In a town made famous by its glittering lights and clanging coins, the raucous cheer of rabid fans is becoming more familiar and important.
In their inaugural season, the NHL's newest franchise, the Golden Knights, is packing them in to T-Mobile Arena, charging ticket prices higher than the league average. The team's merchandise sales rank fourth in the league.
And on any given night when the Knights play at home, the restaurants and bars surrounding the arena fill with locals and visitors, hockey fans and those sampling the sport for the first time. It's a boost to business and a boon to the global gaming companies heavily invested in bringing major league sports to town, hoping for a sustained boom for Las Vegas. The Park, a new outdoor dining and entertainment destination near the arena, was conjured as a community gathering spot and created with a more than $100 million investment by MGM.
MGM CEO Jim Murren sat down with CNBC at the Beerhaus, a watering hole at The Park, to discuss the impact of sports on the resort city and its businesses. Despite the skepticism of shareholders, Murren says investing in public spaces improves Las Vegas's business prospects. He sees sports the same way.
"We want to make sure that we drive traffic to the whole valley because that benefits MGM. We want to bring incremental traffic," he said. "The goal if you are the home team, as MGM is here, is to drive incremental visitors, not to grab visitors from our competitors, but to bring new visitors to town, because we recognize if we can do that, we're going to get a fair share of their pocketbook when they come."
MGM has just acquired the WNBA's worst performing team from San Antonio, renamed them the Las Vegas Aces, and is gearing up for an inaugural season in 2018, where the team will play at an arena in Mandalay Bay. The announcement was scheduled to happen at the beginning of October. But it was postponed after a gunman opened fire Oct. 1 on thousands of concertgoers from the Mandalay Bay.
In his first interview since the shooting happened, Murren told CNBC, "The first order of business of course is to work with the victims, their families, my employees, the community. It was completely inappropriate to talk about bringing that team here or to commercialize any of our venues, theaters, arenas, restaurants."
All marketing efforts ceased in Las Vegas in the immediate aftermath, not just by MGM, but by all the resorts and the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority. There were cancellations and a drop off in bookings. But this is a city that relies on visitors for its bottom line. As marketing resumed, so did bookings.
Just shy of the three-month mark since the shooting, Murren said, "We're healing here in Las Vegas, and we've had a good couple months of recovery of our business."
The Golden Knights are a big part of the city coming together and celebrating civic pride. Outside the stadium one day, Katie Campo was dressed from head to toe in Knights gear. She described herself as a 15-year resident of Las Vegas and a huge Golden Knights fan.
"It's such a transient town and everyone has their home team and now we all get to experience it together," she said. "It makes Vegas a hometown."
Historically, sports in Las Vegas meant one-offs, specialized, highly-promoted events. Golf and tennis tournaments, rodeo and bull-riding championships, NASCAR, and especially boxing's prize fights would draw spectators to town and pack them in. But, for generations, the major sports leagues and some gaming authorities resisted locating teams in Las Vegas, worried about the overlap between sports and sports gambling. That has changed as the nation has moved toward wide acceptance of gambling.
"We have 150-thousand rooms to fill every day. So we need to keep finding new markets," said Rossi Ralenkotter, the CEO of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority. Sports fills the bill.