Las Vegas to help fund 51s stadium by spending $80m to call it “Las Vegas Ballpark”

The owners of the Triple-A Las Vegas 51s are going to build a $150 million stadium that won’t be in Las Vegas but will get $80 million from Las Vegas so the stadium will be called “Las Vegas Ballpark.”

You know what, let’s let the Las Vegas Sun and the Las Vegas Review-Journal, both of which are probably kicking themselves now that they didn’t demand naming-rights deals with the city, explain it:

The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority acquired naming rights for the stadium in a 20-year, $80 million deal approved by the organization’s board. It will be called Las Vegas Ballpark.

And:

Representatives of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority board of directors debated for 1½ hours on whether the $80 million dedicated to stadium naming rights is money well-spent…

Board members Ricki Barlow, a Las Vegas city councilman, and John Lee, the mayor of North Las Vegas, opposed the measure and Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman, who expressed concerns about the public perception of the move, and Clark County Commissioner Larry Brown, who works for the 51s, abstained. Brown, a former Major League Baseball pitcher, did not participate in the debate.

“This is public money and it comes to us by taxes that were voted on by the Legislature and that Legislature was voted in by residents of my community,” Lee said in the explanation of his vote. “And I don’t think, as their leader, that this is a very good and responsible thing to do.”

Okay, so if you read this site regularly you know that team owners can be awfully clever at finding under-the-table ways of seeking public money for their stadiums and arenas, but this, this is just weird six ways from Sunday. The argument by the tourist authority is that spending $4 million a year on naming rights to a stadium in the nearby suburb of Summerlin is a good investment, because the city is getting its name out there on not just the stadium, but advertising signage and the like. The counterargument would be, oh, lots of things:

  • For Las Vegas to spend a whole bunch of money on enabling the 51s to move out of Las Vegas — in fact, to move out of a stadium owned by the tourist authority — doesn’t exactly make a lot of sense. Sure, the economic impact of a minor-league baseball team isn’t much, but moving it beyond the city limits is a net negative, even if a small one.
  • Sure, the 51s might have been able to sell naming rights regardless, so on one level Las Vegas is just buying the name like anyone else would. But anyone else would almost certainly be paying far, far less: Minor-league naming rights deals typically top out at $1 million a year at most, meaning Vegas is overpaying here by a factor of at least 300%. Or, looked at another way, is sneaking money to the 51s owners — the Howard Hughes Corporation, a major development firm that traces its origins back to one namesake, but sadly not to a far more respected one — by writing “4 NAMING RIGHTS” in the memo field of the check.
  • Even if you grant that Las Vegas needs to buy more publicity — I’m pretty sure most people have heard of the place by now — it’s beyond ironic to do so for a team that already puts your city’s name on the front of its damn jerseys. (The 51s are currently the Triple-A affiliate of the New York Mets, incidentally, but won’t be by the time the new stadium opens, because the Mets just bought an entire team in Syracuse in order to have a team that’ll agree to be associated with the Mets.) The logic here, presumably, is that non-local TV viewers of 51s games will think, “Time to sit down to watch my team play against Las Vegas. Oh hey, the Las Vegas team plays in a stadium called ‘Las Vegas.’ I haven’t thought about Las Vegas in, oh, three or four seconds before this! I should book a vacation there!”

How the Hughes Corporation managed to pull this off I’m not clear, though to hear tourist authority president Rossi Ralenkotter talk, it was by hinting that the 51s would leave town without a new stadium, while simultaneously hinting that Las Vegas is such a great market for baseball it could get a major-league team if it played its cards right:

Ralenkotter said possibly the biggest benefit to preserving professional baseball in Las Vegas with a new stadium and superior training facilities is that Las Vegas would position itself well when Major League Baseball considers expanding or moving a franchise.

I suppose there is actually the possibility that MLB will look at this deal and think, “Man, sure are a bunch of suckers in Las Vegas. We gotta get in on that action!” Now that’s the kind of publicity you just can’t buy.


15 comments on “Las Vegas to help fund 51s stadium by spending $80m to call it “Las Vegas Ballpark”

  1. I was strongly against the Raiders deal, but I’m fine with this. And it has to do with the inner politics of the area.

    The LVCVA makes those “what happens here” ads, and own that swoopy retro-looking Las Vegas logo used in regional marketing. They’re the ones who buy giant “LAS VEGAS” images on MLB stadium scoreboards, they also own the city convention center, and they throw event parties for the city’s image with expensive swag-bags of things they corporate expensed from local retailers. Not every casino owner loves this bureau (remember from the Raiders fight, Adelson has a privately owned Convention Center and hates having to pay taxes for the competing one, such that the agency’s spending was the latest focus of his newspaper) but the whole point of it is to allow the eight or so companies on the Strip to not undercut each other with competing ad campaigns. The region itself advertises as one big brand featuring a group photo of everybody’s hotels.

