Desert Dogs Working Hard to Become Prime Vegas Attraction
December 7, 2023By: Jon Rapoport
Last season, the Las Vegas Desert Dogs premiered to rave reviews on the southern end of the iconic Strip, courtesy of an ownership group that includes Wayne Gretzky, Steve Nash and Dustin Johnson.
On the field, head coach Shawn Williams led his squad to a 5-13 record. Despite finishing eight games below .500, the Desert Dogs played a tough and aggressive style of lacrosse, providing headaches to opposing teams, while garnering a high level of respect from their growing collection of fans. Entering Year 2, young star Jack Hannah and company hope to take a big step forward, with their collective sights focused on a potential playoff berth.
Off the field, the Desert Dogs boast an 85% season ticket renewal rate, as the club looks to further establish their existence in the highly-saturated entertainment mecca of Las Vegas.
“Las Vegas is an interesting market that is getting incredibly competitive with the Raiders moving there,” explained new club CEO Paul Speaker. “The Aces are two-time world champs in women’s basketball. The Oakland A’s are likely coming in, and you have options ranging from The Sphere to Barry Manilow and David Copperfield. It is a plethora of entertainment choices for both tourists and locals.”
Speaker, who also serves as CEO for Joe Tsai’s other NLL property, the San Diego Seals, strongly believes that aggressively marketing to the 2.2 million residents of Clark County is the absolute best approach to building a large and loyal group of customers. During their inaugural campaign, 92.8% of ticket buyers lived within the metro area. While the nearly 40 million people who annually visit Las Vegas are prime targets for any live performance, Speaker and the club’s marketing brass are determined to loudly pump the message to the unique array of folks who call the region home.
“We went super hyper-local. We are born in Las Vegas, unlike other teams. We are a blue collar, hockey-like sport. We recognize unions, first responders, teachers and all of the individuals that work every day to make Las Vegas what it is. We want to be the place where they go to celebrate their neighborhood, their union, their family, at the Strip. But treated with the same respect that they’re asked to treat tourists,” proclaimed Speaker.
Despite his many years of leadership with the NFL, Time Warner and World Surf League, even Speaker was surprised to learn how established many of the Las Vegas locals are to the area.
“62% of Las Vegas residents have lived there for more than 12 years. Their neighborhood is not where they came from, it’s where they live. They’re loyalty is not where they were born, it’s where they live. Their friendships are not where they came from, their friendships are their neighbors who they live, work, play and go to school with,” summarized Speaker.
From a charitable perspective, the Desert Dogs have partnered with the Las Vegas Honda Dealers Association to provide kids with cancer (and their families) a night of joy and fulfillment. For each home game, a child enduring challenges will serve as honorary team captain, spending pregame in the locker room, taking the field and then watching the game from a prime seat, followed by full participation in the postgame celebration with the athletes. Speaker is especially proud of this initiative.
Regarding the local sports landscape, Speaker is nothing but impressed with the way in which the NHL’s Golden Knights have taken the hockey world by storm, generating incredible success on the ice, while simultaneously growing a large and devoted army of local fandom with their now famous “Vegas Born” slogan. The CEO believes that the rabid local hockey crowd represents one of the prime demographics that will likely show interest in attending an NLL game.
Speaker also sees inspiration in the two-time WNBA champion Las Vegas Aces, who happen to serve as fellow tenants at Michelob Ultra Arena, the Desert Dogs’ Mandalay Bay home venue.
“We have been embraced by the Golden Knights and Aces. There’s a lot of sharing of information on how we can work together on mailing lists and fan bases. With the Aces specifically, how we can work on opportunities and share information about how we can puff up our fan experience, share costs and do things with collaboration,” explained Speaker.
Amid the bevy of potential Las Vegas stadium options, Speaker and the front office remain content taking the floor within the walls of the 3,200-room mega resort.
“We have two years left on our agreement with Mandalay Bay. They have been a great partner for us. We are learning everyday how to be good partners for them, while seeking unique opportunities for our season ticket holders, VIPs and new customers.”
From playing their games on one of the most legendary stretches of road in the world, to a star-studded and deep pocketed ownership group, along with a talented cast of young and veteran players, the Las Vegas Desert Dogs bring a whole lot of exciting intangibles to the NLL scene. It will be fascinating to see the level of success and spectacle this franchise is able to achieve, playing in a town synonymous with both of those concepts.
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