Welcome to Vegas' Super Bowl pool party

LAS VEGAS — To find the most fun place in Las Vegas to watch Super Bowl LVIII, don’t bother splurging on a ticket to the game.

Football paradise awaits those who venture a few freeway exits north of Allegiant Stadium to visit one of the city’s newest hotels and casinos.

The wow factor begins with the ascent from the casino floor to the pool deck via the state of Nevada’s tallest escalator. Anticipation builds as the din grows louder and partygoers get their first glimpse of the stunning video board.

The 143-foot screen displays an assortment of games all day, every day without a hint of midday glare. At its feet are six temperature-controlled pools, two hot tubs and an array of daybeds, chaise lounges and private cabanas, all gently tiered upward to guarantee unobstructed views of every key play. Two swim-up bars allow guests to order drinks without ever leaving the water. A DJ spinning high-energy hits keeps the party going during lulls in the on-screen action. There’s even a sports wagering window and poolside table games.

This is Stadium Swim, the most talked about attraction at the sports-centric Circa Resort & Casino. Owner and CEO Derek Stevens told Yahoo Sports he created the one-of-a-kind dayclub-sportsbook mashup to fill a void in the marketplace and to bolster his bid to make Circa a new mecca for sports gamblers.

“This was not built to be the best pool in downtown Vegas,” Stevens told Yahoo Sports. “This was not built to be the best pool in Las Vegas. This was not built to be the best pool in the West. This was built to be the best pool party venue in the country. We weren’t trying to do something a little better than a nice resort down the street. We were trying to drive people from around the country and internationally to come here.”

The drawing power of Stadium Swim will be on display Sunday when the San Francisco 49ers and Kansas City Chiefs meet on American sports’ biggest stage. Stevens expects a capacity crowd of 4,000 guests to descend on Stadium Swim to sip cocktails, dine on wagyu hotdogs and shredded brisket nachos and enjoy halftime and postgame pyrotechnics displays.

[How to watch the Super Bowl: TV channels, streaming and mobile options]

Among those planning to spend Super Bowl Sunday at Stadium Swim is Philip Nabal, a delivery company CEO from Newport Beach, Calif. He has taken family and friends to Stadium Swim for every Super Bowl since Circa opened in October 2020.

Nabal twice attended the Super Bowl in person in 1987 and 1993, but he never even considered buying tickets to this year’s game. Why endure traffic snarls, cramped seating and concession lines, Nabal says, when Stadium Swim offers “a VIP experience at one tenth the cost?”

“Stadium Swim is the closest you can come to experiencing the energy and spirit of a Super Bowl without spending the money, time and effort to go to one,” Nabal told Yahoo Sports. “I hope to go every single year, rain or shine.”

(Courtesy of Stadium Swim)
(Courtesy of Stadium Swim) (Black Raven Films)

The ‘grueling’ research behind Stadium Swim

The making of Stadium Swim began with a research assignment no one would pass up.

In 2017, Derek Stevens invited his team to crisscross the country with him visiting trendy pool parties in an effort to figure out which elements to incorporate at Circa and which to discard.

By this time, Stevens had gone from recreational gambler to seeking investments more profitable than laying down chips on green felt. The Detroit auto parts manufacturer moved to Las Vegas in 2006 and quickly secured a foothold in the downtown casino market, buying the Golden Gate and the Fitzgerald and giving both aging properties a facelift. Stevens expanded his empire from 2015-2017, buying up an entire city block’s worth of property and demolishing it to make space to construct Circa from the ground up.

The grueling work of checking out other pool parties began as Stevens was considering design possibilities for Circa. In the name of research, Stevens and his team visited day clubs in Las Vegas, Miami, Los Angeles, Scottsdale and Aspen.

“We weren’t just going to hang around, take notes and take pictures,” Stevens said. “We were going all in. If a table cost three grand, we were buying a table, we were getting full bottle service and we were going after it. Our goal was to try to have as much fun as we possibly could and if we remembered what we did the next day, we wrote it down.”

For a lifelong Detroit sports fan like Stevens and the other passionate sports fans on his team, the biggest takeaway was what all the other pool parties were missing. The music, cocktails and party vibes were great, but the Circa crew had a hard time watching their favorite teams or tracking their many sports wagers.

“We had so much money riding on the games,” Stevens recalled. “We’re all huddled around a phone trying to get an internet signal. We’re like, ‘This is stupid. Let’s build a big ol’ screen that everyone can see and enjoy at the same time.’”

Another of Stevens’ venues came in handy when he wanted to test that concept. In 2015, he opened the Downtown Las Vegas Events Center, an outdoor concert, festival and event space on the site where the Clark County Courthouse once stood.

