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Vegas gets rave reviews for thrilling WNBA All-Star weekend

UPDATED: Fri., Aug. 2, 2019

Team Wilson head coach Bill Laimbeer, center, laughs with his team during the second half of a WNBA All-Star basketball game against Team Delle Donne, Saturday, July 27, 2019, in Las Vegas. (John Locher / Associated Press)
Team Wilson head coach Bill Laimbeer, center, laughs with his team during the second half of a WNBA All-Star basketball game against Team Delle Donne, Saturday, July 27, 2019, in Las Vegas. (John Locher / Associated Press)
By Doug Feinberg Associated Press

LAS VEGAS – Coaches, players and WNBA executives were thrilled with the show Las Vegas put on for the All-Star Game last weekend.

From a high-level game to first-class entertainment, the city got rave reviews.

“It was electric. It was positive. And I think we should have it here every year,” All-Star captain A’ja Wilson said. “I don’t think I have a say in it, but just the feel of it. Everyone kind of was here. You have players that were not even in competition at all here to support their teammates. That’s what it’s all about. We’re all coming together and watching a game and playing a game that we love, and I just had so much fun.”

There were dozens of players not involved in the All-Star Game in attendance in Las Vegas. Aces coach and president Bill Laimbeer said the team reached out to players to come to Vegas to help market All-Star weekend. The Aces offered free hotel rooms to players who came in exchange for their appearance at a fan fest and parties.

“Everything has just kind of been bigger and grander,” said All-Star team captain Elena Delle Donne. “Even right when you land, you’re seeing the marketing behind it. It’s why the Aces have been so successful these last two years.”

Laimbeer said there were only a few things he would change about the All-Star experience in Las Vegas – the biggest one being the time of the game.

“Everything was positive except one issue. The game started at 12:30 p.m., that was the one complaint that everyone had,” he told The Associated Press. “They would have liked to see it start at 5 o’clock. It’s the All-Star Game, you want to get the best of time slot, as best as you possibly can. That’s a show that hasn’t been on in a long time in the WNBA. I don’t know what the ratings are going to be. I think if it was in a prime-time situation it would be better.”

ESPN said ratings were down a little bit from last year’s All-Star Game.

Laimbeer said he had three goals for Las Vegas hosting the All-Star Game. He met two of them, getting all the All-Stars suites in the hotel instead of standard rooms and getting each player four tickets to the game instead of the usual two. The one thing he couldn’t accomplish was getting the players first-class plane tickets to and from the game.

“I put $20,000 in our budget to fly the players first class and the league said you couldn’t do that,” he said. “The league refused to let us do that. I made a complaint at the Board of Governors meeting about that specific issue. They are our best assets, they are our All-Stars, treat them with respect. I apologized to them that I couldn’t get that done.”

The league said it worked with Las Vegas, but couldn’t do everything Laimbeer wanted as offering first-class tickets could be an unfair advantage for the Aces as an All-Star host.

“MGM Resorts and the Aces were highly engaged throughout the yearlong planning for what became a truly memorable All-Star weekend, including bringing to the table enhancements to the player experience. While we worked together on many of those elements, there were others that we determined might create an unfair advantage for the team moving forward,” WNBA Chief Operating Officer Christy Hedgpeth said. “WNBA players are world-class athletes and, ultimately, we are committed to working with them and our other stakeholders to develop an economic model that can support additional improvements to the player experience throughout the year, including the All-Star Game.”

While there most likely won’t be an All-Star Game next year because of the Olympics, Las Vegas has put itself in a good position to host future games.

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