What Mark Davis' purchase means for the Aces
Davis aims for 'so much more recognition' for women's sports
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Mark Davis is expanding his sports empire in Las Vegas but doesn’t want the newly purchased Aces to get lost in the shuffle of the Raiders, the NFL team he moved to the desert last year.
Instead, Davis, who has been a season ticket-holder of the Aces in recent seasons and was inspired to buy the team in part to use his financial capital to expand the reach and economic scope of the league, is committed to giving the Aces better resources by taking advantage of their early adoption of the city as well as their business relationship with the Raiders.
“I believe these women are the greatest athletes in the world at what they do, and the difference they can make the community, with young women and the leadership roles they can give them, are limitless,” Davis said at his introductory press conference after the purchase was finalized this week.
Though Davis noted his appreciation for MGM International, who acquired the franchise in 2017 and moved it from San Antonio to Las Vegas, Davis also believes he can open up revenue streams and resources for the Aces that MGM did not.
To that end, construction is beginning on an 80,000-square-foot practice facility on Raiders Way just off the Strip, which will feature two full-size practice courts, offices for team staff, and brand new training and locker rooms for the players. The facility, which Davis said will provide the team “everything they need to become successful and say they’ve got a home in Las Vegas,” is expected to be completed in March 2022.
Since they moved to Las Vegas, the Aces have played their games at Mandalay Bay Events Center, in the basement of a convention center-like space. The team and its fans nicknamed the venue “The House” in reference to its home in the casino.
Davis said on the call that the franchise’s contract to play at Mandalay extends through 2021, after which point they have two option years when Davis and Aces management can decide whether to drop out of the deal. Mandalay Bay is one of just a few Strip properties still owned and operated by MGM, though it announced plans to move the property from its MGM Resorts subsidiary to a separate MGM Growth Properties LLC earlier this year. Because of that agreement, MGM controls revenue streams at Mandalay, including arena naming rights and in-house sponsorships.
Negotiations on those business decisions “will be made in the near future,” Davis said.
In its acquisition by Davis, the franchise is being turned over to a businessperson with a sizable pool of assets at his disposal and a familiarity with the Las Vegas landscape.
“We are confident that Mark’s business successes, franchise and brand expertise, and passion for supporting women’s basketball will take the team to even greater heights,” WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert said in a statement. “We are extremely grateful to MGM International Resorts for their tremendous franchise leadership over the past few years, and we look forward to their continued support of the Aces in the Las Vegas community.”
More broadly, Davis hopes to use his involvement with the Aces and the WNBA to keep interest and momentum behind women’s sports “consistent” over time, rather than based around Olympic or World Cup schedules. He also stated he believes in the kind of activism we saw across the WNBA in 2020, including from his franchise stars A’ja Wilson and Liz Cambage, who were front and center much of the year during social uprisings around the globe in response to the killing of George Floyd.
“Rather than emotionally attacking that type of thing, I believe that the WNBA flipped the Senate this year in Georgia by using the vote as their weapon rather than anger or anything else,” Davis said. “And there’s so much to learn from how they did that, and when you talk about role models and how society needs to work going forward, there’s so much to learn from.”
In the future, Davis said he believes Las Vegas sports fans could see some overlap between activism and community engagement between the Aces and Raiders, especially as fans and staff return to the city to more properly integrate themselves. This was the first season in Las Vegas for the Raiders, but due to local regulations, the staff was not allowed back into the office until recently and Davis himself did not even attend a home game.
When it comes to the Aces, Davis wants to leave the basketball operations to Bill Laimbeer, the head coach and VP of basketball ops, and general manager Dan Padover.
“I respect Bill Laimbeer more than you know,” Davis said. “This is Bill’s team. I think he’s the face of this franchise. He’s built this franchise.”
Still, in its relative infancy, the Aces franchise could see a rapid build-out of its infrastructure and reach under Davis, and the new team governor sees an opportunity to grow the game and its fanbase, too. Rather than speak on that in his first press conference since buying the team, however, Davis said that as a “rookie” in the league, he’d leave that to his “elders” and learn as he goes.