Why oh why don’t they get it in Las Vegas?

So for the last decade I have watched with keen interest as several attempts to bring a Major League Soccer team to Las Vegas have come and gone, rarely have they gotten as far or been as serious as the latest efforts.  Still I feel that when the city council votes on Wednesday they will kill the dream, it has been interesting watching this latest round of circumstances in Vegas as for the first time they actually had a chance to make it work.

I guess I should start with this, I would love to see MLS have a team in Las Vegas, I may not live in Las Vegas but I love that city for so many reasons.  There are few places on earth where people can go and be able to do so many things no matter the date on the calendar or time on the clock.  In the last 30 years I have moved to Las Vegas twice, and each time I end up with a job that after a couple years moves me away from the city.  I make several trips a year down to Vegas since settling in Salt Lake City, sometimes for conventions, sometimes for work, but most often just to get away and relax.  Few cities can offer the world class rooms, food, entertainment, and shopping that Vegas can, adding MLS to that mix would make it even more attractive to me.

So I have had a lot of people ask me over the years why I am so passionate about a MLS team going to Las Vegas, and while some of it is clearly selfish (an easy away match for a RSL fan like me to attend) the bigger part of it is that over the years I have seen what a MLS team has done to Salt Lake City and I believe it would do even more in Las Vegas.

What do I mean, in 2005 when RSL launched I had lived in Salt Lake just over 3 years, I knew a few people here, mostly those I worked with, but I had no family or close friends in the city and had thought several times about moving back to Las Vegas.  Instead the announcement of the team motivated me to stay, see I have been a fan of MLS since 1996 when I attended several Columbus Crew matches while going to school in Ohio.  That interest continued when I lived in Dallas for several years and followed the Dallas Burn so I was very excited when the first player RSL signed was the star of many of those Dallas Burn teams Jason Kreis.

I plucked down my money on a season ticket for RSL, and waited for the season to start.  I remember that first match, not knowing anyone, not sure what to expect at Rice Eccles Stadium, but how quickly all of that changed as tens of thousands of fans showed up to cheer on the team.  Quickly I found myself having great conversations with those I sat/stood by at matches, then just as quickly found myself showing up hours before the match to tailgate and meet even more new friends.  10 years later I count myself blessed to have made so many friends, to have had a chance to meet so many people, and that is what I wish for soccer fans in Las Vegas.

Here in Salt Lake, we call it the RSL family, and yeah you might think that sounds a bit silly, maybe a bit LDS, but it is neither. It is the fact that so many fans have become like family to each other, it is that our players are often picked for the kind of men they are off the pitch as much as who they are on it, it is the relationship between the players who have formed their own extended family here in Salt Lake.  It is the connection between players, coaches, fans, staff members, it is the nod on the train when you see someone else wearing RSL gear, it is the smile on a kids face as they attend their first match at Rio Tinto Stadium.  It is the reality that every player to have spent time here will tell you that there is something different here, that difference is the RSL family.

So back to Las Vegas, when I lived there I had friends, but there was something missing, the town was built around tourists, and for locals there were casinos that catered to them, but there was still something missing.  Every once in a while the UNLV basketball team would be successful and folks would rally around them, but that was hit or miss.  Nope there was always something missing, and believe it or not I think it was exactly what MLS would bring.  Now not everyone is going to become a fan overnight of soccer, not everyone is going to buy season tickets, or sport a jersey, but will happen is that conversations at workplaces will change, bumper stickers of the team logo will start to appear, and for once there will be something that is special in Vegas that is there not for the tourists (they might be interested in it) but something that would be just for those who call Las Vegas home.  I doubt it would look like what we have here in Salt Lake, as Vegas is a very different city, but it would provide a rallying point for the city, a team of their own, a team to love or hate, a team to ignore or cheer, but a team that would be uniquely Las Vegas.   Not the Las Vegas you see on the strip, but rather the Las Vegas you see in the parks on Saturday afternoons, or when you are at the Meadows mall, or out at Lake Mead, the Las Vegas that belongs to those who live there.

So every time I have watched and listened to the city council meetings where the potential stadium, a key to getting a MLS team, has been discussed I have been shocked that nobody has talked about what I believe is the most important part of the issue.  I have heard the local lady who runs youth soccer complain and bitch that she wants more money for more soccer fields, so they can have more tournaments.  Sure I get that, but what she doesn’t get is that all those kids who play soccer in Las Vegas would gain heroes to inspire them to play more soccer, she misses out on the reality that with a MLS team would come players who often spend time with local youth teams, teaching and inspiring them, she misses out on the fact that almost every team reaches out to youth soccer with huge discounts to have kids attend matches to watch world class players play the sport they love.  I get it, she would lose out on being the big soccer fish in the market, but a MLS team would get more kids interested, more parents and adults interested and that would lead to more facilities both public and private being built.

I hear the city council member who are opposed to spending “taxpayer” money on a private venture, yup I remember hearing those same folks here in Salt Lake City as we fought to get our stadium built. I remember those same types of folks showing up saying soccer was a silly sport and nobody would show up, and I laugh as RSL averaged attendance of more than a sellout this year.  Like in Salt Lake the funds being used are room tax funds, not some new tax being created, not a tax that would be paid by locals, but there are some who just hate everything that they don’t understand.  I would say I have been most shocked at Lois Tarkanian, whose husband for years helped bring Vegas residents together, but somehow she seems to have forgotten about those days, a shame.

It is funny how bitter some of those city council members in Vegas are, how they just don’t see past their own selfish interests, I would suggest that before they vote that they consider what is going on in Washington DC.  Not the gridlock of the federal government, but rather that the local government is going out of their way to use public funding to help build their MLS team a stadium.  A stadium in a part of city crying out for development, a part of the city that could become something more than it has ever been. Maybe if they would take the time to google “DC United Stadium funding” they would see a city willing to invest over $130 million dollars towards helping their local MLS team build a new stadium.  A team that in a big city, with lots of other professional teams, has a unique relationship with their fans, something again that must be experienced, but something that resembles more a family than a fanbase.

I fear that on Wednesday there will be just enough doubt, just enough selfishness, just enough misunderstanding to keep the dream of MLS from happening in Las Vegas.  It will make no impact on the millions of tourists who will still come to the city, what it will do is deny those who call Las Vegas home from having something uniquely them, to have something they can rally around, something they can cheer for, something their kids can aspire to, something of their own.  I rarely hope to be wrong, but in this case I hope I am.  I really hope that those who might think that those who live in Vegas deserve something special, something worth investing in.

That’s How I See It

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