Reno: The Biggest Little Sports Town
Reno has had a storied history with professional sports teams moving to the city, and unfortunately, teams leaving as well.
But many officials say the time for teams to move to Northern Nevada is now.
"Professional sports have never been more evident in the city of Reno," said Reno Mayor Hillary Schieve.
Things weren't always this way. Many Minor League teams have called the Biggest Little City home over the years - The Reno Silver Sox, the original Reno Aces hockey team, and the first installment of the Reno Bighorns. All of which left town.
"Those three had their runs and left for various reasons- you know, baseball because of facilities, the original Bighorns because of money, and so that’s what the transition amounted to," said Dan Gustin, longtime Nevada broadcaster and former Reno City Council Member.
As more people move to the area, the Minor League market is seeing a bigger fan base.
"I think as the population has grown and people have moved east to west, that’s really generated the desire to have more spectator sports,” said Bill Dunne, Reno Revitalization Manager.
Reno welcomes a new United Soccer League team this year, and a hockey team is slated to join the market in 2018.
“That would give us four of the five most major sports in the country and really in the world now, with soccer. I think it’s really exciting for Reno, it’s giving us credibility as a city when it comes in terms of professional sports teams,” said Keenan Polan, Reno Bighorns President.
With a population size of nearly a half-million, Reno is currently the largest city in the United States without a professional hockey team.
“You start to look at markets that make sense, and one of those markets that obviously makes sense is Reno. That’s why we’ve been spending a lot of time there. Reno is the largest city in America that doesn’t have any ice whatsoever,” said Ken Lehner, Managing partner of the Reno Puck Club.
The new team will mean more use out of the Reno Events Center, a facility that the city's revitalization manager says is vacant about 300 days every year.
“It’s a significant investment on the part of the taxpayers. It’s a city-owned facility so we want to see more life into it. More life is going to mean more activity downtown, it’s going to benefit the businesses downtown. You know it’s just an opportunity to take an under-performing asset and have it start generating enthusiasm and excitement,” said Dunne.
Reno City officials hope they'll also be able to use the ice rink to host entertainment shows on ice and bring more people into the downtown area.
But some are still worried that history will repeat itself, and these teams won't last.
Reno's new professional soccer team hits the pitch at Greater Nevada Field in March. Find out how they plan to change the game for sports fans in the Biggest Little City in part two of this story.
Hockey players are slated to hit the ice at the Reno Events Center by 2018. In part two of this series, News 4 takes a look at the newest sports team in the area.
Soccer is already here. The Reno 1868 FC has been practicing at Greater Nevada Field, getting ready for their inaugural season.
While there are skeptics about bringing another team to Reno, City officials think a soccer club will likely knock our local sports industry out of the park.
"And speaking of home runs, we have really scored big in sports this year,” said Reno Mayor Hillary Schieve.
Reno Aces President Eric Edelstein has been singing a similar tune. He now oversees operations for Reno 1868 FC, and he hopes the new team will fill more seats throughout the year.
“I think we’re very fortunate in Northern Nevada to have a venue like this and adding soccer just gives us more of an opportunity to use it and keep furthering that vision of being the community,” said Edelstein.
Part of that vision is reaching out to different demographics in Northern Nevada. Aside from a brief stay by the Reno Rattlers in the 1990's, pro soccer is one of the only major sports Reno is missing. 1868 FC General Manager Andy Smith believes that his team could create an entirely new fanbase in the area.
“I think the biggest piece with us working with the Aces is the fact that a lot of it is different demographics. We skew a little bit younger than baseball, the Hispanic population has come out to our first two exhibition games and you know, the millennials have gotten well behind this in other markets. For us, we feel it’s going to be serving different parts of this city that haven’t had a chance to experience the sport," said Smith.
Despite the recent success of sports franchises in Northern Nevada, there will always be critics. After the Sacramento Kings took controlling ownership of their D-League affiliate, rumors surfaced about the Bighorns moving west.
The NBA team's president says that's not in the cards for Reno, however.
“Reno is strategically important to the Kings brand, so we have every intention of being here; we’re going to continue to invest in the team, the business, the basketball, and in the community. We just want to grow the Kings brand of basketball through the Bighorns here in Reno. And we think Reno is a great market so we’ll be here for a while,” said Chris Granger, Sacramento Kings President.
Because teams have come and gone, many Reno fans will remain cautiously optimistic. Schieve thinks the odds are ever in Reno's favor.
“I say let the games begin Reno,” she said.
During both soccer matches at Greater Nevada Field last year, fans filled nearly 6,000 seats. 1868 FC General Manager Andy Smith believes that number will only grow with Reno having its own club.