    Like the Raiders tax, the money is drawn out of Strip hotel room revenue, but here’s the exception: there’s no opportunity cost here since it wouldn’t ever be going to any better cause the way the typical arguments against stadium subsidies like the Raiders propose. It won’t go to schools. It won’t go to hospitals. It won’t go to libraries. It’s money already being collected and would have otherwise gone to, say, a national TV ad of the Backstreet Boys hanging out with Wayne Newton and a Cirque clown (no, not that one. The one that looks sad all the time. Yes, him.) The same organization, the other year, spent $126MM to acquire one of those same casinos it serves to promote, just to shut it down and demolish it to make more room for showing off large equipment at trade shows. So this is a fairly substantial expense for this organization but it’s not unheard of.

    The other final piece is that the powers that be behind this agency would like the current facility used for something else. The agency gave the current complex to the City of Las Vegas this year, and the attached mini convention site has plans to shut down. The site is in the middle of a long-blighted part of town the city is looking to renovate, has poor freeway access, and a number of other issues where the city would prefer to raze the place and do something oriented toward local redevelopment.

    So basically, Hughes/GGP says, “we’re going to build a field out in the heart of our huge master planned community in the northwest”, and the tourism bureau that owns the current facility is saying, “oh thank god, we’ll pay handsomely for naming rights to help you move out of this dump we’d rather tear down.”

    • The soccer team is planning to stay at Cashman Field, so they can’t tear it down without replacing it.

      As for the rest, I suppose I understand the argument “We were dumb enough to give this tourist agency an endless supply of tax money to spend on whatever they want, so baseball stadium naming rights is no worse than anything else.” But it’s still not exactly a good way to run a railroad.

    • Your opportunity cost argument is wrong. The LVCA could have spent this money more effectively in a way that would attract more tourists. AAA baseball is almost never on TV, so most people wouldn’t know what the name of this team’s ballpark was unless they already lived in Las Vegas. A TV ad campaign would have been much more effective.

    • Yeah…. $80mil for naming right for a Triple A…when the going rate for a “Major League Stadium is approx. $20mil…a million a year for 20yrs. Come on dude….no justifying that.

      • MLB naming rights deals are typically $2-10m per year:

        http://www.fromthisseat.com/index.php/blog/19324-most-expensive-naming-rights-deals-for-major-league-ballparks

        The 51s will be getting twice as much as the White Sox. That’s really enough said.

  2. The excepted article states that Clark County Commissioner Larry Brown is a former MLB pitcher.

    But checking Wikipedia and baseball-reference.com, the only two Larry Browns I can find are a deceased catcher from the Negro Leagues and middle infielder who played in the AL from 63-74.

    Anyone know of this is just mis-reporting, or is it a case of resume fraud?

    • https://www.baseball-reference.com/register/player.fcgi?id=brown-002law

      He topped out in AAA, with Las Vegas. My guess is the reporter didn’t know the difference between MLB and MiLB.

  3. This essentially equates to: “Let’s sell naming rights to the hospital parking lot to the hospital itself. Then everybody parking there will hear about the hospital they’ve either just left or are going to enter. Then we’ll sell naming rights for the waiting room reception desk to the waiting room so the people in the waiting room will hear about the waiting room….”

  4. Summerlin is NOT a suburb. It’s mostly Las Vegas proper. A few years back I lived jut a few blocks from the proposed stadium site and I voted for Las Vegas mayor and city council. Part of Summerlin is unincorporated Clark County with a Las Vegas mailing address and all of it is a monstrously-sized master planned community, but most of it is in Las Vegas proper.

    • Hmm. Wikipedia (as well as other online sites) describes Summerlin as being entirely outside Las Vegas city limits. Did the city expand at some point, or is there part of Vegas that’s not Summerlin proper that is still called that?

      I also learned from Wiki that “Summerlin was named after Jean Amelia Summerlin, the mother of Howard R. Hughes Sr.,” which explains a lot here.

      • Its basically Las Vegas, the city could very well annex it without anyone really noticing. Henderson would be another story, but all of what is considered “Las Vegas” is a bunch of small cities anyways. You take any street west from LVBlvd for 8 miles and your in Summerlin.

        Cashman is a total dump, really kind of a joke and borderline lethal to watch a ballgame at during the summer anyways.

  5. This might be a really dumb use of financial resources (interesting Vegas Resident point above notwithstanding), but it’s not a new initiative in the sports landscape.

    Didn’t Anaheim pay Arte Moreno tons of money years ago to put “Anaheim” in the club’s name (without bothering to specify that it had to be the only city name involved)? I was hoping they would move to Tustin, so we could call them the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim live from Tustin every (home) game.

    If team owners can sell naming rights to the stadium and field of play separately, what is to discourage them from selling franchise naming rights on a year by year basis, for example? Having a 35yr non-relocation agreement does not stop you from calling the NFL team that plays in a given city by the name of the highest bidder for that season’s rights.

    “Ladies and Gentlemen, we present for your viewing enjoyment the Chicago Cardinals of Arizona, brought to you by Edward Jones, Transworld and the taxpayers of St. Louis, Glendale and several other cities yet to be exploited…”

  6. What a dumb stadium in a horrible location! They should build a major league stadium near the Strip with views of the lights, like PNC park. Las Vegas ballpark should be the greatest stadium ever built with the Strip as it’s ballpark village. Nobody except the Hughes corporation wants a cheesy minor league ballpark in Summerlin (because it makes them rich.). Everyone wants a major league stadium near the Strip. Las Vegas can and should do a lot better than that garbage, I DON’T WANT IT!!

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