How One Las Vegas Arena Plans to Bounce Back from the Pandemic

The home arena to the Golden Knights, UFC, and hundreds of concerts.

T Mobile Arena
Photo by Al Powers, courtesy of T Mobile Arena

Five years ago, the last thing Las Vegas seemed to need was another arena. There were already two on the Strip (the MGM Grand Garden Arena and Mandalay Bay Events Center), another off the Strip (the Orleans Arena) and a fourth on campus at UNLV (the Thomas & Mack Center). If you needed to get anywhere between 5,000 and 18,000 people together under a single roof, at least one of those places would do the job. Anything larger in scale (say, a U2 concert or a monster truck rally) could book the 40,000-seat Sam Boyd Stadium in the east end of the valley. 

But Vegas lives by a certain philosophy: There’s always room for more.

It's hard to believe, but April 6 marks five years since the T-Mobile Arena debuted with a grand opening celebration that included performances by a pair of Las Vegas favorites: The Killers and Wayne Newton. A couple nights later, Guns n' Roses played the first official date of their long-awaited "Not In This Lifetime" reunion tour (which, interesting to note, is also celebrating a fifth anniversary, since it never quite seems to end, despite a pause during the pandemic).

Rock shows are cool, but there's another reason the T-Mobile Arena was significant. Las Vegas wanted a major league sports team to call its own. Something big. Something that would add a new level of excitement to a tourist destination known for casinos, restaurants, and all forms of imaginable entertainment. Less than three months after the T-Mobile Arena opened its doors, the NHL announced Las Vegas would host an expansion team the following year.  

"The previous arenas are great, but they were not specifically designed for large-scale professional sports teams or large-scale national sports activity," says George Kliavkoff, President of Entertainment & Sports for MGM Resorts. "And we specifically designed the T-Mobile Arena to be able to host an NHL team—and an NBA team, if that ever comes to the city."

T Mobile Arena
Photo courtesy of T Mobile Arena

Bright Lights and Magic on the Ice

The rollout of the Vegas Golden Knights drew fierce discussion about the logo, colors, and name. What was a "Golden Knight" anyway? And why isn't there a "Las" in the formal branding? 

But those sports bar debates disappeared almost instantly. The Vegas Golden Knights played their first official game at the T-Mobile Arena on October 10, 2017, nine days after the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history killed 60 people and injured hundreds more at a country music festival on the Strip. 

While Las Vegans rallied together to donate blood, raise millions for the victims and their families, and cope with unimaginable grief, the home season debut of the Golden Knights transformed into something more. From the emotions of a pregame ceremony honoring victims and first responders to the exhilaration of the game itself, the T-Mobile Arena became a church that night. The Knights earned a 5-2 victory over the Colorado Avalanche—with four of those goals scored in the first 10 minutes of the game. The ovation for each score was a deafening release as the city bonded over something new to call their own. 

The Vegas Golden Knights would go on to achieve what many thought was impossible, reaching the Stanley Cup finals in their inaugural season. Along the way, the T-Mobile Arena 

became synonymous with local pride, affirming that community spirit could exist in a tourist destination known for its transient population. 

elton john concert
Photo by Ben Gibson Photo, courtesy of T Mobile Arena

Tapping into the Tourist Market

The T-Mobile Arena cost $375 million to build and sits on 16 acres of the Las Vegas Strip. Five years later, the joint project between MGM Resorts and AEG (Anschutz Entertainment Group) still feels brand new. The lines are sleek. The colors are bright. The sound is incredible—and so is the atmosphere. The steep bowl design of the venue makes the cheap seats feel closer than they really are. This is Vegas, so the arena goes overboard with VIP options—at a premium, of course—including "bunker suites" underneath the lower bowl that open up with special access to the center of the main floor. 

True to Vegas form, the T-Mobile Arena even has a residency. George Strait signed up to play a weekend of dates four times a year, often coinciding with holidays and rodeo events. So far, the country star has played 28 shows and sold 460,000 tickets. 

