Just as we were blindsided three years ago when the San Antonio Stars were sold to MGM Resorts to eventually be rebranded as the Las Vegas Aces, we were again blindsided again on Thursday, January 15 of 2021.
On that day, we got the surprising news that Mark Davis, owner of the NFL’s Las Vegas Raiders and son of the late and longtime silver and black boss Al Davis, had struck a deal with MGM to buy the Las Vegas Aces from MGM.
The deal is pending approval from the WNBA Board of Governors, but there is no reason to believe the deal will not be approved.
With the pact all but complete it welcomes a new owner (and ownership group) into the WNBA family and it keeps the Aces in a town that is still getting newly used to this professional sports thing.
With Davis’ deal all but done, here are five aspects of the deal to keep an eye on as the dust settles.
Staying at the Bay?
On many occasions, ownership changes may also come with arena changes. The Aces have played its home games primarily at the Mandalay Bay Events Center ever since the move from San Antonio took place. The 2019 WNBA All-Star Game even emanated from Mandalay Bay.
The issue is that Mandalay Bay’s Events Center is under the MGM Resorts umbrella as the Aces were prior to the sale to Davis. The NFL’s Raiders have established a partnership with MGM ever since the move from San Antonio took place, but would a change of home arena be the case?
As of today, the Aces still have references to Mandalay Bay Events Center listed on its website, but it also still lists MGM Resorts as the owner (WNBA websites are notoriously tardy to the party with these things). Would a change of arena be in the cards? Las Vegas has two other arenas in T-Mobile Arena and the Thomas & Mack Center, but the former (which is also the home ice for the Vegas Golden Knights) is another MGM-owned property.
The latter already has a history with professional basketball as the 2007 NBA (or as it is being called from several on WNBA Twitter, the MNBA) All-Star Game took place at Thomas & Mack.
Even with the Aces’ on-court success, it has not yet translated to the most robust of attendance numbers. Across The Timeline’s attendance figures had the Aces averaging over 4,600 fans per game in 2019 for the regular season and over 6,500 for the playoffs. If Las Vegas’ strategy is to compensate for low attendance numbers by playing in smaller more intimate settings (ala the Washington Mystics and Atlanta Dream) it may be a disadvantage to playing in a large building even if it has better facilities.
Gold and Silver
A potential advantage for the Aces sale is that it could greatly affect how the WNBA team attracts sponsors. Theoretically, Davis could sell the Raiders and Aces as a package deal when pitching sponsorships.
While the Aces and Raiders have attracted their fair share of individual sponsors, now with both teams now under same umbrella, Raiders sponsors may be pitched on also doing the same for the Aces and vice versa. This works potentially for the Aces because this means more money flowed into the franchise via these newfound sponsorship opportunities.
It could also mean a greater fanbase for the Aces to sell season tickets to. The start of the NFL season usually overlaps with the conclusion of the WNBA season. Davis, being the ardent women’s basketball and Aces supporter he is, could pitch the Aces to Raiders fans and season ticket holders as a way to possibly broaden the WNBA franchise’s season ticket base and draw more fans to whichever arena Las Vegas plays at in the long run.
Not Done Yet?
While we in the WNBA family absolutely love debating and discussing which cities in the W would be suitable expansion destinations, that appears to be a conversation that is gaining more traction within the NBA side.
Plenty of talk and speculation has been in the past few weeks that the NBA will look to expand to a couple of new cities. Las Vegas has been one of those rumored cities that may be on commissioner Adam Silver’s radar. The biggest reason why expansion could happen sooner than later for the NBA is that the league’s 30 incumbent owners (which includes five WNBA owners – Joe Tsai’s New York Liberty, Ted Leonsis’ Washington Mystics, Pacers Sports & Entertainment’s Indiana Fever, Robert Sarver’s Phoenix Mercury and Glen Taylor’s Minnesota Lynx) are looking to recoup their financial losses due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Seattle appears to be a shoo-in for expansion once all is said and done. The investment group that was behind the successful expansion of the NHL to the Emerald City will likely be back for more in an effort to return the Sonics to the 206 (green and gold fingers crossed). That would leave only one city remaining. Las Vegas looks to be one of those cities, but much has been made about how the Aces sale to Davis affects Sin City’s bid to attract the NBA.
Our guess is that it makes it more likely that Davis may be the one to pitch Silver on the virtues of bringing an NBA franchise to Vegas (call them the Las Vegas Spades or the Las Vegas Diamonds?). Already having a WNBA team under one’s belt, particularly one that has had the type of on-court success the Aces have experienced would theoretically make a prospective NBA owner more appealing because of that WNBA experience. MGM was likely hoping it could add an NBA team to its properties, but it has not been in those bargaining cards as we speak.
As far as an expansion team in the W is concerned, this more than likely will temper those expectations). Engelbert, and Lisa Borders before, both said that the incumbent 12 teams have to be financially stable before the WNBA opens its doors to possible team realignment. Two sales of the same team in roughly 3-4 years is not the best way to promote stability.
The news regarding the sale may even go as far as to raise new questions about the Aces as a franchise. From a great deal of pomp and circumstance three years ago to another sale?
At the very least, the sale is one where the Aces remain the Aces, but this is not the business the WNBA wants to be in unless it absolutely has to. It wants to present a sense of stability throughout the league so it can focus its efforts more on doing other initiatives such as possible expansion.
There continues to be speculation about a possible sale of the Atlanta Dream in the aftermath of co-owner Kelly Loeffler’s Georgia senate defeat to Reverend Raphael Warnock. Also, the Minnesota Lynx (and Timberwolves) may also be on the market.
Football fans love silver and black, Davis. Sports fans love silver and black, Davis. But we are talking about a franchise who has simply relived that past not too long ago. Our guess is that nothing will change with the Las Vegas logo and color scheme, but we simply wanted to emphasize that the silver and black of the Raiders stay at Allegiant Stadium and that it does not find its way again over to the WNBA team.