For years, plans for large-scale arenas came and went in Las Vegas. Caesars was going to build an arena behind Bally’s. A former NBA player was planning a 20,000-seat arena near the former Sahara. A Texas businessman was considering a four-arena development west of Mandalay Bay. A developer wanted to site a 20,000-seat arena near the South Point casino. And several projects were proposed near Downtown Las Vegas. But none of them came to fruition because of one simple reason: the developers wanted the public to finance their dreams.
But in April, a partnership of MGM Resorts and entertainment giant AEG will officially open the T-Mobile Arena, located behind MGM properties New York-New York and the soon-to-be-rebranded Monte Carlo. A seven-acre Park will link the arena and a two-acre plaza to the Strip, creating additional venues for events.
Bill Hornbuckle, president of MGM Resorts International, says the arena will be a game-changer for many of MGM’s Las Vegas properties. He credits AEG, which owns and operates many arenas throughout the country, including the Staples Center and the surrounding LA Live, with bringing many of their successful plans to Las Vegas.
“We have 42 suites,” he says, “and we have these amazing bunker suites. We have everything that you’d expect in a suite. There are several different club areas, one at the very top of the arena, operated by our friends at Hyde, with sbe entertainment. And the views from up there are just spectacular.”
Rick Arpin is senior vice president of entertainment for MGM responsible for MGM’s side of the operation. He says the arena will be unlike any other.
“The architects did a great job on the seating aspect,” he says. “We’ve done all the things we’re supposed to do for sound. We’ll run a couple of tests, but we believe we have a blend of good sightlines and great sound.”
Hornbuckle says the seats are all close to the performance area, whether it be sports or entertainment.
“It has as many seats—save the suites—as Staples, yet it’s 650,000 square feet, where Staples is over 950,000 square feet. So, it’s very efficient. We bring people even that much closer down into the bowl, into the act,” he says.
An ownership team has emerged that plans to bring a National Hockey League team to Las Vegas. Arpin says a team would be welcome, but it isn’t necessary.
“We planned the arena with or without hockey,” he says. “On the other hand, we’ve designed the building so that we’re totally ready for an NHL or NBA team at any time. So to us, we’d love to have hockey. In addition to the local market, we think it has a tremendous tourism component. Canada is our top international market, so we think it would be great. We’re excited about it. We love the ownership group.”
Arpin says the company is ready to bid for NCAA events like the collegiate basketball tournaments that dot Las Vegas facilities during March Madness.
“We’re trying to get the NCAA to allow tournament events in Nevada,” he says. “Currently, they cannot be held here. Many folks are working hard on this, so we’re confident this is going to happen. And we’re not just talking about basketball. There are a variety of NCAA tournaments for which Las Vegas could be a great home.”
Hornbuckle says, in addition to the naming rights for the arena and the adjacent Toshiba Plaza, sponsorships and suite sales have been successful, including suite sales to competing casino companies.
“We’ve exceeded our sponsorship expectation, led by T-Mobile and others,” he says. “We have sold all but two suites, so most of the suite inventory is gone. We have club seats available, some other things, but we started at the top and are working our way through.”
One of the reasons developers want public help to build arenas is that they’re not a great business. They’re very expensive to book, staff and operate. But MGM Resorts has other reasons to be involved.
“Our business case for investment into the arena is the impact it will have on the surrounding resorts,” says Arpin. “And the general lift to visitation in the nearby properties will be impressive, as well as the impact on our casinos nearby.”
He says the city will also benefit from the T-Mobile Arena.
“It just keeps building the city,” he says. “It’s the same process as the opening of the Smith Center, having a great performing arts venue. And now we’ll have a world-class, modern arena to add to our great facilities. Without this arena, we wouldn’t be talking about an NHL team or NCAA championship events.
“For the city, it’s part of the overall strategy to grow visitation. We’re at 42 million now and this arena can help us get to 50.”