Wednesday
Dec052012

Can A Sports Museum Score In Las Vegas? You Probably Shouldn't Bet Against It

By Barry Janoff

December 5, 2012: Pete Rose has made it into the Hall of Fame.

Not the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY, but Score!, a new 10,000 square-foot interactive sports museum located inside the Luxor in Las Vegas, a town in which Rose, often seen at local memorabilia events, has seemingly been forgiven for his baseball-related gambling indiscretions.

The 300-plus collection in Score!, valued in the millions of dollars, is on-loan from various halls of fame, sports organizations and private collections nationwide.

"This is the best of the best from each sport," said CEO Jim Beckmann, a self-described average fan who loves the history of sports. "The items will make your jaw drop."

Score! will have its official grand slam opening today (Dec. 5), which follows a Las Vegas celebrity-filled party last night with some 400 invited guests.

A 2,000 square-foot retail shop and TV studio have been opened for several months.

Score! has partnerships with such organizations as the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Hockey Hall of Fame, Naismith Basketball Memorial Hall of Fame, the International Boxing Hall of Fame, the U.S. Soccer Federation and Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

The museum does not have a partnership with the Baseball Hall of Fame, but the national pastime is well represented here thanks to items on-loan from private collections.

Artifacts range from game-used uniforms worn by Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb and Tom Seaver to Jim Brown's 1957 MVP trophy. Marcus Allen's 1981 Heisman Trophy (with the University of Southern California) and the championship cup won by the U.S. Women's National Soccer Team at the 1999 FIFA World Cup, whose squad was led by Mia Hamm, Julie Foudy, Kristine Lilly and Brianna Scurry.

A number of former pro athletes have already toured Score!, including Warren Moon, Willie Davis and Marcus Allen. Score! plans to have others attend as part of autograph signing sessions.

According to Beckmann, the concept for Score! was relatively the same as the reason most things happen in the city: To attract and entertain visitors in a unique atmosphere.

"Although it's not the first thing that comes to mind, sports tourism is a very big business here," said Beckmann. "But for that demo, there is not a lot to during the day. So we proposed a vision to MGM Resorts International (which owns the Luxor), which they liked. Then we set about the task of presenting the concept to different halls of fame around the country."

"They didn't want to hear Las Vegas and high-profile sports properties in the same sentence." It didn't help that a strip club named Scores is also located in town.

Beckmann said that people he contacted at various halls of fame were initially hesitant to align themselves with the project. "They didn't want to hear Las Vegas and high-profile sports properties in the same sentence." It didn't help that a strip club named Scores is located elsewhere in town.

For obvious reasons, the NFL, NBA, MLB and NHL do not have franchises in Sin City. But in addition to the billions of dollars in sports gambling, Las Vegas is a focal point for sports fans thanks to the Las Vegas Motor Speedway, golf, boxing, pro rodeo, college basketball tournaments, WWE, mixed martial arts, minor league hockey (the ECHL's Las Vegas Wranglers), events such as the Maaco Bowl college football game at Sam Boyd Stadium and the Las Vegas Locomotives of the fledging United Football League (currently on hiatus).

A major catalyst for Score! was the estate of the late Jock Smith, an esteemed attorney whose vast array of memorabilia included what was described as the world's largest private collection of game-worn jerseys. "There were thousands and thousands of pieces in his collection," said Beckmann, who was a business partner of Smith's.

After Smith passed away this past January, his daughter, Janay Smith, became involved in the proposed exhibit. According to Beckmann, Smith's family saw it as a way to share his collection and passion for sports with the public. (In addition to a storied decades-long career as an attorney, Smith founded Scoring For Life, Inc., a non-profit organization that sought to inspire and motivate teens and young adults to overcome challenges via the life stories of sports legends.)

Via Janay Smith, who is now president of Score!, the loan of 200 game-used jerseys from her father's collection helped to get the ball rolling, so to speak, for the arrival of other artifacts.

"There was a substantial amount of due diligence done by our hall of fame partners," said Beckmann. "Ultimately, they saw it as a great way to extend their brand and create exposure for their mission."

There are eight high-energy galleries. Each sport has its own section and even gets its own soundtrack, such as the theme from Rocky playing in the boxing area. There, in addition to items representing such classic fighters as Muhammad Ali and Jack Johnson, Score! has been given access to the $100 million library of boxing films from ESPN/Classic Sports, which enables visitors to get up-close and personal with the sport's all-time greats.

Among the artifacts in the auto racing gallery are personal items donated by Nascar drivers Kurt and Kyle Busch, who are natives of Las Vegas.

The display for Rose, who has been permanently banned from baseball (and from ever being inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame) due his association with gambling, includes a game-worn jersey, trophies and other one-of-a-kind items that reflect his 25-plus year MLB career as player and manager.

Given that he is a transplanted New Yorker, Beckmann can be forgiven when he talks in excited tones about the collection of Yankees items that are part of the baseball section. That includes game-worn jerseys from Jock Smith's collection of such Yankees legends as Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Reggie Jackson, Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera. "The spectacle of Yankees memorabilia is truly amazing," said Beckmann.

In addition to looking, Score! encourages visitors to be part of the action. Among its various interactive exhibits is one in which people, upon entering the location, can sign a faux contract on an iPad, work with a virtual agent and  build a career as a professional athlete in the sport of their choice. That includes getting a signing bonus check, a locker, being featured in a press release and magazine cover and ultimately, being inducted into a hall of fame.

The auto racing section has interactive exhibits that include a beat-the-clock challenge to change tires on a real race car. The football section enables visitors to test their skills in a combine setting. The hockey section allows people to get on a mini-rink to see how well they can mirror players in the real Hockey Hall of Fame.

Beckmann says he is aware of the Sports Museum of America, which opened in New York in May 2008 and featured memorabilia on-loan from more than 60 halls of fames and sports organizations. But it closed in February 2009, citing low attendance and financial difficulties.

"[The Sports Museum of America] was not helped by its location (in lower Manhattan) and problems that were happening at the time on Wall Street," said Beckmann. "We are in a high-traffic tourist location, with about 100,000 people at any given time located on a two-mile strip. We also don't have to compete with as much as they did in New York City, especially during the day in Las Vegas when people are looking for things to do."

With hours 10 AM-10 PM, seven days a week, even night owls can roll through the museum before rolling down the Strip.

According to Beckmann, working with the halls of fame and people such as Janay Smith "has been a real honor. At the end of the day, we want to be a destination where fantasy and reality create a perfect storm for sports fans."

Photos: Courtesy Score!

Asking Price For Sports Museum Of America: $5 Million

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