When the expansion Las Vegas Golden Knights advanced to the Stanley Cup Finals during their inaugural NHL season in 2018, Stevens held playoff watch parties at the Downtown Las Vegas Events Center. He put up a 200-foot above-ground pool and set up a swim-up bar next to it as an experiment to see how people would react.

A couple hundred Golden Knights fans showed up the first time, Stevens said. The next game, it was a couple hundred more. By the Stanley Cup Finals, thousands of fans gathered to watch together, some wearing swimsuits and toting pool toys and beach balls.

“Whoa, we’re onto something here,” Stevens remembers thinking while surveying the crowd. Then, between sips of a drink, he’d sketch different versions of his concept for Stadium Swim on a cocktail napkin.

(Courtesy of Stadium Swim)
(Courtesy of Stadium Swim)

Combining sports and a pool party

The notion of combining sports with a pool party didn’t immediately click with everyone.

Stevens recalls financial consultants pleading with him not to bring up Stadium Swim when meeting with potential investors in New York. They told Stevens that it was “a stupid idea,” he says, and that “no one understands it.”

The negative feedback caused Stevens to briefly pause and reassess but he ultimately chose to plow ahead with his plans for Stadium Swim. The crowds at the Golden Knights watch parties are what gave him that confidence.

“We brought 8,000 people together to watch a big screen,” Stevens remembers thinking. “I know this is going to work.”

The first indicator that Stevens was right was the smiles on guests’ faces after Circa’s 12:01 a.m. grand opening on Oct. 28, 2020. Word that sports fans should not miss Stadium Swim spread quickly via TikTok, Instagram and glowing media coverage.

“Just imagine what it’s going to be like when it’s pool season — or when there’s a major sporting event,” the Las Vegas Review-Journal wrote.

“Never before has Las Vegas been more excited about a pool,” Las Vegas Locally tweeted.

On a chilly, 40-degree NFL Sunday in early January, a smattering of fans braved the heated pools and jacuzzis at Stadium Swim despite howling winds and a dusting of snow on the mountains in the distance. Among those was Denver couple Krissy Chaney and Scott Dent, neither of whom seemed bothered by the Broncos facing an early deficit against the Raiders or by the frigid weather

“It’s 10 degrees back home right now,” Chaney said. “This is nothing to us.”

The wind chill also didn’t keep New York college student Daniel Cossa from discarding his shirt and jumping in the pool. Cossa, whose father paid for his trip to Las Vegas as a Christmas gift, couldn’t stop marveling at the size and clarity of the towering screen behind him.

“I’ve never seen a screen this big in my life, to be honest,” he said.

Sunday, Las Vegas will be teeming with spots all over town to watch the Super Bowl. There will be all-you-can-drink-specials and prix fixe menus, pre-parties and after-parties, prop betting contests, fan caves and 360-degree screens. One well-known Las Vegas strip club is even advertising “sports viewing with a view.”

At Stadium Swim, a standing-room-only general admission ticket is the cheapest way to get into the venue on Super Bowl Sunday. Those were going for as low as $125 and are now available for $175-200 with the Super Bowl matchup set.

To reserve a daybed, small groups must guarantee they’ll spend at least $3,500 on food and drink. To reserve a sofa, it costs at least $4,000. The food and drink minimum rises to $12,000 for a heated cabana and to $30,000 for a luxury suite with a private bathroom, multiple living room areas and a dedicated VIP server.

While the Super Bowl Sunday forecast in Las Vegas projects clear skies and highs in the low 60s, Circa director of operations Chris Wilberding insists Stadium Swim can keep guests warm and cozy no matter the weather. Pool temperatures approach 100 degrees. Cabanas and suites are heated. And robes are available to guests who need them.

“We’re absolutely prepared if it’s not ideal weather,” Wilberding said before acknowledging that lightning is the one thing that can shut down Stadium Swim.

Asked how he thinks watching the Super Bowl at Stadium Swim compares to being in the stands at Allegiant Stadium, Wilberding said “he would rather watch the game from the pool at Stadium Swim than anywhere else in the world.”

It’s a bold statement, but some guests agree.

Last year, Dallas Cowboys superfan Steffi Portillo traveled from St. George, Utah, to Stadium Swim to watch the Chiefs edge the Eagles in Super Bowl LVII. Had the Cowboys advanced to this year’s Super Bowl, Portillo said she’d have opted to return to Stadium Swim rather than trying to find affordable game tickets.

“Being in the water watching my ‘Boys win, that’s the dream,” she said. “Rain, shine or snow, this is where you want to be.”