Just how big a part could a new stadium, the proposed Las Vegas Dome, play in securing the UNLV's potential membership in a Power 5 conference? Can it also save UNLV athletics?
The short answer to both is yes, the proposed Las Vegas Dome can be a major factor in making UNLV major players in college sports. It is extremely important for the future of UNLV athletics both on and off the field because the Rebels would most likely be asked to then join a Power 5 Conference. When the Power 5 schools decided to merge and force the NCAA to change the way conferences were viewed a lot of the smaller schools were forced to scramble to create conferences or choose whether they would be an 'Independent." To break it down as simply as possible if you are not a part of the Pac-12, SEC, Big 10, Big 12, ACC or not named Notre Dame then your slice of the pie is not a lucrative as the schools in the Power 5 conferences (and Notre Dame) and your road to a national title is a lot tougher, even if you were to go undefeated.
Conversely, the expansion of the Power 5 Conferences is not over and this is why UNLV needs the new stadium built. UNLV, like other schools, wants to make the transition from what they are currently viewed, a small school in an "OK" conference to either the Pac-12 or Big 12. While other schools also want to make that same jump, UNLV has an advantage that some other schools don't have, being located in Las Vegas. While other college cities may have a more rich tradition, should the stadium be built it puts UNLV near the top of schools to add to a Power 5 Conference. UNLV has the type of market and would have the ability needed to host conference titles games in the major sports, conference meetings & conventions and would be able to more then handle the fans and alumni who would come to Vegas for the games.
But all that can only happen should the Las Vegas Dome be built. That means that the Southern Nevada Tourism Infrastructure Committee would have to approve the financing for the stadium and would then forward their recommendations to Gov. Brian Sandoval for consideration by the Nevada Legislature. This was discussed this past Thursday (5/26/16) when the committee got a chance to review the financial details of the proposed stadium. The SNTIC spent roughly three hours examining a public-private project that would use $750 million in hotel room tax revenue as the public’s stake in the project. The proposal was presented to the committee by a partnership comprising casino operator Las Vegas Sands Corp., Majestic Realty and the Oakland Raiders, who would share the stadium with the Rebels.
During a five-minute video on the stadiumthat incorporates interviews with 12 project supporters, such as Senate Majority Leader Michael Roberson, R-Henderson; state Senate Minority Leader Aaron Ford, D-Las Vegas; state Sen. Scott Hammond, R-Las Vegas; and state Sen. Kelvin Atkinson, D-Las Vegas; as well as Clark County Commission Chairman Steve Sisolak, a Democrat as well as Raiders owner Mark Davis, his late father and NFL Hall of Famer Al Davis and former Raiders running back and current LV Sands executive Napoleon McCallum which strongly suggests that bipartisan support for the project exists.
There are concerns about proximity to McCarran International Airport, to which Rob Goldstein, chief operating officer of Las Vegas Sands, said that has forced he and his partners to consider alternatives to a previously discussed 42-acre site owned by the UNLV, along Tropicana Avenue east of Koval Lane. There are three sites most in the discussion to possibly be used as alternative sites: acreage near the soon-to-be imploded Riviera hotel-casino; the Rock in Rio festival grounds at Las Vegas Boulevard and Sahara Avenue; and the Cashman Center site in downtown Las Vegas, a known favorite to Las Vegas Mayor Goodman. Steve Hill, the committee chairman, said the committee has yet to finalize any agreement and there are no assurances of return on investment for the private partners, but the committee reviewed models showing a .09% return that would make it feasible for the project to happen.
A question that I have and has yet to be asked (and answered) to anyone involved in the process is who will pay for the public transportation and roads that will be needed at the stadium site? So far the proposal is very Las Vegas (and Nevada for that matter) friendly. I don't foresee this being a major issue or a deal breaker, but it is something that needs to be brought up so all the I's are dotted and T's are crossed.
