LAS VEGAS (KTNV) — If you've lived in Las Vegas longer than two decades, you know the thought of having professional sports in this gaming mecca was taboo. Today, Las Vegas is home to professional hockey, football, women's basketball and mixed martial arts, just to name a few.
13 Action News anchor Tricia Kean sat down with Mayors Oscar and Carolyn Goodman, whose dream has now come to fruition.
"I used to sit in my little throne and I would dream of what a great city would become and could become," said former Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman.
What Las Vegas has become is the sports and entertainment capital of the world.
Oscar and his wife of 60 years, current Mayor Carolyn Goodman, are so proud to finally be able to refer to Las Vegas as a prime playground for sports. It's something Oscar has always loved to talk about.
"I think we're going to have the NBA here," he said. "We have hockey, major league hockey. We've got football, major league football. We've got the UFC, the best fights in the world. We are the sports capital of the world and we'll have these other sports to round it out."
"The funny part about it is I just knew that having these sports would bring people here and make those of us who live here feel like we're part of a community," Oscar said.
In the 1990s, the Goodmans saw firsthand how a winning sports team like Jerry Tarkanian's UNLV Runnin' Rebels could transform a community.
FEELING OF PRIDE
"There was a feeling of pride of identity and a communal team, and that's what it was in us. That's part of a great city," said Oscar.
The building of that great city and luring professional sports to Las Vegas began in 1999, when then-newly elected Mayor Oscar Goodman felt a major league city needed major league sports.
"You were talking, 'Let's get professional sports in Las Vegas.' That was unheard of at that time," said 13 Action News Anchor Tricia Kean.
"The first week I was on the job, I took our city manager and a couple of city staff and we went back to New York. We had a meeting set up. The first person we met with was Gary Bettman, who is the commissioner of the NHL, National Hockey League. He had no problem with Las Vegas and the gambling aspect of it," said Oscar.
The NHL may not have had a problem with sports and gambling, but the NFL did. In 2004, the NFL banned the "What Happens Here, Stays Here" ad during the Super Bowl.
The ad was created by R&R Partners for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, which spends millions every year to market Las Vegas worldwide.
"It's a pretty amazing transformation to have gone from 2004, when the NFL wouldn't allow us to even run an ad during the Super Bowl, to hosting the Super Bowl," said Steve Hill with the LVCVA.
"And what will be exactly 20 years later, even when we started talking about building the stadium, it was like because the NFL is actually going to allow us to have a team here — because they had not expressed that at the time," Hill said.
Mayor Oscar Goodman happened to be the Chairman of the Board of the LVCVA at the time of the Super Bowl shun and Las Vegas pulled an end-around on the NFL.
"At the time, we kind of went guerrilla on the NFL. We bought local affiliate time so the spot ran, not on the network, but in eight to 10 cities at the time," said Bill Vissiliadis with R&R Partners.
"Turns out, one of the NFL attorneys was watching the game at home in one of the cities we had bought the spot and he shot up in his chair saying 'these SOBs got into the Super Bowl and they're not supposed to,'" said Vissiliadis.
Las Vegas has since gone from being banned by the NFL, to becoming a vital football market.
"The stadium has been a huge part of that. We could not host the world's biggest and most important events if we didn't have their stadium as an asset and a venue in the city. We do, and that's happening, and it's allowed us to become the sports and entertainment capital of the world," said Hill.
GAMBLING & SPORTS
Hill says a big part of the shift came with the perception of gambling and sports.
"Twenty years ago, there were two states where you could gamble. Now there are 48, 49 or something like that," said Hill. "They realize that Nevada's the gold standard of gaming regulation. That people are going to gamble; if they do it in a regulated environment, it's safer for the sport, it's better for the sport and it attracts fans."
"When you've got a little money on a game, you're more interested in that game, and the NFL and all the major sports leagues have seen that," said Hill. "They're excited about what it does for their sport. They see how it can be integrated, and Las Vegas is at the center of that."
No two mayors have worked harder to see this sports dream become a reality. After the NHL told Oscar Goodman a team wasn't ready to move or expand in his first week as mayor in 1999, the tenacious mayor moved on.
"We went up the street to David Stern, the commissioner of the NBA, and he was an old curmudgeon. We became friends over the years, but at that point in time, [Stern said] 'I wouldn't let the NBA come into Las Vegas if it was over my dead body.' I said, 'Don't forget them, Mr. Commissioner. I used to represent people who were charged with creating dead bodies in this community, so don't speak so quickly,'" said Oscar.
Current NBA Commissioner Adam Silver and Mayor Carolyn Goodman have built a long-lasting friendship. She has hope for professional basketball.
"I really do believe NBA will be among the next. We certainly have the WNBA. That was why that was there, sort of. Let's see how they do, and they've done remarkably well. But certainly Major League Baseball," said Carolyn Goodman.
If the NHL can be a hot success in the hot desert, and the NFL, too, the Goodman's believe the NBA and MLB are just a matter of time.
The vision and dream were Vegas born, by a one-of-a-kind mob attorney turned over-the-top mayor, who fancied showgirls and martinis and who changed the game for Las Vegas.