Gamble in any casino in Las Vegas and the house always has an edge. So why should the new WNBA team in Sin City be any different?
No, we’re not talking about the so-called “Vegas Flu” that afflicted some hockey teams that came to play the Golden Knights during the just-completed NHL season.
The Aces have the advantage of a scheduling anomaly this season that gives them six home games when their opponent is finishing off a back-to-back. That’s over a third of Las Vegas’ home contests this year. The next closest team is Washington with three such games. Five teams don’t even have one home game like that.
The WNBA downplayed the oddity.
“The determination of the regular-season schedule is complex, involving many factors, including scheduling requirements, arena availability, broadcast windows, production assets, competitive balance, travel and rest and recuperation for our teams and players,” the league said through a spokesman.
The scheduling advantage hasn’t really paid off so far for the team that moved to Nevada from San Antonio this past winter, as the Aces are 1-2 in such games so far. Aces players weren’t aware of the specific scheduling quirk, but noted that they try to take advantage of teams that are playing back-to-backs games.
“I do think it’s something you’re conscious of,” guard Kelsey Plum said. “I think it is an emphasis to run, but we try to run in general. We try to play with the fastest pace in the league.”
Despite a 6-12 record, the Aces have been leaving a solid impression on their fans and opponents this year as owner MGM has gone all-in with the team.
From signage all around Las Vegas featuring the team, a giant Aces jersey on the Statue of Liberty in front of the New York, New York casino, and top-of-the-line accommodations for the players, Las Vegas is making the WNBA feel very welcome. MGM spent over $10 million on the Mandalay Bay Arena to make it WNBA-ready, adding a state-of-the-art video board and making sure nearly every seat has a great view of the court.
“We’re going to do it right. With a WNBA team, it’s not about core economics for us, it’s about visitation,” President of MGM Resorts International Bill Hornbuckle told The Associated Press. “It’s about getting the community behind us and showing once again that Las Vegas will support sports teams.”
Hornbuckle said the WNBA has been a great partner. Whether this new relationship will lead to an NBA team joining Las Vegas soon, Hornbuckle said that it’s not immediately in the cards, but MGM has a “tight relationship” with WNBA President Lisa Borders and NBA Commissioner Adam Silver.
“Only time will tell where that goes,” Hornbuckle said. “We’re not in a hurry to get an NBA team. We thought it was important to show that when we get into something we go all in.”
The new franchise has been getting rave reviews from the league and its players.
“Everything they’ve done so far has been incredible,” Borders told the AP. “It’s been first class all the way.”
MGM has made home games an experience. Boys II Men sang the national anthem before the first game, and the halftime show was a performance by Jabbawockeez. Even before fans got into the Mandalay Bay Arena, performers from Michael Jackson One by Cirque du Soleil were outside putting on a show. Other MGM acts have also performed at games.
“It’s about the whole experience and making sure the fans are entertained,” coach Bill Laimbeer said.
The veteran coach, who is also running the team as its president, hopes that Las Vegas will become a top free agent destination over the next few years.
“We’re in this for the long haul and we hope to be the destination for free agents,” he said.
Besides the top-notch facility and apartments, players also can take in the hottest new restaurants or clubs in Vegas. Getting reservations or tickets is just a quick phone call away.
“We want it to be fun for (the players),” Hornbuckle said. “We want to get the reputation that I want to play for Vegas. We all love to win. One day at a time, one year at a time.”
Center Carolyn Swords, who has played in a few WNBA cities over her career, has been impressed so far.
“They are definitely treating us very well,” she said.
So have the Aces’ opponents.
“The trip from the airport was all Aces, so they’re doing a good job advertising everywhere in the hotels,” Sparks forward Candace Parker said. “It was a fun experience obviously, being one of the first two professional teams to play in Vegas, so I think that’s huge. They’re doing a good job. They got a good fan base going.”
The Aces are averaging roughly 5,600 fans.
“Our fans, in general, have been amazing. If you look, it’s been pretty packed for all of our home games, whether we’re playing on ESPN, or whether it’s just a game like (Friday),” guard Kayla McBride said. “Whoever’s coming in, we’re having a lot of our fans out. It’s cool to see Floyd (Mayweather) out here supporting us, to have him set aside time to come see us is really, really cool. I think we’re trying to change everything and we want to give them a show.”