Super Sports Weekend

Cinco de Mayo sets tone for busy sports week on the Strip

Las Vegas has its share of superb sports weekends. The ones that immediately jump to mind, of course, are the Super Bowl and the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament. And, really, even the subsequent weekends of the NCAA Tournament are amazing.

But one weekend is almost sneaky good for sports, and it’s not the capper to football season, the beginning of football season or the height of March Madness.

It’s a typically beautiful midspring weekend marked by one important historical event: Cinco de Mayo, the date observed to commemorate the Mexican Army’s victory over French forces at the Battle of Puebla in 1862. In the United States, Cinco de Mayo has evolved into a celebration of Mexican-American culture.

In Las Vegas, a part of that annual celebration is a major Saturday night boxing card, usually involving standout fighters of Mexican heritage. That’s most certainly the case this year with Saúl “Canelo” Alvarez and Julio César Chávez Jr., son of legendary fighter Julio César Chávez Sr., at the top of the card.

As even many casual sports fans know, though, the first Saturday of May also is marked by one massively popular, long-running sporting event: the Kentucky Derby.

Providing a tourist-driving doubleheader for Las Vegas, sports books will be overflowing and party rooms booked during the day for the annual Run for the Roses. Then, the evening will follow with a packed arena by those ready to witness the sweet science by some of the best fighters on the planet.

“The biggest impact is having Cinco de Mayo fall on a Friday, heading into a weekend,” said Jeremy Handel, senior director of communications for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority. “The combo with the Kentucky Derby has been there a long time, and it’s been a draw in Las Vegas for a long time. Other than at the race, this is the best place to be. And then there’s the fight, which is another big draw. From the standpoint of promotion, the fight, the Kentucky Derby and Cinco de Mayo all go together great.”

The Kentucky Derby should start around 3:30 p.m., but it’s worth it to take in the full day of flavor at the books or hotel viewing parties around town. Races will be broadcast all daylong in addition to NBA and NHL playoff games plus, of course, baseball games.

But as post time rolls around, it’s all about the racing, which is typically spectacular and lives up to its billing: “The greatest two minutes in sports.” Many bettors and even casual fans bust out their best derby gear. Yes, ladies, that includes the extravagant hats.

“The Derby has been strong the last few years, with some really good horses and stories behind the horses, and I hope we continue that this year,” said Jay Rood, vice president of race and sports for MGM Resorts International, whose books up and down the Strip generally are packed throughout race day.

Then, of course, in keeping with the Cinco de Mayo theme is the Saturday night fight featuring two outstanding boxers.

“That’s going to be a great fight, and the crowd should have a fantastic time,” Handel said.

“T-Mobile has been a great addition to the destination,” he added, noting that the new T-Mobile Arena will bolster the spectacle. “Having that 20,000-seat arena gives us more opportunity to attract events we couldn’t have attracted before. Take a weekend like Cinco de Mayo, and take the fight to a bigger venue and a bigger audience, we can attract more people to town.”

Richard Sturm, president of sports and entertainment for MGM Resorts International, agreed that the impact of the sparkling, state-of-the-art venue cannot be underestimated.

“T-Mobile Arena opened one year ago and already has hosted some of the biggest events in the industry, including championship boxing and UFC, major concerts and, most recently, the Academy of Country Music Awards,” Sturm said.

“The Alvarez versus Chavez event is going to be big for the sport, fight fans worldwide and the Las Vegas community. It features two popular fighters with a lot of history involved in the event as well. This is definitely one you’re going to want to watch. We look forward to the (fight) and anticipate additional Cinco de Mayo weekend events in the years ahead.”

And, just as with the Kentucky Derby, ample betting on the fight is expected at Las Vegas sports books.

“This weekend in Vegas is really driven by the boxing match,” Rood said. “With the retirement of Floyd Mayweather Jr., the weekend has been a bit flat. But the Canello-Chavez fight is a great matchup. I’m expecting low- to mid-Mayweather type of betting handle, and I expect big crowds and a great fight.”

There’s a bonus to this sports-filled weekend, too, which Rood said shouldn’t be overlooked.

“Well, unless you like the ponies or fights, I can see how it would not be a big weekend for many,” Rood said. “But when you add in NBA playoffs and NHL playoffs, and the start of baseball season, it can be a very exciting weekend.”

Handel agreed, saying that all around, Cinco de Mayo weekend is full of surprises for folks coming to town.

“It’s one of those types of weekends we can’t count the numbers for because about the only thing we can measure is the fight,” he said. “But we know a lot of people are here enjoying the Kentucky Derby, the fight, the sports books. It’s going to be a great weekend.

“I think what’s really different about Cinco de Mayo is that it’s a very diverse weekend, as to why people are here. People celebrating Cinco de Mayo, maybe attending the prizefight, but then you have the horse racing people. People find out, ‘Oh, all these other things are going on.’”

Sturm added, “As the Entertainment Capital of the World, Las Vegas hosts the biggest names in sports and entertainment for major shows and events. Cinco de Mayo weekend is a popular event weekend for visitors, and we see that in our sold-out arena events, production shows, hotel rooms, etc.”

Indeed, no matter what brings tourists to town — whether it’s sporting events, holidays, parties, conventions or just a Vegas getaway — you’ll undoubtedly find more than you expected.

“We get a lot of weekends like that in Vegas, around an event or a convention,” Handel said. “It’s one of those great benefits to holding an event in Las Vegas. You never know what else is going on — always. And again, having Cinco de Mayo fall on a Friday should really help make it a great weekend. We think it’ll be fantastic.”