Lifestyle

Las Vegas Is Vying to Become the Sports Capital of the World

From football to F1, Nevada continues to build up its prime-time roster-but will sports fans roll the dice on the city's latest tourism push?

Design by Maitane Romagosa for Thrillist | Getty Images
Design by Maitane Romagosa for Thrillist | Getty Images
Design by Maitane Romagosa for Thrillist | Getty Images

With a year of unparalleled activity and worldwide attention ahead, Las Vegas is in the midst of a major transformation. This week, all bets are off as we head to the desert to explore this exciting moment and what it means for the future of Sin City. Read more¬†here.The Bellagio Fountain Club was one of the most luxurious places to be during last November’s inaugural Grand Prix. Set three stories above the most famous fountain in Vegas, it was a space to indulge, with $135 cocktails served in leather racing shoes, a stage featuring Cirque du Soleil performances, and pop-up restaurants manned by celebrity chefs. Those willing to shell out a cool $11,000 for entry had an exhilarating view of the course and the roaring Formula 1 cars that raced through it. From a perch like that, it’s easy to see why champion racer Max Verstappen, who went on to win the event, said during a press conference that the Formula 1 event felt like “99% show and 1% sporting event.”

Las Vegas’s turn as the center of international motorsports that weekend-which saw 300,000-plus attendees and more than $1 billion in economic impact-represented the most recent peak in the city’s ascent as a sports capital. But for the fans who felt burned by the high costs, or the residents and local businesses hindered by construction and traffic for months, the transformation of one of the world’s busiest entertainment districts into a racetrack wasn’t exactly a success story. Still, Formula 1 signed a deal to run the race in Vegas for a decade.

The city has again proved itself an undisputed champion when it comes to the business of sports. With a steady supply of tourists and fans ready to spend big, Vegas offers a strategy that teams across professional sports are primed to capitalize on: sports as an experience, less tied to a local fan base and instead focused on the idea of the game as entertainment. In Vegas, a city that offers endless spectacle and excess, it’s become associated with an entire entertainment district.

“Vegas is the only city in the world that has a chance to treat a stadium of 65,000 people like they’re all actually VIPs,” said Steve Hill, CEO of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA) and chair of the Las Vegas Stadium Authority. “You’ve got up to 333,000 tourists in Vegas every day who are looking for something to do. You don’t really need locals to fill up the venue.”

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Getty Images
Getty Images

Beginning in 2017, when the Golden Knights hockey team kick-started a frenzy of expansion and relocation, the movement of sports teams and events to Vegas achieved an unprecedented speed, volume, and cost.

In 2003, the NFL rejected a Vegas tourism ad from appearing during the Super Bowl because of concerns about gambling. Today, the storied Raiders attribute much of its financial success to its move from Oakland to Vegas in 2020. And the league itself will descend en masse on Sin City for Super Bowl LVIII in February. Not to mention, the Oakland A’s franchise is so determined to relocate and build a baseball stadium on the site of the old Tropicana casino that the team may shuttle between temporary homes until 2028, when its Vegas facility will be finished.

Vegas also won the rights to host the Men’s Final Four basketball tournament in 2028 and was the backdrop for the NBA’s successful in-season tournament last year. And that’s just scratching the surface: LeBron and Shaq have teased bringing a pro basketball team to town, which was followed by a proposal for making the new stadium the centerpiece of a $10 billion development; the NHL draft and a UFC fight are scheduled to take place inside the high-tech Sphere arena later this year; and a co-owner of the firm behind a Vegas-to-LA high-speed rail line intends to introduce the Las Vegas Villains as the next MLS expansion team.

“We’ve created a platform for events and sports and leagues that is unmatched,” Hill told Thrillist. “It allows people with great ideas to come here and make them real. We just want to keep making Vegas the greatest place for them to invest in.”

All of these teams are making the same bet, which is that in Vegas, the house always wins. Game-day revenues and luxury suites can juice franchise revenues considerably, especially in the NFL, where television revenue is shared across the league. “Venue revenue is the one area where an NFL owner can distinguish himself and can claim his money,” said Michael Leeds, a sports economics professor at Temple University. “That’s what’s driving the move.”