As can be expected, the T-Mobile Arena is the best place to see a fight in Vegas. It's the official home arena of the UFC and has hosted 16 events from the mixed martial arts organization. The venue is also responsible for eight championship boxing fights, including three of the top-five highest grossing events in Nevada history (Floyd Mayweather vs. Conor McGregor and two battles between Canelo Alvarez and Gennady Golovkin).  

T Mobile Arena
Photo courtesy of T Mobile Arena

An Intermission During the Pandemic

A little over a year ago, the T-Mobile Arena was in the middle of hosting the Pac 12 Men's Basketball Tournament when it was forced to close as part of the Nevada-wide shutdown to curb the spread of COVID-19. As the pandemic continued, the arena remained quiet for months.

Yet much like the rest of Las Vegas, the T-Mobile Arena is showing signs of life, playing a role in the early stages of a Sin City comeback story. Fans were permitted to return to the arena in February at 15% capacity—now bumped up to 22%, which is about 3,600 people per game, with season ticket holders given first access. 

"We're hoping by the playoffs, we'll be allowed to have close to a full house," says Kliavkoff. "That's wishful thinking, but we hope it will happen." 

Beyond hockey, tickets are currently on sale for Justin Bieber (June 4), Michael Buble (September 24), Luke Combs (September 25), My Chemical Romance (October 8) and if you really want to plan ahead, The Weeknd (April 23, 2022). Keep in mind—all dates can be postponed at any given time.  

UFC President Dana White has indicated he won't return to the T-Mobile Arena until fans are allowed in at full capacity. The company currently has upcoming events scheduled without restrictions for arenas in Florida and Texas. However, it would make sense for the July 10 showdown between Conor McGregor and Dustin Poirier to headline a return to the T-Mobile Arena, coinciding with International Fight Week, a series of fan-focused events that traditionally take place in July. "I hope so," said White during a recent press conference. "That's the plan."

Photo courtesy of T Mobile Arena

Betting on the Future

The success of the Golden Knights and the T-Mobile Arena paved the way for sports to grow even further throughout Las Vegas. Most notably, the construction of the 65,000-seat Allegiant Stadium, which brought the Raiders to town last year. The stadium is currently hosting tours and if all goes well, will welcome its first fans for NFL games later this year. 

Since the Golden Knights first took to the ice, we've also seen the arrival of the Aces from the WNBA to the Michelob Ultra Arena (formerly the Mandalay Bay Events Center) and the Las Vegas Lights soccer team to Cashman Field. Meanwhile, the 51s, a minor-league baseball team, was renamed the Aviators and moved into the new Las Vegas Ballpark in Summerlin. The Silver Knights hockey team (a minor league affiliate of the Golden Knights) is playing at the Orleans Arena with their own dedicated venue in the works for Henderson next year. 

That's a lot of sports in a short amount of time. It's a dramatic turnaround for Las Vegas, where legal betting was often believed to be a stigma that kept professional sports leagues at arm's length. 

Even college-level competition is coming around. The NCAA recently lifted its policy prohibiting championship games in states with legal single-game sports betting. That opened the door for Nevada and the T-Mobile Arena was named host of the West Regional (Sweet 16 and Elite 8 rounds) for the Men's Basketball Tournament in 2023, its first year of eligibility. The venue will also welcome the "Frozen Four" of college championship ice hockey in 2026. 

"I don't think the city would have gotten those events if we didn't have the T-Mobile arena," says Kliavkoff.     

And ultimately, that may be the true legacy of the venue—kicking down the door for professional sports while elevating an already vibrant entertainment scene. 

"Even though it's only five years, the T-Mobile Arena and the investment in that building was really the catalyst for making Vegas not just the entertainment capital of the world, but the sports capital of the world," adds Kliavkoff. 

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Rob Kachelriess has been writing about Las Vegas in Thrillist for more than seven years. His work has also appeared in Travel + Leisure, Trivago Magazine, Sophisticated Living, Modern Luxury, Leafly, Las Vegas Magazine, and other publications. He's saving up for bunker suite passes. Follow him on Twitter @rkachelriess.