Once taboo, Las Vegas preparing to ‘pull out all the stops’ as Super Bowl host


Before Las Vegas’ Allegiant Stadium even existed, Raiders owner Mark Davis was pitching the NFL on bringing a Super Bowl to town. Shortly after the league approved the Raiders’ relocation bid from Oakland in 2017, Davis had a question for the commissioner.

“‘When are we getting the Super Bowl?’” commissioner Roger Goodell recently recalled Davis asking. “Literally, I don’t think he had even gotten into town yet, and he was talking about it.”

Just four years after the Raiders moved to Las Vegas, Davis’ wish is coming to fruition. The NFL once viewed Las Vegas as taboo, but the proliferation of gambling and the Raiders’ financial success have led to the league rapidly committing to the city in a way it has for few others. When Super Bowl LVIII kicks off Feb. 11 between the Kansas City Chiefs and San Francisco 49ers, Las Vegas will become the first city to have hosted a Super Bowl, a Pro Bowl and the NFL Draft.

“I think it’s phenomenal that the NFL trusted us with their most valuable asset,” Davis said recently. “And we’re going to make sure that it comes back again.”

Beyond optics, the Super Bowl is expected to have a massive impact on Las Vegas. City officials project the economic impact will bring between $600 million and $700 million to the area.

“It’s going to be one of the biggest events just from a financial standpoint that we’ve ever hosted,” said Steve Hill, president and CEO of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority. “When you add it to the reputational and marketing value that it brings to Las Vegas, it’s hard to beat.”

Thousands of people flock to Las Vegas annually to watch the Super Bowl anyway, for gambling and entertainment purposes. But while the city is typically at capacity for Super Bowl weekend, the event now will consume the greater metropolitan area for an entire week.

“It’s going to be like the Marvel Universe and the DC Universe coming together and it’s going to be insane,” said Sam Joffray, president and CEO of the Las Vegas Super Bowl LVIII Host Committee. “We’re going to educate the world that, moving forward, if you’re not going to the Super Bowl, you’ll want to think about coming to Vegas.”

The goal, of course, is for Super Bowl LVIII to go so well that the NFL brings the Big Game back to Las Vegas regularly. The league has been cautious about committing to that, but that’s the result organizers are hoping for.

“We don’t have a rotation for Super Bowl, but I have no doubt that this is going to be a successful Super Bowl,” Goodell said, “and we’ll be back here a lot for Super Bowls.”

That outcome would be good for the NFL, Las Vegas and, obviously, the Raiders. But first thing first: They have to get this one right.

“We’ll pull out all the stops,” Davis said. “First impressions are always the most important. … So, taking the first one, you’ve got to knock it out of the park.”

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(Aaron M. Sprecher via Associated Press)
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The Super Bowl came to Las Vegas sooner than expected. Super Bowl LVIII was originally awarded to New Orleans in May 2018, but the expansion of the regular season to 17 games in 2020 created a conflict with Mardi Gras that rendered the city incapable of hosting the game. Shortly after New Orleans backed out in October 2020, a bidding process began to host the 2024 game.

In December 2021, Las Vegas was selected as the replacement city. While most cities have at least four years to prepare for the Super Bowl, Las Vegas would have just 26 months.

“It speaks to the city’s ability to capture the moment and capture the opportunity,” UNLV professor of sports management Nancy Lough said. “There’s not many cities that could just say, ‘You know what? We can make this happen.’”

Although Las Vegas has never hosted a Super Bowl, the organizers found comfort in the fact that the city had plenty of experience hosting large-scale events. This would be the biggest yet in terms of scope, and they didn’t have long to get ready.

“It just added some anxiety,” Joffray said. “Since this is our first Super Bowl, really only having that two-year window to plan has been pretty challenging. But I think that’s one of the reasons I signed up for it. I was like, ‘If anybody can do it in two years, Vegas can.’”

The NFL was reassured by how Las Vegas had handled Raiders games, the Pro Bowl (in 2021 and 2022) and the 2022 NFL Draft, which Goodell described as “better than perfect.”

“The relationships were built through that,” NFL executive vice president Peter O’Reilly said. “We got to know a lot of the venues. We got to learn a lot about the logistics of working in the city. Without that, we might have been more under pressure in that tight window.”

Before being awarded this year’s Super Bowl, Las Vegas officials thought there was a good chance the city could host in 2025, so they’d started to prepare behind the scenes. Once the opportunity to make a bid presented itself, they were already aligned.

