For much of Nevada’s history, the state has been a tourist destination.
From the time Virginia City was an internationally known hot spot to the modern global sensation that is Las Vegas, visitors have flocked to the Silver State to take in its entertainment. Now, as the COVID-19 pandemic relinquishes its squeeze on tourism across the globe, Nevada’s prime economic driver is coming back in full force, and with new, added twists.
The state continues to see its entertainment options expand and evolve, with visitor demographics ever-changing. Once fully commanded by gaming, the state is now a draw for everything from sports to outdoor recreation to day and night clubs.
While those options continue to change, the general ethos never does, according to Myron Martin, president and CEO of The Smith Center for the Performing Arts.
“When you think about it, the Las Vegas Strip has a history of being not only the entertainment capital of the world, but a place you can see things you can’t see anywhere else; the Rat Pack all together at the Sands, or all of those Jerry Lewis telethons,” said Martin, who also teaches a class called “Marketing the Entertainment Experience” at UNLV.
“It’s all a natural part of the evolution of Las Vegas. People came to Las Vegas because they’d bump into big stars. It’s been part of the charm. If that’s always been part of who we are, this current idea of entertainment, it’s nothing really new for us.”
Martin said it’s been the past two decades or so that have truly redefined Las Vegas. The past few years have accelerated the evolution, particularly with the addition of professional sports and their venues that double as new music hubs, as well as the new $2.2 billion Sphere, which is set to completely transform how entertainment is presented.
Likewise, since its opening in 2012, the Smith Center has helped add a dimension to the entertainment community that was not widely available, particularly to local residents, and helps fill out a broader entertainment portfolio. It is home to the Nevada Ballet Theatre and Las Vegas Philharmonic and hosts touring artists and traveling shows, like the Broadway hit “Hamilton.”
It’s professional sports and the Smith Center that have helped put Las Vegas on the map of a lot of people who otherwise might not have thought of the city as a viable entertainment destination. The transformation began with food but has now expanded well beyond.
“Twenty years ago, people came here first to gamble, second to see shows and food was a way to attract people to casinos, but it wasn’t about celebrity chefs, but today people come here to eat. Name a city with a better culinary framework, you’d be hard pressed to name one,” Martin said. “The Smith Center and professional sports have redefined Las Vegas as a city. There was a time when there was a joke about the only culture in Las Vegas had to do with a petri dish.
“Now, the greatest artists and attractions come to perform here at the Smith Center. Then I’ve been on the plane coming home and my flight is full of sports fans coming to see their team playing against our team. It’s just another reason why people love coming to Las Vegas.”
Visitors Coming Back
In 2022, Las Vegas attracted 38.8 million visitors, which was up 20.5% from 2021. That figure is a major bump from the pandemic when tourism numbers tumbled to zero. They are, however, not record-breaking, as those belong to years like 2016 when 42.9 million visitors came to the city. The year prior to the pandemic shutdowns, 2019, brought in 42.5 million visitors.
Harry Reid International Airport did break records, seeing 52.6 million passengers in 2022, up from the previous record of 51.5 million travelers in 2019. In 2021, the airport welcomed 39.7 million fliers.
While not quite record heights, Las Vegas visitors are now younger and more diverse than ever before, according to the latest Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority study, released in March. In 2022, the average age of visitors was 40.7 years old, down from 43.2 in 2021 and 47.2 in 1992. Along with the more youthful visitors, the mix of visitors also included more Asian, Asian American and Hispanic visitors.
Up in Reno, the city had its most lucrative tourism year ever in 2022, bringing in $467.9 million in room taxes. On top of the big year, four of the most five all-time revenue producing months were in 2022. Visitors to the region were up 18% in 2022, hitting 3.86 million visitors.
Reno-Sparks Convention and Visitors Authority (RSCVA) President and CEO Charles Harris said the evolving entertainment options are the major driver for how the city is bringing people to town, including sites like the Reno Events Center, Reno-Sparks Convention Center, Reno-Sparks Livestock Center and the National Bowling Stadium.
“Reno Tahoe lodging revenue continues to show some of the strongest gains anywhere in the U.S.,” Harris said. “The outdoor, gaming and special event offerings of Northern Nevada coincide with the diverse experiences travelers are seeking, and we are thrilled to be able to deliver on that promise of excitement, relaxation and adventure.”
Unlike Las Vegas, however, Reno’s tourists are skewing older, according to the most recent Reno Tahoe study, which found the average visitor age is 53.
As Martin said, artist residencies are not a new concept to Nevada. But the venues have long limited massive touring acts from making a stop on arena and stadium tours.
That is no longer a problem with the addition of T-Mobile Arena and Allegiant Stadium, the homes to the state’s first two major professional sports teams, the Vegas Golden Knights of the National Hockey League and the Las Vegas Raiders of the National Football League.
The Raiders particularly helped cement Las Vegas’ status as perhaps the new sports capital of America as the NFL is the king of entertainment in the U.S. According to Nielsen, 82 of the 100 most-watched TV programs in 2022 were NFL games, and that has been the case for years.
Allegiant Stadium opened during the pandemic and hosted its first NFL season in a year without fans. But from Nov. 1, 2021 to Oct. 31, 2022, it was the world’s top-grossing stadium according to “Billboard”. The venue hosted 24 shows drawing more than 1 million guests, which generated $185 million.
