5 possible venues that could be home for Las Vegas Aces

Photo Credit: Lamar Carter

On Friday, two major news items broke relating to the Las Vegas Aces.

The first was an announcement by MGM Resorts International, the entity that used to own the Aces but still does own Mandalay Bay Events Center, that the venue that has been home to the Aces since their relocation from San Antonio prior to the 2018 season was changing its name to Michelob Ultra Arena.

MGM mentioned the Aces in its press release.

The second was that the WNBA and NBA Board of Governors had indeed approved the sale of the Aces from MGM to Mark Davis, who also owns the Las Vegas Raiders but has been a staple of Aces games at Mandalay Bay.

There was no mention of the arena in the release that was sent out by the WNBA regarding the approval of the sale – and the arena’s naming rights being sold to Anheuser-Busch has interestingly not appeared anywhere on the Aces’ social media accounts or on the Aces website. Las Vegas’ website does have Aces-related articles from other sources.

Did the Aces’ social media accounts essentially tip its pitch that the team will have a new home court soon? Possibly as soon as this year? No one knows, but Chuck Bowling, the the president and COO of Mandalay Bay does not expect the Aces to depart from the newly named venue.

The Aces will continue to play at Mandalay Bay, and continue to call it home.

–Chuck Bowling, Mandalay Bay president/COO (Las Vegas Review Journal)

It is one of the premier WNBA facilities in the country. Our focus is to deepen our relationship with the NBA and attract an NBA team as an official partner, and we got the window to bring the WNBA here. Mark has been front and center. There has been no bigger fan of the Aces and of Mandalay Bay Events Center.

–Chuck Bowling, Mandalay Bay president/COO (Las Vegas Review Journal)

I think we’ll be around to see Mark Davis bring a WNBA championship to Michelob Ultra Arena.

–Chuck Bowling, Mandalay Bay president/COO (Las Vegas Review Journal)

Given the composition of the Aces team and the wild and wooly nature of this free agent period, that championship may come as soon as this season. Two of Las Vegas’ major free agent signings have both come via the Los Angeles Sparks in the forms of Chelsea Gray and Riquna Williams. Those are veteran additions with championship pedigree to a team whose nucleus is its big three of Angel McCoughtry, A’ja Wilson and Liz Cambage, the latter of whom was cored by the Aces (meaning she can only change teams via trade) but has yet to sign (but we think eventually will).

The positive talk from Bowling does run in the face of the fact that there was no mention of the name change on any of the social media accounts for the Aces. And until something definitive is announced from the team, the questions on where the Aces will play its home games now that the team is under new ownership will continue.

Here are five venues in and around Las Vegas that may become home to the Aces in the coming seasons.

Mandalay Bay Events Center/Michelob Ultra Arena

Bowling is confident that the Aces will remain at the newly named Michelob Ultra Arena for the forseeable future. The Aces have experienced a wealth of on-court success in their two seasons at the venue, and that success hit a high during last year’s season in the bubble. That, unfortunately, has not always translated to the most robust of attendance figures. In 2019, according to Across The Timeline, the Aces averaged just under 4,700 fans per game – a far distance from the over 10,000 per game that the Sparks and Phoenix Mercury drew for its home games.

The Events Center, of course, was the site of the 2019 WNBA All-Star Game, an event that we at Beyond The W were proud to attend, and that drew nearly 10,000 for the game itself. Staying at Michelob Ultra Arena would be a sign of stability despite the ownership change, but would MGM be fully on board now that the Aces are under new ownership? Also, how does Davis fix the Aces’ attendance woes?

We will give this one the obvious buy.

Thomas & Mack Center

The Thomas & Mack Center, as NBA fans know, has a bit of a history with the W’s big brother league as it was the home court of the 2017 NBA All-Star Game. It also is one of the venues utilized by the NBA for its annual Summer League on UNLV’s campus. The Aces also played part of its playoffs there in 2019. If Mandalay Bay would no longer be an option, would the arena, on the campus of UNLV, be a future Aces’ home court?

It actually has a much bigger capacity than the newly named Michelob Ultra Arena, meaning the Aces’ attendance issues may actually be more glaring than they appear to be at Mandalay Bay. It is an attractive venue since it is the home court for Rebels men’s basketball. Originally, bearish on this possibility, but now we are thinking this may not be so farfetched given the 2019 playoffs.

