Can a Las Vegas Strip ballpark attract tourists and locals? Experts weigh in

Published: May. 19, 2023 at 8:37 AM PDT
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LAS VEGAS, Nev. (FOX5) - As Nevada lawmakers and the Oakland A’s debate the terms of a bill for a proposed ballpark, experts on baseball and tourism trends express skepticism for banner attendance projections on games alone.

The proposed ballpark on the site of the Tropicana hotel could bring 2.5 million visitors a year, according to a press release from Bally’s Corporation. The stadium could hold 30,000 seats, which would be the smallest venue of any Major League Baseball stadium.

Without factoring non-sporting entertainment event attendance, the Los Angeles Times published an analysis of how the A’s could meet that visitor benchmark on baseball game attendance alone: the team would require almost sell-out ticket sales for 81 home games and preseason games.

According to baseball and sports business journalist Bill Shaikin, 11 MLB teams currently maintain that level of attendance. The Los Angeles Dodgers continue their exceptional attendance rates due to the capacity of the 56,000-seat stadium, the dedicated fan base and the team’s performance.

“The idea that you’re going to sell out every single night: that just doesn’t happen very much, even for the best teams. The A’s, I think we can agree right now, are not one of the best teams,” Shaikin said.

Though the MLB and the Oakland A’s look to lure tourists with the proposed Tropicana Hotel location, weekday games may be inaccessible to fan bases of visiting teams.

“There will be nights when Cleveland is there on a Tuesday. That’s not going to be a big draw. There will be other nights when the Yankees are in town. That’s a huge draw. But [when] you’re stuck at 30,000 seats, you’re not going to get that extra ‘bump.’ That’s what makes it hard to get to 2.5 million,” Shaikin said, cautioning against comparisons to the success of the Raiders and high attendance from fans of the visiting teams. The ten home Raiders games for the upcoming season fall primarily on weekends, giving more travel flexibility for a short Las Vegas vacation.

A smaller stadium capacity, Shaikin said, could lead to higher-priced seats. Baseball is seen as an accessible sport for many families on a budget.

Dr. Amanda Belarmino of the UNLV William F. Harrah College of Hospitality tracks tourism trends and sports tourism. Belarmino expressed skepticism whether locals will flock to the newly-proposed Strip location.

“Baseball fans don’t travel the same way that football fans do. It tends to be very reliant on the local market. I think the choice of the stadium, the way the stadium is built, the way the parking was built, the pricing-- it’s all going to be very important,” Belarmino said.

“I would have had less concerns had they chosen one of the other proposed sites, because of how challenging that’s going to be for people from the suburban areas to attend,” Belarmino said. Other proposed and explored sites included the I-15 site of the former Wild Wild West property, the Rio Hotel, and the Las Vegas Festival grounds.

“They will get [out-of-town] visitors, but it’s a lot of games. If you’re going to be selling season tickets, it’s going to be to those of us who live here. We want to be a part of it. But we want to feel that we’re valued,” Belarmino said.

To lure locals to the Strip, numerous casinos and resorts started to offer limited free parking with a Nevada ID. Belarmino recommends the same strategy to lure locals and families to games.

“That level of success that I think they’re hoping for? I think that’s going to be harder to achieve, unless they do a better job of marketing to the locals. I think if they’re hoping for a ‘rager’ level of success, then they’re going to have to put in a lot of work,” she said.

Belarmino did express optimism over weekday attendance for locals: those in the hospitality industry with weekdays off could easily attend games.

Proponents of a stadium argue that a 30,000-seat ballpark could accommodate other medium-sized live events and generate other revenue for the local economy. Belarmino also expressed caution with that assumption: unless the Oakland A’s retrofit a baseball stadium for multi-use purposes such as concerts, entertainers will choose other venues, first.

Belarmino also supports lowering the amount of public funding given to the A’s with all factors considered, including the limited number of high-paying, skilled jobs that could permanently come to Nevada.