For the third time in just over a year, an NFL team is on the move.
On Monday, NFL owners gave the Oakland Raiders the green light to relocate to Las Vegas, joining the Los Angeles Rams and Chargers as recent transplants. The Raiders are expected to start playing in Sin City as soon as 2018, with a new stadium opening a couple of years after that.
The Raiders have been in Oakland, Los Angeles and back to Oakland. Will Vegas finally be home, sweet home?
John: Well, if the message wasn’t clear before, it sure as heck is now: cities better be prepared to pony up or shut up. Bow down and kiss the NFL’s ring (shield?) or lose your team.
Public officials have pledged almost $1 billion in public funding to lure the Raiders to Vegas. It’s an absurd amount of money, no question. But let’s set aside the politics and economics of this deal and instead explore the future of the Raiders and the league following this move.
The main question is: Can the NFL survive — and thrive — in Vegas? I certainly wouldn’t bet on it (sorry).
The first issue is the lack of a local fan base. Las Vegas will be one of the league’s smallest media markets. There are 2 million local residents, and many of them are transplants from other parts of the country. That means they probably already root for the Steelers or Cowboys or Vikings. So where does that leave the Raiders?
Now, I’m sure many fans from around the country will travel to Vegas to see their local teams play there — especially during the dead of winter. That makes for a fun weekend getaway for those fans, but the end result is that the stadium could end up being a home away from home for each week’s road team. That doesn’t seem like a recipe for long-term success, does it?
Andy: The Raiders switch homes like celebrities switch wives. But I’m a little surprised by this one. The NFL just approved the movement of a team in, depending on what source you go to, a top six media market to one in the low 40s. Las Vegas will be entertaining, but I think what this says to me is that cities are starting to catch on to this game a bit, maybe.
There are very few untapped markets among the top 40 cities without NFL teams that are mentioned as potential targets. And now that L.A. is filled, where are they going to threaten to go next? Columbus? Salt Lake City? West Palm Beach? Portland?
While the Rams experiment seemed to go all right last season, I think the big picture here is that the NFL may have saturated its list of potential markets and lost its biggest bargaining chip when St. Louis moved back to L.A.
Now, to John’s point, will Las Vegas prosper in the NFL? I have the same question. And I have no idea.
It could boil down to this: Single-game tickets – will fans who travel to Vegas during the NFL season to bet on football leave their casinos to go watch the Raiders play in person? Or do they stay at their casino to watch their bets play out?
Maybe I’m wrong, but on my own trips to Sin City, I’ve talked to a number of locals who say they never or almost never play the casinos. If that logic holds true on whether or not they attend professional sporting events … I think the NFL and the Raiders have a hard road ahead.
John: Good point, Andy. The NFL had been hanging Los Angeles over many cities’ heads for years, and then quickly shifted its focus to Las Vegas. So, where’s the next figurative gun to the head?
I think the Raiders move makes the answer pretty clear: Any market that will pay a king’s ransom to get its own team. I mean, seriously–who ever would have imagined that the NFL would go all-in on the nation’s gaming capital without any major signs of trepidation?
In reality, as long as there are only 32 teams, there’s always going to be someone on the outside looking to get in (including recently jilted St. Louis, San Diego and Oakland). And it’s a lot easier for a market to support the NFL’s 16-game schedule than any other pro sport.
At the end of the day, the NFL is probably hoping to go international sooner rather than later. The most likely targets include Canada, Mexico and England, but eventually that could expand to markets like China, too.
Yes, there would be major logistical issues with going international. But that doesn’t mean the NFL won’t at least use it as a threat.
Andy: What you said could be a post onto itself – and it’s one of the reasons I think the NFL needs to extricate itself from the Roger Goodell fiasco sooner rather than later. The idea of a single NFL team headquartered in London or another overseas market is ridiculous. The logistics of travel alone should keep the NFL from that failure of an idea. Three games a year over there is a novelty, so fans keep coming out in relatively good numbers. A team playing a full season over there? How exactly do you plan to make that work?
That said, I think you are right about Canada and Mexico. If you throw Toronto and/or Mexico City into the mix, the league probably has some potential options.
But this Las Vegas thing remains a big question mark. Green Bay, currently the smallest market in the NFL, works in part because there is virtually nothing else to do or follow in that town the rest of the year.
Las Vegas? There’s a distraction on every street corner. The financial package is impressive, but that comes with no guarantees that this move is going to work in the long run.