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Volume 20 No. 45
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In buying WNBA team, MGM Resorts sees Las Vegas as a city ready for another pro sports franchise

The emergence of Las Vegas as a big league market drove MGM Resorts International’s decision to buy a WNBA team, its first pro sports franchise, according to company officials.

Last week, the NBA announced that MGM Resorts had acquired the San Antonio Stars. The team will relocate to the Vegas Strip and play home games next year at the 12,000-seat Mandalay Bay Events Center. Financial terms were not disclosed. The team, which is expected to be rebranded, will be owned and operated independently by MGM, but the launch will be supported by the league.

The success on the business side of the NHL’s Las Vegas Golden Knights, the city’s first big league team and a tenant at T-Mobile Arena, gave the gaming firm the confidence to move forward with the transaction, said Lance Evans, MGM’s corporate vice president of marketing, entertainment and sports. MGM Resorts and AEG co-own T-Mobile Arena, but AEG is not involved in the WNBA venture, Evans said.

In addition, the Oakland Raiders’ move to Las Vegas and a new stadium in 2020, and record attendance at this year’s MGM Resorts NBA Summer League at Thomas & Mack Center, provided further proof of the community’s interest in sports at the highest level, Evans said.

MGM Resorts will move the San Antonio Stars to the Mandalay Bay Events Center.
“The city is ready and willing to embrace live sports,” said WNBA President Lisa Borders. “It appears that everything is aligned and that the team will do well and will be affordable and accessible to those who live in the market and to those who come to the city for entertainment.”

MGM Resorts is responsible for selling tickets, sponsorships and all other business operations, but the league’s team marketing and business operations division will help new ownership hire key executives, including a team president and a marketing and ticket sales staff. The team plans to solicit deposits for season-ticket packages before releasing information on pricing, Evans said. MGM Resorts hired former New York Liberty coach Bill Laimbeer as coach and president of basketball operations of the Las Vegas franchise.

Mandalay Bay Events Center will go through upgrades to conform with league standards and MGM Resorts officials will work with the WNBA to develop a premium-seat program, including courtside seats, Evans said. The arena has eight suites plus a group space for up to 40 people that could be converted to a VIP room, Evans said.

Borders said the relocation effort to Las Vegas began after Spurs Sports & Entertainment, which had owned the team since 2003, called the league a few months ago to express an interest in selling the franchise. Borders then called MGM to gauge its interest.

“Las Vegas has been on our radar and we have been monitoring what is going on in the market,” Borders said. “I made a call to MGM and was warmly received.”

MGM joins the Mohegan Sun as a WNBA team owner that has casino interests. The Mohegan Sun, which owns the Mohegan Sun casino, also owns the Connecticut Suns franchise. The Stars sale to MGM brings the number of independently owned WNBA franchises to seven out of the league’s 12 teams.

MGM Resorts inherits a franchise that last season had an 8-26 record, the worst in the league. The Stars averaged 6,386 fans per game at the AT&T Center, 10th in the WNBA and below the league’s 7,716 average gate.