But this luxury- and entertainment-focused game-day experience doesn’t necessarily benefit longtime fans. When the Raiders moved to Vegas and into the newly built Allegiant Stadium, the relationship between the team and its die-hard Raider Nation fans, most of whom lived in California, was damaged. Not only was it more costly to attend a game, but it didn’t feel like home, since so many opposing fans and tourists filled the seats (it’s a dynamic that hurt the growth of new fans in Vegas, as well). Games at Allegiant are half filled with opposing fans-the Baltimore Ravens chartered two jets for fans and booster club members when the team played in Vegas-and local oddsmakers literally don’t give the Raiders any home field advantage.

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Getty Images

And yet, the Raiders are now one of the most valuable NFL franchises: Allegiant Stadium is one of the five highest-revenue stadiums in the world, and in 2022 alone, it generated $182.5 million from additional non-sporting events-the highest of any other pro football venue.

Going all in on game day has become a tried-and-true strategy for other profitable sports teams. “The Dallas Cowboys are worth more than the New York Yankees, even though the Yankees have roughly five times more attendance,” said Leeds. “It’s because they have more luxury boxes than any other franchise. Revenue is off the charts.” Pro sports franchises in general seem to be moving away from the value of the local market, Leeds concluded, and are focusing more on overall revenue.

Vegas’s entertainment machine also feels custom built to attract teams. The lavish funds the region has doled out to prospective teams, like the record-setting $750 million of public funding spent on Allegiant Stadium, comes in part from the hotel and entertainment tax revenue that the LVCVA collects.

University of Nevada Las Vegas professor Nancy Lough, who specializes in sports management, called it a “fist-in-glove” relationship. “There’s nobody better than bringing people into town than the LVCVA, but they also have more resources,” she said. Resorts and hotels count on entertainment and sports events to fill their rooms, and these bookings generate tax revenue the LVCVA can then spend on incentivizing teams and events to move to Vegas, which in turn generates more visitors, hotel stays, and tax revenue. The Raiders, for example, found that Allegiant Stadium brought 1.5 million incremental visitors to Vegas in 2023, 88% of whom said their main reason for coming was an event at the stadium.

Vegas boasts roughly 150,000 hotel rooms, or about as many rooms as there are seats in the city’s existing arenas. And this flywheel of tourism and sports has helped Vegas perfect a system of incentives that other cities have attempted to imitate. There’s a reason so many major and successful pro franchises, from the LA Rams to the Chicago Cubs to the Dallas Cowboys, have invested in developing major entertainment districts around their stadiums. Leeds sees Vegas’s sports frenzy as a bet on long-term economic growth, a gamble that for many other cities rarely, if ever, pays out. “An analogy I like to make to my students is that after you jump off a 30-story building, for the first 29 stories, you think you’re flying,” he said.

Even with so many out-of-town franchises looking to cash in on Vegas, the city has seen two of the most successful launches of pro sports teams in recent memory, both of which bet big on their hometowns, developing rabid, loyal fan bases in the process. The Las Vegas Knights-which in the early weeks of its Cinderella first season had the same challenges the Raiders had in establishing space for locals amid road-tripping opposing fans-leaned into its “Vegas Born” tagline and the Knight’s Vow, a ticket-selling gimmick that made locals promise not to resell playoff tickets. The Aces, the city’s championship WNBA team, zeroed in on grassroots outreach when it came to town in 2018, striking numerous partnerships with after-school clubs and YMCAs, setting up sponsorships with local businesses, and investing in high-caliber facilities.

But for many franchise owners, the Raiders showed the way as well. Transforming games into an entertainment-focused experience isn’t necessarily new. But in Vegas, that idea is being taken to its logical conclusion. “You can gamble anywhere, you can drink anywhere, you can get whatever you want anywhere-that’s not what Vegas is anymore,” Lough said. “What’s old gets demolished and replaced with something new.”

It may be certainly exciting, but it’s not always clear that in the relentless pursuit of Vegas-like spectacle that every fan walks away feeling like a winner. Because with every new sports attraction that’s built, there are loyal fandoms left behind.

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Lifestyle

The Best New Bookstores in LA are Curated, Specific, and Personal

Discover a new favorite book, join a book club, and maybe even do some karaoke at the new wave of LA bookshops.

