It’s Daniel Rush’s Hour in Las Vegas

Daniel Rush

Daniel Rush, CMP, CASE, vice president of global sports and event sales at MGM Resorts International, sees this weekend’s Duke-UNLV basketball game at the MGM-operated T-Mobile Arena as a stepping-stone. That’s not in the traditional sense.

Rush is already at the top of his game filling arenas and hotel rooms in Las Vegas. But he hopes T-Mobile Arena’s first college basketball game is a precursor to the NCAA reversing its policy on not holding championship events in gaming destinations. The appetite for the events in Vegas is evident—the same arena hosts the CBS Sports Classic featuring Ohio State vs. UCLA and Kentucky vs. North Carolina on Dec. 17. Connect Sports talked to Rush about his NCAA dreams, what the city’s new NHL team means for business and where MGM fits in with youth sports.

How do the upcoming basketball games play into the bigger picture? They’ve opened the door a little to a conversation with the NCAA to get it to reconsider its policy on hosting championship events in gaming destinations. Our conversations with the NCAA are how we can help them overcome their challenges. At the end of the day, there is a reason four college basketball tournaments are being played in Las Vegas—they are making money here. Las Vegas is a great destination. It drives attendance; people want to be here.

An NCAA policy reversal would allow for more than men’s basketball too. Ultimately, if the NCAA changes its position, we are interested in women’s basketball, volleyball, wrestling, gymnastics, fencing, etc. We are interested in finding programming in our three arenas to keep our rooms filled.

How is your push going with NGBs? I’ve made a lot of nice relationships, but have not been able to push through anything yet. Our model, because we are a for-profit company, makes it hard to compete with Tier 2 cities as far of what that can offer for rental for function space and arenas. It is a primary focus of mine. USA Volleyball is very attractive; USA Gymnastics is very attractive. We’re just waiting for one to confirm, and then there will hopefully be a trickle-down effect.

Since we last spoke, Las Vegas was awarded an NHL team, the Golden Knights. What effect does that have on the city and you? What it has done is add credibility as a city that can support a professional franchise. And when it’s all said and done, that’s 41 nights of programming at our arena. Another piece of my job is now reaching out to individual NHL teams and talking to their traveling secretaries about housing options. The cool thing about this company is within one-half mile of the arena, we have New York New York, MGM Grand, Bellagio, Aria, Vdara and Delano, all of which are pretty convenient.

What are NHL teams looking for in visiting cities? From what I understand by talking to teams, convenience to the arena is high and accessibility to shopping and dining is also high. We’re able to do that all in one building.

One issue to approach since this will be Vegas’ first pro sports teams will be gambling. How are teams approaching that? Honestly, we have not gotten far down that road yet. The reality is casinos are there. If the players want to play, they are going to find a way. There are not a lot of high-end nongaming products on the Strip. The assumption is these guys are professionals and get paid very well to do a job and they will not let the gambling get the best of them.

Is T-Mobile Arena the success MGM expected it to be? We saw a number where it was one of the top 10-producing arenas in the world for the year, and that’s running programming since it opened in April. We’re very happy. Ultimately, the goal is 150 events per year, plus the hockey.

Where does youth sports fit into all this activity? In addition to the high-profile events, our company does extremely well with housing blocks for soccer tournaments, lacrosse tournaments, softball and other youth sports. We do the Mayor’s Cup, Vegas Cup; the West Coast Dance Explosion is at the Mirage. We just booked the “In It to Win It” volleyball tournament at Mandalay Bay.  

Photo Credit: Chris Savas Photography