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Aces embrace Las Vegas in maiden season

WNBA 2018 No. 1 draft pick A'ja Wilson leads the Las Vegas Aces in scoring this season, averaging 20.5 points per game, as well as 7.6 rebounds. Photo courtesy of Las Vegas Aces.
WNBA 2018 No. 1 draft pick A’ja Wilson leads the Las Vegas Aces in scoring this season, averaging 20.5 points per game, as well as 7.6 rebounds. Photo courtesy of Las Vegas Aces.

When you think of Las Vegas, you think of entertainment.

This summer, the Las Vegas Aces are hoping they can provide just that in their maiden WNBA season.

“Everything here is big and bright and super exciting and fun,” said Moriah Jefferson, one of the team’s top returning guards. “For us as a team, we really want to bring that to the court.”

MGM Resorts International purchased the then-San Antonio Stars last October and brought the team to Las Vegas, where it is the second professional franchise in the city after the Golden Knights were added to the National Hockey League last year. MGM has a strong presence on the Vegas strip, which has lead to a natural harmony between the Aces and their new home.

Despite the absence of a professional team, Las Vegas has been no stranger to basketball for several years, playing host to AAU tournaments and the increasingly popular NBA Summer League. Bringing a pro team to the city was the logical progression in Vegas’ evolution as a sports town.

“Our message was, women’s basketball is here, pro hoops has arrived,” said Christine Monjer, Executive Director of marketing for MGM Resorts. “We’re really staking that claim that we do know basketball as a community, and this is basketball you’re going to want to see.”

The Aces are currently in the midst of a rebuilding season, but have set their sights on creating brand awareness this year, without regard to on-court success.

The Las Vegas Aces logo incorporates both elements of the WNBA and the city. Photo by Lisa Campos.

The team has taken great care to tie its identity to that of the city, and the logo is a particular source of pride for the franchise. It combines the framework of an ace of diamonds, while utilizing the red and black of a deck of cards and also highlighting the ‘LV’ of Las Vegas. The design of the court follows the same themes, as it alternates the card suits in a diamond pattern inside the three-point arc.

“It helps that we have some fantastic colors in our brand identity,” Monjer said. “It’s very contemporary, it’s sleek. It’s the direction of the league that we’re happy to be the steward of.”

The Aces have also taken a cue for their Golden Knight neighbors, and embraced the theatrical flair of their new hometown by incorporating showpieces during their games. Star acts have sung the national anthem pregame, and have performed at halftime.

“Everything you see in Vegas is always fun, then when you have people come out to watch our games, that adds a whole other entertainment piece,” Jefferson said. “We’ve had Boyz II Men, we’ve had the Jabbawockeez. Bringing a show to another show, you basically get two shows in one coming out to see the WNBA.”

As 50 percent owners of T-Mobile Arena, the home of the Golden Knights, MGM is able to draw from its NHL experience in terms of facilitating marketing elements and structuring its in-game production.

The Aces also contacted other WNBA franchises, seeking best practices on how to generate excitement for the team – an evergreen concern for the league. Attendance in the WNBA last year was 7,716 per game, though the Stars averaged only 6,386 fans. The Aces drew 7,662 attendees for their home opener, and hope to build on that number in a home-heavy latter part of the schedule.

Monjer noted that the other eleven teams gave helpful tips regarding game times, pregame events, and fan giveaways.

“Every team has been phenomenal; they’re so willing to share,” Monjer said. “We are 12 teams united, trying to push the league forward.”

The Mandalay Bay Events Center is home to the Las Vegas Aces. Photo courtesy of Mandalay Bay.

The Aces have prioritized creating awareness for the team itself and will pivot to individual marketing campaigns later in the summer. Nevertheless, that hasn’t stopped individual players from going out into the community and establishing their presence. Jefferson has participated in activities with the Boys & Girls Club, City Impact Center, and The St. Baldrick’s Foundation, a pediatric cancer charity.

Ultimately, the long-term viability of the Aces in Las Vegas will come down to the basketball product. The team currently sits in last place in the Western Conference at 3-9, and are 11th overall, but two of those wins came in the last three games. With the last two first-round draft picks in Kelsey Plum and A’ja Wilson, the team may turn the corner quickly.

The WNBA has placed its bet on Las Vegas, and there’s still plenty of time for the Aces to come through.

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