Photo by Innis Casey Photography, courtesy of Zibby's Bookshop
Photo by Innis Casey Photography, courtesy of Zibby’s Bookshop
Photo by Innis Casey Photography, courtesy of Zibby’s Bookshop

A couple of years ago, the legendary Powell’s Books in Portland released a perfume designed to evoke the smell of a bookstore. The scent has notes of wood, violet, and the lovely and unusually precise word biblichor, the particular aroma of old books. The reality of the scent is what it is-mostly sweet and floral-but more important is the imagery it conjures. The best bookstores are both cozy and mysterious, familiar and surprising, with endless potential for discovery.

Los Angeles has a wealth of independent book sellers, including beloved legacy shops like The Last Bookstore, The Iliad, and Chevalier’s. But a new wave of bookstores has been growing over the last few years, shops that eschew the traditional one-of-everything mindset to focus on specificity, curation, and point of view. There are bookstores with themes, bookstores that double as event spaces, bookstores that reflect their neighbourhoods, bookstores that take inspiration from a specific person-whether that’s the shop owner, a historical figure, or a little bit of both-and so many more.

Like the niche-ification of the internet and the culture at large, these new and new-ish bookstores provide a space to discover books, ideas, and perspectives led by an expert, the kind of things that you may never have found on your own. They can also be a safe harbour for pure nerdiness, a place to dive deep into your favourite category or cause. To help you on your way, we’ve put together a list of some of the best new bookstores in LA, with a focus on curated shops with their own specific perspectives.

Photo courtesy of Octavia's Bookshelf
Photo courtesy of Octavia’s Bookshelf
Photo courtesy of Octavia’s Bookshelf

Octavia’s Bookshelf

Pasadena
Pasadena is a famously book-friendly city, with bookstore royalty in the form of legendary Vroman’s and its own literary alliance. Now it has one of the most exciting new bookstores too. Octavia’s Bookshelf is owner Nikki High’s tribute to the science fiction master Octavia E. Butler, who was a Pasadena native herself. The name of the shop provides a clue into High’s inspiration, titles she imagines Butler would have had on her shelves, with a focus on BIPOC authors. The storefront is small, but the collection is impeccably curated and the space is cozy and welcoming for readers of all backgrounds.

Photo by Mads Gobbo, courtesy of North Figueroa Bookshop
Photo by Mads Gobbo, courtesy of North Figueroa Bookshop
Photo by Mads Gobbo, courtesy of North Figueroa Bookshop

North Figueroa Bookshop

Highland Park
Vertical integration can be a beautiful thing, especially when it allows independent creators more control over their products. The new North Figueroa Bookshop is a shining example of the concept, a storefront built on a collaboration between two publishers, Rare Bird and Unnamed Press. North Fig features titles from those presses, of course, including lots of striking literary fiction and memoir, but it also features a curated collection of other books. They’ve made it a point of emphasis to serve the needs of the local Highland Park, Glassell Park, Cypress Park, and Eagle Rock community-there’s lots of fiction from fellow independent publishers, other general interest titles with a focus on California history and literature, and plenty of Spanish-language books.

Photo by Karen Cohen Photography, courtesy of Zibby's Bookshop
Photo by Karen Cohen Photography, courtesy of Zibby’s Bookshop
Photo by Karen Cohen Photography, courtesy of Zibby’s Bookshop

Zibby’s Bookshop

Santa Monica
Speaking of vertical integration, there’s another new combined publisher and bookstore on the other side of town. Zibby’s Bookshop is the brainchild of Zibby Owens, Sherri Puzey, and Diana Tramontano, and it’s the physical home of Zibby Books, a literary press that releases one featured book a month. That system is designed so that each book gets the full attention and resources of the press. Owens is an author, podcaster, and book-fluencer, and she has become something of a lit-world mogul with a magazine, podcast network, event business, and an education platform too. The shop has a unique sorting system, built around a feeling for each book-in store many of the shelves are labelled by interest or personality type, like “For the foodie,” or “For the pop culture lover.” On their webshop, you can browse for books that make you cry, escape, laugh, lust, or tremble. There are recommendations from Owens and the staff, sections for local authors, family dramas, and books that have just been optioned. If this all seems a little overwhelming, you should probably avoid the section dedicated to books that make you anxious.

