By Adam Candee
<candee@lasvegassun.com>
LAS VEGAS SUN

Jim Ferraro moved his Arena Football League franchise from New Jersey to Las Vegas in December 2002, gambling that he could buck the city's history of rejecting even the most noble of sporting franchises.

And as noble an idea as he feels moving the Montreal Expos to Las Vegas would be, Ferraro said recently that he is just fine watching someone else gamble their money on selling Major League Baseball on the Strip.

"I'm not so sure it's the right place, but who knows," Ferraro said.

As he prepares for the Las Vegas Gladiators' third season in town, Ferraro can speak with some authority about the changing sporting climate of the city. He has watched his team draw respectable, but far from overwhelming, crowds for two years at the Thomas & Mack Center, averaging just under 10,000 tickets sold -- and closer to 7,000 actual attendance -- per game in 2004. By Las Vegas historical standards, that is not bad.

Ferraro acknowledged in 2002 and reiterated Thursday that he did not expect the Gladiators to really establish themselves in Las Vegas until their third season, putting some onus on the upcoming year. He still feels strongly that sports can work in the valley.

"Vegas is a major-league city," Ferraro said. "It deserves all these sports franchises."

But that is tempered praise from Ferraro, who went on to say that he would want no more than a small part of the risk involved in relocating baseball's nomad franchise to Las Vegas. To draw the kind of crowds necessary for financial stability through 81 home games over six months, in addition to keeping enough year-round event traffic in the proposed facility to make the building profitable, is an endeavor that Ferraro worries could be a struggle.

That goes not only for the Expos themselves, but also for the city's credibility in attracting major sports as it continues to grow in size and respectability as a market for professional teams.

"If it doesn't work, it will be a black eye for Vegas for potential sports teams," Ferraro said.

His better idea? It's not a new one -- professional basketball in Las Vegas.

"I personally would be more interested in doing a basketball team than a baseball team because basketball has a track record there," Ferraro said, noting how fans supported UNLV through its heyday in the 1980s and 1990s.

Success for an outfit such as the Gladiators is measured on a much different scale than it would be for the Expos. Ferraro said that given some anticipated improvement in sponsorship deals in 2005, the Gladiators can certainly be profitable for the first time in three years if they average 12,000 tickets sold per game.

"We'll actually make a profit next year," Ferraro said.