Hockey, curling make Las Vegas more than a gambling mecca for Canadians

LAS VEGAS — A warm getaway destination that offers live winter sports, Las Vegas now fits that bill for Western Canadians.

Sin City’s desert climate combined with a new NHL team currently in the Stanley Cup final and regular world curling events just a short flight away are increasing traffic from Canada’s most western provinces.

Canadians may love going to the arena to watch hockey and curling, but they don’t necessarily love shovelling a path to the car and scraping the windshield to get there.

Hanging at the pool pre-game and going to the arena in shorts, or catching a Cirque du Soleil show and hitting the blackjack tables after? Canadians can get behind that during the dog days of winter.

“We saw incredible crowds travel from Western Canada all throughout the season,” Vegas Golden Knights chief marketing officer Brian Killingsworth said.

“What we’ve noticed in Western Canada, but even across all other hockey markets, teams circle this date, the Las Vegas date, as the destination trip. That’s the game they want to travel to with their fan base, their fan groups, their sponsors.

“We had probably some of the best representation of visiting team fans coming from the Western Canadian teams. As an aside, it was some of our best-performing 50-50 raffles. It was significant.”

An average of 1.44 million Canadians travel to Las Vegas annually which is the most from any country, according to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.

Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton account for 54 per cent of Canada’s direct air passengers to Vegas, according to the LVCVA, because of geographical proximity and several daily non-stop flights from those cities.

They were already going to Las Vegas for the gambling, shows and warmer weather. The arrival of ice sports add to the inducements to go.

“Western Canada is just vital for Las Vegas,” said Lisa Motley, LVCVA’s director of sports marketing and special events.

“While I’d like to tell you we programmed our winter sports around the Canadian market coming to visit, it’s just kind of more of a bonus for us.”

Curlers and fans were tanning at The Orleans pool between draws during the men’s world curling championship in April, while Calgary was slammed with snow the same week.

World championship event manager Jon Killoran said 75 to 80 per cent of tickets were sold to Canadians.

The World Financial Group Continental Cup of Curling — a Ryder-Cup-style event featuring the world’s best curlers — will be held at the Orleans Arena for the fourth time in six years in January, 2019.

“It’s been extremely important to have the Canadian fan embrace curling in Las Vegas as they have from the very start back in 2014 with the first Continental Cup,” Killoran said.

“The Canadian fan is the dominant reason that curling is succeeding here in Las Vegas.

“If people can come for the curling and can squeeze in a game with the Golden Knights at the same time, on that same trip, I think that becomes very attractive to a Canadian sports fan.”

An NFL team arriving in Las Vegas in 2020 will be yet another draw for Canadians, particularly in frosty December and January when the CFL is dormant. There are rumblings Las Vegas is also due for an NBA team.

“It’s a true destination city,” Killingsworth said. “We’ll always have that calling card.

“What I think is interesting now is it’s turning into a sports and entertainment market. Not just an entertainment market.”

If you go …

Vegas Golden Knights – www.nhl.com/goldenknights

2019 World Financial Group Continental Cup of Curling, Jan. 17-20 – www.curling.ca/tickets

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