The Salt Eaters Bookshop

Inglewood
Inglewood native Asha Grant opened The Salt Eaters Bookshop in 2021 with a mission in mind-to centre stories with protagonists who are Black girls, women, femme, and/or gender-nonconforming people. Over the last year and change that it’s been open, it has also become a community hub, a place for Inglewood locals and people from across town to drop in, to see what’s new and to discover incredible works in the Black feminist tradition. They also host regular events like readings, discussions, and parties.

Lost Books

Montrose
Thankfully, legendary downtown bookshop The Last Bookstore’s name is hyperbole, and owners Josh and Jenna Spencer have even gone so far as to open a second shop, Lost Books in Montrose. Instead of the technicolour whimsy of the book tunnel at The Last Bookstore, Lost Books has a tunnel of plants that welcomes you into the shop, which opened in the summer of 2021. They sell those plants in addition to books, and coffee and vinyl too, which makes Lost Books a lovely destination and a fun little surprise in the quaint foothill town just off the 2 freeway.

Photo by Claudia Colodro, courtesy of Stories Books & Cafe
Photo by Claudia Colodro, courtesy of Stories Books & Cafe
Photo by Claudia Colodro, courtesy of Stories Books & Cafe

Stories Books & Cafe

Echo Park
Ok, this one is fudging the criteria a little-Stories has been open for almost 15 years. But over those years the shop has become a pillar of Echo Park community life, hosting readings, discussions, and events, and their cafe tables function as a de facto office for about half of the neighbourhood on any given afternoon. After the tragic recent passing of co-owner and Echo Park fixture Alex Maslansky it seemed like the shop’s future was in doubt, but thankfully after a brief hiatus co-owner and co-founder Claudia Colodro and the staff were able to band together to reopen and keep the beloved cafe and bookstore going strong.

Page Against the Machine

Long Beach
The name alone makes it clear what you’re getting at Page Against the Machine-revolutionary progressive books, with a collection centred on activist literature, socially conscious writing, and a whole lot of political history. The shop itself is small but the ideas are grand, with fiction by writers like Richard Wright, Colson Whitehead, and Albert Camus next to zines about gentrification and compendia of mushroom varieties. They also host regular readings and discussions.

Photo by Viva Padilla, courtesy of Re/Arte
Photo by Viva Padilla, courtesy of Re/Arte
Photo by Viva Padilla, courtesy of Re/Arte

Re/Arte Centro Literario

Boyle Heights
Boyle Heights has its own small but mighty combined bookstore, art gallery, gathering space, and small press in Viva Padilla’s Re/Arte. Padilla is a poet, translator, editor, and curator, and as a South Central LA native and the child of Mexican immigrants, she’s focused on Chicanx and Latinx art, literature, and social criticism. Re/Arte’s collection has a wide range of books, from classic Latin American literature to modern essays and everything in between. Re/Arte is also now the headquarters for sin cesar, a literary journal that publishes poetry, fiction, and essays from Black and Brown writers. There are always community-focused events happening too, from regular open mics and zine workshops to film screenings and more.

The Book Jewel

Westchester
Most bookshops host events, but few host them with the regularity of The Book Jewel, the two- year-old independent bookstore in Westchester. Their calendar is so full with readings, several different book clubs, signings, and meet and greets that there are sometimes multiple events on the same day. The shop also hosts a ton of family-focused readings, with regular storytime on Sunday mornings often followed by a talk with the author. It’s a great fit for the relatively low-key (but not exactly quiet) suburban neighbourhood, and it’s no coincidence that storytime lines up with the Westchester Farmers Market, which takes place right out front.

Reparations Club

West Adams
Most bookstores lean into coziness, aiming to be a hideaway for some quiet contemplation or maybe a quick sotto voce chat-not so at Reparations Club, the exuberant and stylish concept bookshop and art space on Jefferson. Owner and founder Jazzi McGilbert and her staff have built a beautiful and vibrant shop full of art from Black artists, including books but also records, candles, incense, clothing, and all sorts of fun things to discover. There’s a perfect seating area to sit and hang out for a while, and they host a range of wild and fun events from readings to happy hours, panel discussions to karaoke nights and more.

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Ben Mesirow is a Staff Writer at Thrillist.

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