Oct. 19 saw one of the most important events ever to happen in Las Vegas. It wasn’t CES, Garth Brooks at the T-Mobile Center, or the Mayweather vs. Pacquiao fight − it was the final presidential debate of the 2016 election. Regardless of how each candidate was seen as performing, and regardless of who will win on Nov. 9, the event is already a success for Las Vegas, both the brand and the community many of us call home.
Las Vegas has never before been seen as a natural fit for this type of large political event. A U.S. president had never visited Las Vegas until 1935, when FDR opened the Hoover Dam. The area has been talked about as a host site for both the Republican and Democratic national conventions since at least the 1980s, but the city’s largest venue at the time, the Thomas & Mack Center on the UNLV campus, was considered not large enough.
That all has started to change recently. Las Vegas hosted primary debates for both the Democratic and Republican parties. Nevada’s battleground-state status and diversity of economics, ethnicity and geography make it a valuable bellwether campaign stop and an attractive venue for candidates. While presidents are no longer a rare sight in Las Vegas, the debate was a unique event. It’s also the first collaboration between a university and a destination marketing body to hold one of these events. The LVCVA and UNLV partnered together throughout the process to secure and produce the Las Vegas debate.
Here are some key facts about the debate held on Oct. 19:
- Two years prior to the event, potential host sites begin by getting their applications to the Commission on Presidential Debates, the nonpartisan body that organizes the general election debates. The criteria is incredibly strict and detailed, and the criteria for selection is 19 pages long.
- 16 other communities applied for the privilege of hosting one of the three presidential and one vice presidential debates in 2016. Most of the debate sites have historically been universities.
- Four host sites were chosen − The Wright State University in Ohio, Longwood University in Virginia, Washington University in Missouri, and the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Wright State pulled out of the debates in July 2016, and Hofstra University in Long Island, N.Y., was chosen as a replacement.
- Two of the 2016 hosts had held presidential debates before. Hofstra has held three consecutive presidential debates since 2008. Washington University has hosted five different presidential and vice presidential debates.
- $85 million worth of worldwide publicity for Las Vegas was generated by September 2016, with the final number still being tabulated and expected to peak at well over $100 million.
- 5,000 journalists from around the world traveled to Las Vegas to cover the final presidential debate, most staying for almost a full week. This was double the expected figure.
- Three TV networks, CNN, Bloomberg and MSNBC, broadcast from the UNLV campus in the days leading up to the debate.
- 6 million TV viewers watched the evening’s debate, the third most watched TV debate of all time.
The general feeling among political pundits and local observers was that the debate was a resounding success, and that the publicity value for both the university and the destination is priceless. With many experts predicting that we will be the site of a future national political convention − its further proof to what those of us who understand Las Vegas already know. Whether it’s the world’s best tourist destination, the center of most industries’ leading business events, or one of the most vibrant political scenes in the country − Las Vegas is always the right place to be.