Once you’re “major league,” you can look at sports as a nice amenity but not one worth mortgaging the future to attain.

Chasing a dream with a checkbook can be a civic disaster. Just ask Oakland. Or perhaps even the newly re-elected Mayor Goodman.

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