Slight buy … for now.

Cox Pavilion

This is an arena also with an NBA connection in that is the second of the two venues the NBA uses for its Summer League – one that set an attendance record in 2019. But there is a Goldilocks complex with UNLV’s two basketball facilities.

The Thomas & Mack Center may be seen by some as too big, but there is no question that Cox Pavilion is too small. After all, the Aces did draw nearly 4,700 fans to Mandalay Bay in 2019. If the 2020 season was not played in a bubble, Las Vegas should have eclipsed that easily given the team was in the throes of a championship run.

The Pavilion just over 2,400 for basketball according to its official website. Did we not just fight like h-e-double hockey sticks trying to get the W’s flagship franchise, the New York Liberty, out of an “arena” in Westchester that only seated just over 2,000?

Sell.

New Henderson Events Center

This is an interesting one because there actually is a plan for a new sports arena to be built in the Las Vegas suburb of Henderson.

The Henderson Event Center is slated to open in early 2022 and will be owned by the city of Henderson. The arena operator will be the Vegas Golden Knights and will be the home ice for its AHL affiliate – the Henderson Silver Knights.

Then(derson), there was this little nugget from someone very plugged in to Las Vegas and Nevada sports.

One may look too deep at the attendance figures of the Aces and think a 6,000-seat arena would be good for now and give Aces games more of an intimate feel. But its current facility seats around 12,000, so it is not a must for Las Vegas to be in a smaller venue and replicate the strategy utilized by franchises like the Washington Mystics (DC Sports and Entertainment Arena) or the Atlanta Dream (Gateway Center Arena).

Interestingly enough, it was revealed that Davis plans to build a training facility for the Aces in Henderson, adjacent to the Raiders headquarters. In theory, this could be a sign that the long-term endgame for Davis is to keep the Aces in the Las Vegas city limits, but nothing is certain. So, we will see…

We will give this a slight sell … because there is no way world-class talent such as Wilson, Cambage and McCoughtry should be relegated to balling in a suburb (even though the Dallas Wings already do this).

T-Mobile Arena

We cannot lie … when the Aces first relocated from San Antonio to Las Vegas prior to the 2018 season, one’s first thought had to be that their home games would be at T-Mobile Arena before the thought of playing at Mandalay Bay even came up.

It is of course, the home ice of the Vegas Golden Knights. It is co-owned by the Golden Knights’ owner, Bill Foley, AEG and MGM Resorts. Its capacity, as expected, is definitely bigger than that of Michelob Ultra Arena at Mandalay Bay by approximately 5,000-6,000.

T-Mobile Arena is definitely a world-class venue worthy of WNBA basketball and the same could be said for Thomas & Mack. It is yet to be seen though if it is in the cards. Also, if MGM wanted to put the Aces at T-Mobile Arena, one would have thought they would have done it already, even if it meant tarping off the upper deck – similar to what has happened at facilities that already house WNBA home courts.

We will give this one a sell…for now.

Wild cardnew arena?

Davis has been talked about in the past as someone who wants to be the player in Las Vegas sports. He proved that with the Aces and Raiders purchases. Las Vegas has also been mentioned as a possible favorite for NBA expansion, and Davis buying the Aces from MGM led some to believe that maybe he would lead the effort to bring the NBA to Vegas as opposed to MGM.

A big question is would Davis want to build his own arena as was the case with Allegiant Stadium? Or is his relationship with MGM Resorts International so established he would not want to go into the business of competing with them.

Regardless, Davis has already established himself as someone with lots of stroke in Las Vegas, Clark County and the state of Nevada. Because of his elevated status, he could say “Jump!” and whoever he works with may say, “How High?”

If he wants a new arena down the road for the Aces plus an NBA franchise, Davis can get it done because of that and because T-Mobile Arena is not owned by the city, county or state. That was a major reason which hampered Chris Hansen’s arena efforts in Seattle – KeyArena wa a city-owned asset and Hansen was, in effect, attempting to go in competition with the city despite having the backing of Sonics fans.

Only time will tell what the Aces’ arena situation looks like … and all of the speculation could simply turn out to be talk with the Aces continuing to call Michelob Ultra Arena its home court. But we all know that old expression about what may be there when there is smoke…

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