Known for the next decade as the first bowl each season, the event was switched to later in the month starting in 2001 when hometown entry UNLV defeated Arkansas on December 21. That was the same year that ESPN Regional Television (ERT) now known as ESPN Events, a subsidiary of ESPN Inc., assumed the ownership and management of the Las Vegas Bowl.
Games on Christmas Day and then Christmas Eve were staged before organizers settled on a pre-holiday kickoff to annually pit teams from the Pac-12 and Mountain West conferences against each other at Sam Boyd Stadium.
Overall, the Mountain West and Pac-12 have met head-to-head 13 times in Las Vegas, with the MW winning seven of those battles. No less than nine of the current members of the Pac-12 conference (all but Stanford, Colorado and Washington State) have appeared in the bowl while 10 of the current 12 MW teams have appeared in the game (all but Hawai’i and San Jose State).
The Las Vegas Bowl has enjoyed crowds of more than 32,000 for 10 consecutive seasons, including sellouts in eight of the last 11 years. On Dec. 21, 2006, BYU defeated Oregon in front of what is still the largest crowd to ever witness a team sporting event in the state of Nevada – 44,615.
In its first 24 years of existence, the bowl attracted more than 400,000 out-of-town visitors and pumped nearly $300 million into the local economy in non-gaming revenue alone.
In 2011, the inaugural class of the Las Vegas Bowl Hall of Fame was inducted to help commemorate reaching the 20-year milestone. The group was made up of NFL star and former Oregon State RB Steven Jackson, CFL record-holder and former Utah State QB Anthony Calvillo, former NFL and UNLV coach John Robinson, and Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA) president and one of the game’s founding fathers, Rossi Ralenkotter. The second class will be honored in December 2016.
The 2012 game drew the game’s second-highest-rated telecast in a decade and third-highest in its 21-year history. Boise State’s thrilling 28-26 victory over first-time visitor Washington earned a rating of 3.3 on ESPN. The only game that drew a better rating was played on Christmas Day 2001 as Utah’s win over USC remains the highest-rated Las Vegas Bowl in history with a household TV rating of 4.7.
The 2015 Las Vegas Bowl featured the Utes of the University of Utah and the Cougars from BYU. For the third consecutive year, ABC broadcasted the game for a 12:30pm PT kickoff. The Utes jumped out to an early 35-0 lead and held BYU to a final score of 35-28.
The 2016 Las Vegas Bowl featured the Cougars of the University of Houston and the Aztecs from San Diego State University. For the fourth consecutive year, ABC broadcasted the game for a 12:30pm PT kickoff. The Cougars jumped out to an early 10-0 lead but The Aztecs responded with 34 answered points for a 34-10 victory. SDSU RB Donnel Pumphrey also became the all-time NCAA rushing leader with a 15-yard rush in the 4th quarter of the game.