It helped greatly that the hotel properties were consolidated. Just between MGM, Caesars Palace, The Venetian, The Wynn, Boyd and Red Rock, they were able to account for roughly 85 percent of the hotel rooms, venues and properties within the Las Vegas Resort Corridor. The hotels are used to working together for major events, and that eased the burden that came with the expedited preparation process.

“Everyone got their heads together very quickly,” said Sandra Douglass Morgan, president of the Raiders and vice chair of the Las Vegas Super Bowl LVIII Host Committee. “So we’re ready. This is what Las Vegas does.”

The governmental bodies of Clark County, Las Vegas and nearby Henderson, Nev., have all been involved with getting police, fire departments and other security measures in place. The main focus will be the game at Allegiant Stadium, but there will be numerous events during the week spread out among multiple venues. Each of those locations has to meet the NFL’s high bar for security.

The key figures believe the city is prepared to pull it all together, but now it comes down to execution.

“We’ve set our own expectations pretty high,” Hill said. “I think the NFL’s, the country’s and the world’s expectations are high for this city. We’ve now got to exceed those expectations.”

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NFL commissioner Roger Goodell (center) poses with the members of the Las Vegas Super Bowl LVIII Host Committee. (Kirby Lee / USA Today)

The perception of Las Vegas has shifted dramatically. As much as it remains known for gambling, nightlife and over-the-top entertainment, it’s now a major player in the sports world, featuring the NFL, NHL, WNBA, UFC and boxing. Major League Baseball will join the fray when the Oakland A’s come to town in 2025, and the NBA could be next. On the college side, Las Vegas has hosted multiple conference championship games, is set to host the NCAA men’s basketball Final Four in 2028 and may be in the mix to host the College Football Playoff down the road.

The Super Bowl will be the city’s largest event yet.

“It brands you as an NFL city and as a Super Bowl city,” Hill said. “Those things matter. People start to consider you as a grown-up city.”

Goodell dubbing Las Vegas “Sports Town, USA,” represents a dramatic turnaround from how the NFL viewed the city just a few years ago. The NFL once banned advertisers from even including Las Vegas in Super Bowl commercials, but now it proudly touts the city as one of its flourishing markets.

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“From our standpoint, we’re adapting to what the environment is,” Goodell said. “(Gambling has) its benefits in the context of greater fan engagement. A lot of our fans like to bet, but the downside is, we’ve always talked about protecting the integrity of the game, and that’s something that we feel very strongly about.

“As far as where the Super Bowl is … I have tremendous admiration for Las Vegas and the way that city has changed. It is such an entertainment town, an entertainment city. It is a different city than it was 10 years ago, 15 years ago, 20 years ago. … It’s become a multidimensional city and certainly a sports town. I think they’re going to do an extraordinary job, and I’m completely comfortable with (it), other than the normal anxiety I have before any Super Bowl of getting it right.”

Super Bowl LVIII will be an unusually exclusive event. Allegiant Stadium has a capacity of 65,000, and tickets will be both hard to come by and expensive.

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There’s no real way to avoid that, so the NFL has attempted to balance it out with community programming. The league has pledged $3 million to Las Vegas nonprofit organizations, given away tickets to the game to locals and held a series of events focused on education, medical care and the environment. During Super Bowl week, the events leading up to the game will be affordably priced.

While these events and the economic impact on Las Vegas are worth noting, it must still be acknowledged that the financial benefit to the NFL — and the Raiders — will be even greater. The windfall from the purchase of tickets and suites will be enormous. According to the NFL, CBS has sold out TV advertising for the game. For context, it costs about $6 million to $7 million for just 30 seconds of air time during the Super Bowl. The Raiders will share in those profits, but they also receive a weeklong advertisement to show off their team headquarters and stadium.

“It just gives greater visibility,” Douglass Morgan said. “The more people that are here and the more people that see the stadium, they’ll be more likely to come to Raiders games and other events that we’re hosting there as well.”

Goodell said the buzz surrounding the Super Bowl “has never been higher” and expects the Las Vegas iteration to be “extraordinary.” That’s a lot of pressure. But after less than two years of planning, Las Vegas feels equipped for its audition.

“I know the city is ready,” Douglass Morgan said. “We’re going to put our best foot forward.”

(Top photo: Ethan Miller / Getty Images)





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