NEW YORK – Las Vegas is getting a WNBA franchise.
The San Antonio Stars are moving to the gambling mecca after being bought by MGM Resorts International, the league said Tuesday.
“Las Vegas has been on our radar screen for some time,” WNBA President Lisa Borders said in a phone interview. “We’ve had conversations with the MGM family, executive team. They are bringing live sports to Las Vegas.”
The team will join the NHL as a second professional team in Las Vegas – with the NFL soon to follow. The Stars begin play next season with home games at the Mandalay Bay Events Center. Bill Laimbeer will be the team’s president of basketball operations and coach.
“He’ll run the basketball side of the business,” Borders said. “The MGM team and the league will work to staff the business side. The folks that will run business, sales, social, digital, all the functions to run the business.”
The move has been in the works since the Stars ownership group told the league they were interested in selling the team. Borders said she approached MGM about purchasing the team.
“I’ve been working on this for so long, it’s been a few months for sure,” Borders said. “(San Antonio) has run the team for 15 years and it’s their business decision. Our responsibility is that our teams are all doing well. We have a responsibility to the players and fans that the league is healthy, finding a great spot for that team to land. That’s what we’ve done in Las Vegas.”
MGM will not be the first company with casino holdings to own a WNBA team. The Mohegan Sun owns the team in Connecticut.
This will be the first professional basketball team in Las Vegas, which has become a coveted target for sports franchises over the past few years.
The expansion Vegas Golden Knights began their first NHL season this month. In March, the NFL formally approved the Oakland Raiders’ relocation to Las Vegas by the 2020 season to occupy a proposed new stadium on the Las Vegas Strip, although the deal wasn’t approved until casino mogul Sheldon Adelson pulled out of the financing plan.
The Golden Knights play at MGM’s T-Mobile Arena, but the casino doesn’t own the team.
“This is the first pro sports team that MGM resorts owns and it’s a great alignment frankly with the DNA of our company,” said Lilian Tomovich, MGM’s Chief Experience and Marketing Officer.
Neither Borders nor Tomovich wanted to say if bringing a women’s basketball team to Las Vegas was the prelude to an NBA franchise moving there.
“You know you’ll have to ask (NBA commissioner) Adam (Silver) about that,” Borders said. “The WNBA is part of the NBA enterprise and portfolio.”
This is the second move for the franchise. It came to San Antonio from Utah in 2003. Led by Becky Hammon, the Stars reached the WNBA Finals in 2008. The team has finished with the league’s worst record each of the past three seasons. San Antonio has a talented young nucleus with Kayla McBride, Moriah Jefferson and Kelsey Plum.
The team also has the top chance to get the No. 1 pick in next year’s WNBA draft.
Plum, a former University of Washington standout, was excited for the move to Las Vegas, which is closer to Southern California, where she grew up.
“My family and friends can get to more games,” Plum said in a phone interview on Sunday. “Getting to Texas wasn’t the easiest thing for them. Now it’s a short flight or drive for them to come watch.”
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