By Howard Stutz, The Nevada Independent, July 19th, 2023
As he was settling into his seat for a recent airline trip, UNLV President Keith Whitfield struck up a conversation with a fellow passenger about the state of the sports industry in Las Vegas.
There was much to discuss.
Whitfield, who became UNLV’s 11th president in August 2020, has seen the landscape change dramatically in his short tenure. The Las Vegas Raiders played three seasons at Allegiant Stadium, the Las Vegas Aces and the Vegas Golden Knights won championships and Las Vegas will host two major events between November and February — the Formula 1 Las Vegas Grand Prix and Super Bowl LVIII.
The NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament brought the West Regional Final to Las Vegas for the first time in March and Allegiant Stadium will host the Final Four championship round in 2028.
“We are the sports and entertainment capital of the nation, maybe even of the world. I don’t think that that’s an overstatement,” Whitfield said last week.
It’s in that vein that UNLV announced plans to partner with Syracuse University to organize the first sports, entertainment and innovation conference next year. Organizers compared the event, dubbed SEI-Con, to a small-scale Global Gaming Expo (G2E) or Consumer Electronics Show (CES).
The focus is on the global sports industry.
The conference will be held July 16-18 at Virgin Hotels Las Vegas and will include exhibitors, innovation labs, daily keynote speeches, educational seminars and break-out sessions, roundtable discussions and daily wrap-up events with live entertainment.
“The economic growth and the economic impact sports entertainment is going to have on our community is undeniable,” Whitfield said. “It’s something that is just the beginning. This conference is important to the growth of our economy.”
UNLV Sports Innovation, an education and research hub created to integrate the science and business of sports, will collaborate on the conference in partnership with Syracuse University’s David B. Falk College of Sport and Human Dynamics.
The announcement was made at UNLV’s Thomas & Mack Center while an NBA Summer League game between the Los Angeles Clippers and Philadelphia 76ers was taking place, something that wasn’t lost on Whitfield. The two-week Summer League focuses the basketball world on Las Vegas with crowds and nationally televised games.
UNLV Sports Innovation Chief Operating Officer Jay Vickers said conference attendees will have opportunities for education and collaboration in exploring the latest innovations in sports and entertainment.
“We are training the next generation of sports scientists and sports business professionals through interdisciplinary education and research,” Vickers said.
Whitfield said Las Vegas is a “great test bed” for the convergence of sports and entertainment technology and a collaboration with Syracuse University will give the first SEI-Con an initial boost.
Michael Veley, chairman of Syracuse’s Falk College, said the estimated economic value of sports in the U.S. a year ago was $540 billion. He said on a global spectrum, sports is expected to generate an estimated $2 trillion in the next year.
He said the conference offers a perfect venue to discuss and explore the emerging sectors as this paradigm shift in sports takes place. Veley added the conference in Las Vegas offers the opportunity “to talk about the impact of legalized sports wagering and what that is going to do to change this industry.”
The SEI-Con plans were welcomed by Las Vegas Global Economic Alliance (LVGEA) CEO Tina Quigley, whose organization views sports business as an important growth opportunity. Sports business was a central theme of the LVGEA’s 2023 Perspective last month.
“Our primary economy is growing and shifting,” Quigley said at the UNLV announcement. “We have traditionally been hospitality and gaming and that will always have a very significant presence. But we are growing and expanding our concentric circle and diversifying to include sports, entertainment and innovation.”