The current proposal includes investments of $750 million in public funds, $110 million in NFL personal seat license revenue, $200 million from an NFL loan, $100 million from the Raiders and $240 million from the Sands-Majestic partnership. The plan is to have 46 event dates in the stadium, which includes Raiders and Rebels home football games, 2 college football bowl games, including the Las Vegas Bowl, neutral-site college games, stadium-format concerts, rugby and soccer matches, NCAA basketball tournaments, boxing and mixed martial arts and championship motorsports events. This does not include potential MLS games, should the league decide to expand to Las Vegas, something that would be on the table and looked at very closely by the MLS according to my sources.
The Raiders also plan to build a $100 million practice facility and the Raiders Hall of Fame with other Raider-centrique ventures as well. As for the Rebels, sources in the program told me that they are working to build a new $26 million dollar on campus football facility and are raising the funds to do so regardless if the stadium is built. The Rebels will also have to decide if they plan on staying with NIKE as the schools official apparel manufacturer or move on to Under Armor who is trying to lure the Rebels away from NIKE and want to expand their brand to the West and just agreed to a new deal with UCLA for 15 years and $286 million dollars last week, which ranks as the largest shoe and apparel sponsorship in college sports history.
Should the stadium be built, the Rebels building the football facility and the NFL and possibly NHL and MLS entering the Las Vegas market, UNLV could be highly sought after by the Pac-12 or Big 12. Skeptics say that UNLV doesn't have the academic standards to warrant a Power 5 invitation. I call B.S. UNLV President Len Jessup is doing a great job markedly increasing the academic profile at UNLV as it continues a decade-long pursuit of Tier One status. He also has overseen the new Medical School which will open up in 2017 and UNLV has some of the best and brightest working in the areas of research and hard science and fine arts and humanities.
The skeptics and outsiders may have a point when they point to the leadership of the athletic department, in-part due to the debacle that was the head basketball coaching search. Overall UNLV A.D. Tina Kunzer-Murphy has done a very solid job with the hiring's of head football coach Tony Sanchez and after all the smoke had cleared and dust had settled, hiring Marvin Menzies as the Rebels new head basketball coach. Sanchez seems to have the program on the upswing coming off the most decorated recruiting class in UNLV history and a very good core of returning players. The Rebels football program could be competing for a Bowl bid in November/December. While the jury is still out on Menzies, his energy, passion for Rebel basketball and realistic view of what will need to take place (i.e. a complete rebuild of the program) has me and others excited.
Football rules Universities Athletic Departments and at times the school itself. If you have a juggernaut football program it can bring you new academic buildings, marketing deals and many other non-traditional revenue streams. A perfect example of that is the University of Miami in the 1980's. Because of the football programs success an influx of revenue came into the school which allowed new academic buildings and additional revenue to brought into the school. In order for UNLV to be taken serious, football has to be looked upon as the priority. The attendance at football games and the amount of time on National T.V. is extremely important to the sport because the perception would be that the Rebels are an up and coming program with world class facilities. A new stadium would let the college football world know that UNLV is finally serious about football.
Jessup agrees “The stadium is the other missing ingredient for (Power 5 status) after the academics,” Jessup said. “It would be a great way for us to leapfrog ahead athletically. And if you’re able to one day run with the crowd in a Pac-12, you’re perceived differently. You attract different kinds of faculty and staff. You draw more students nationally and internationally. It puts you in a different caliber academically and athletically.”
If the 65,000 seat stadium were to be built it would be the 4th largest in the Pac-12 behind only USC, UCLA and Washington. it would be the crown jewel of the Pac-12 and would certainly be the yearly destination for the Pac-12 title game as well as a college football national championship game. Here is how the new stadium stack up against other Pac-12 college football stadiums:
The movie "Field of Dreams" has one of the most famous lines in the history of cinema: "If you build it, they will come" and that to would be the case in this situation. The NFL would come. The MLS would come. Concerts, soccer matches, boxing matches, MMA fights, monster truck rallies and a Power 5 football conference will come. 42 million people visit Las Vegas annually, yet the hotels are NOT in the Top 10 in terms of average pricing, behind New York, Miami, Los Angeles and others. The .9% hotel tax (or $15 per night per room) would not be a huge increase and would NOT effect local taxes at all. This is an important vote for the future of UNLV athletics and a new stadium would be a game changer for the entire University.