With a capacity of 65,000 and room for massive stages, the venue brings acts that were otherwise leaving Las Vegas off tour dates. Allegiant has already brought in major acts like Taylor Swift, the Red Hot Chili Peppers and BTS, while Beyonce and Ed Sheeran will make tour stops later this year.
T-Mobile Arena, meanwhile, opened in 2016, and has been home to one of the most successful hockey franchises of the past decade, including the team’s magnificent run to the Stanley Cup Final in its inaugural season. In the same time frame, “Billboard” found the arena to be the fourth busiest, hosting 58 shows drawing 731,000 guests and generating $124.7 million in revenue.
Shows at T-Mobile range from an annual residency for George Strait and music legends like James Taylor and Paul McCartney to comedians like John Mulaney to the multi-day iHeartRadio Music Festival.
Those venues are not alone in their musical endeavors in the city, just the most recent additions to a city full of well performing stages.
MGM Grand Arena was third in 2022 in the 10,001 to 15,000 capacity category, hosting 27 shows with 238,000 guests and $45.2 million in revenue. Dolby Live, which was Park Theater at Park MGM, was first in venues with 5,000 to 10,000 capacity, hosting 98 shows with 478,000 guests and $114.4 million in revenue.
Resorts World Theatre was No. 1 among venues with less than 5,000 capacity, drawing 327,000 guests across 87 shows for $55.2 million in revenue. Caesars Colosseum and the Encore Theater were also ranked in the Top 10 in the less than 5,000 capacity category.
The New Sphere on the Block
This year, The Sphere is set to help continue to transform the idea of entertainment. First announced in 2018 and expected to open in 2021, the pandemic threw the project off schedule, but the 17,500-seat venue is set to open in September, complete with the world’s largest LED screen, a 160,000-square-foot wrap-around screen, and high-speed internet access for every seat.
The exterior will be encased by 580,000 square feet of programmable lighting, so the massive spherical building can become a holiday ornament for the city or a replica of the moon.
The Sphere will open with a residency by U2, one of the world’s most successful rock bands. Along with the opening residency, a larger program called Sphere Experiences was announced by Madison Square Garden Entertainment, which runs the venue. The first program will be “Postcard from Earth” and will offer “a unique perspective on the magnificent beauty of life on Earth.”
“We are redefining the future of entertainment through Sphere,” MSG Executive Chairman and CEO James Dolan said. “Sphere provides a new medium for directors, artists, and brands to create experiences that cannot be seen or told anywhere else, and Sphere Experiences are just one of the ways we will use the venue’s technologies to engage the senses and transport audiences to places both real and imagined.”
Sports Bring the World
It was not long ago that the sports world essentially shunned Las Vegas, fearing the potential integrity questions around the intersection of professional sports and gambling. Fear no more, as the leagues have fully embraced sports betting.
Beyond the addition of the NFL and NHL teams, the WNBA has put its roots in town, as has professional lacrosse and indoor football. College sports, too, have decided to embrace Sin City, particularly come basketball season when multiple collegiate conferences hold their post-season tournaments at the various arenas in town.
Late last month, Major League Baseball’s Oakland Athletics announced they had finalized a deal to buy a 49-acre site near the Strip to build a stadium with a seating capacity of 30,000 to 35,000. The franchise hopes to move by 2027. In addition, Major League Soccer and the National Basketball Association have not ruled out Las Vegas as a potential for expansion — particularly riding on the growing ecosystem that has made the city a viable candidate for sports capital of the U.S.. These opportunities come, in large part, because of the region’s existing entertainment infrastructure.
The NFL continued its blitz in town, taking over the city for the NFL Draft in April 2022 and then the NFL Pro Bowl in February. Next year, the league will host the Super Bowl at Allegiant Stadium.
There’s no end in sight for major sports draws, either, as Allegiant Stadium will host the NCAA Final Four in 2028, while T-Mobile will provide a home to the 2026 Frozen Four.
And, for the foreseeable future — Las Vegas approved shutting down the Strip for the event until at least 2032 — Formula 1 will host the Las Vegas Grand Prix in the city, complete with a portion of the race running straight down The Strip. The racing circuit is one of the most popular sports in the world and F1 is banking on Las Vegas to help build on an increase in U.S. fans, largely spurred by Netflix’s docu-series Drive to Survive.
The global organization is spending more than $200 million to build out a 39-acre site off Koval Lane to help foster year-round growth for the sport in the city. Already, many of The Strip’s hotels are booked up for the first race weekend this November — and at high rates, as well, some upward of seven times their normal amount. Applied Analysis estimates the weekend will draw more than 100,000 visitors and generate $1.2 billion in spending.
Beyond the Sunday race, Formula 1 races are weekend-long affairs that include various other entertainment aspects along with the extremely fast cars.
“We eagerly anticipate the moment when the history, energy and momentum of Formula 1 will culminate in an unforgettable Saturday night on the Las Vegas Strip,” LVCVA President and CEO Steve Hill said when the race was announced in March 2022. “Spectators will experience the unrivaled thrill of watching these world-class drivers race through what is sure to become one of the most iconic racetracks in the world.
“Formula 1 and Liberty Media have been incredible partners, and we look forward to November 2023 when we once again showcase that Las Vegas is ‘The Greatest Arena on Earth’.”
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