LAS VEGAS--Let me be blunt. I am delighted that Las Vegas is getting a National Football League franchise. I think the people of this city will support it. I think this is a community that will embrace the NFL the way other small markets like Green Bay and Buffalo have already done.
The move of the Raiders is only part of perhaps the biggest story of the last two decades in the National Football League. It was not just that the owners voted Monday in Phoenix to allow the exit out of Oakland. The bigger impact is that their 31-1 vote showed that they have overwhelmingly gotten past the gambling issue – the roadblock that has kept major professional sports out of Las Vegas.
As former Green Bay Packers vice president Andrew Brandt asked me Monday: “A couple years ago could you really imagine the NFL so opposed to gambling moving to the capital of gambling for the country? It doesn’t seem to be an issue. The NFL has talked about a lot of things about concerns with Vegas – small market, tourism market, is it going to be sustainable? – but down the list seems to be gambling.”
With the Raiders coming to Las Vegas, there is absolutely no reason for anybody to oppose expansion of legalized sports gambling in the United States. The National Hockey League and the National Football League have ensconced themselves in Vegas. Why should Nevada, then, be the only state where you are betting on these teams? Why isn’t it legal to bet on the Packers in Wisconsin or the Dolphins in Florida? And let me make it perfectly clear. Las Vegas will still be taking bets on Raiders games even when they start playing here.
But there is another side to all this.
I feel horrible for the loyal Oakland fans who for the second time are losing the Raiders. There is no way I can sugarcoat it. I have always been on the record against movement by any professional sports team. I didn’t like it when the Rams went from St. Louis to Los Angeles. I didn’t like it when the Chargers went from San Diego up to Los Angeles.
Oakland fans paid with their wallets and with their passion, and they are some of the most loyal fans in all of sport. I had a famous falling out with Al Davis when he moved the Raiders out of Oakland the first time in 1982, breaking those fans’ hearts a generation ago. So now with his son Mark, here we go again.
“This is all about finances for NFL owners,” Jon Saraceno of the Las Vegas Review-Journal told me yesterday from the league meetings in Phoenix. “This is not about loyalty. Roger Goodell tried to put lipstick on the football pig when he said we’re sorry for the fans of Oakland, they’ve been loyal, we tried to make a deal. I believe Roger and the owners would have preferred in a perfect world to stay in the nation’s sixth-largest television market compared to going to the 40th-largest TV market in Las Vegas. My take on it is that Alameda County officials never really intended to forge a stadium deal.”
I really do believe that the politicians and the taxpayers in Oakland and Alameda County let the Raiders down. They should have had a new stadium there a long, long time ago. They had decades to solve that problem. Instead, they had the Raiders and the A’s playing in the worst professional stadium that I have visited over the last 30 years.
The Oakland Coliseum is a virtual tomb where plumbing went to back up, where the baseball grass went to be torn up by football cleats and temporary seats, and where football games were left to be played in the middle of an unsightly, dirt diamond. So I have full sympathy for the Raiders organization.
In my opinion the only way that the Raiders could have been saved for northern California was to have them share the new stadium in Santa Clara. That would have required the San Francisco 49ers to get off their high horse and to welcome the Raiders as an equal partner the way the Giants and Jets came together at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey. Believe me, the San Francisco 49ers made it very, very hard for the Raiders to feel like anything but an unwanted stepchild.
“The 49ers built Levi’s Stadium as a two-team stadium,” Matt Maiocco of CSN Bay Area said Monday. “But the Raiders didn’t want to be the second tenant with no input into the stadium construction.”
Oakland mayor Libby Schaaf said Monday that she was “proud that we stood firm in refusing to use public money to subsidize stadium construction.” Here is my question about public dollars. Am I led to believe that because Oakland and San Diego did not commit public money to build new stadiums for the Raiders and Chargers that they have the greatest school systems in all of America and the greatest public transportation?
What happens to all those tax dollars that get collected over in California? Every time I go over there to breathe the air I have to pay taxes. Why shouldn’t people have arenas to go spend their leisure time? These politicians speak out of both sides of their mouth.
Here in Nevada, Gov. Brian Sandoval and the legislature made available about $750 million through a hotel tax that is going to be available to the building of a retractable-roof stadium that is going to cost nearly $2 billion. But there is still work to do.
For one thing I have not seen that the stadium land has been purchased yet. One site – the one on the other side of Interstate 15 from Mandalay Bay – is always thrown out as being the future home of the Raiders. But that deal has not been signed. That is the next and most important thing to be done.
While the stadium details are worked out, the Raiders must play on in Oakland for two and maybe three more seasons. Brandt, who now works for ESPN and MMQB, said “it’s going to be like being divorced while living together. They’ll get people to come, but it’s going to be this awkward phase the next couple years.”
Before you know it, the NFL in Las Vegas will be a reality. An unbelievable reality coming on the heels of the NHL’s arrival this fall with the Vegas Golden Knights. Remember, Roger Goodell and Gary Bettman were the two commissioners most opposed to gambling. But when Adam Silver came along in the NBA with his pro-gambling position, the walls started coming down.
Not to be underestimated, too, was the role of DraftKings and FanDuel. “I think daily fantasy has softened up the gambling stance,” Brandt said, “because you have got investment with the NHL and the NBA in FanDuel and Major League Baseball in DraftKings. The NFL takes sponsorships from those big companies, and Jerry Jones and Robert Kraft have equity interest in DraftKings.”
Brandt admitted that the NFL suffers from what he called “some potential hypocrisy” when it comes to its relationship with gambling, telling me a story about how the league has literally climbed into bed with casinos.
“When I was in Green Bay our team stayed Saturday nights at the Oneida Nation casino resort,” he said. “The Lions have a deal with MGM, and teams practice at the Greenbrier (in West Virginia), which has a famous casino. I think they’ve wisened up to their own hypocrisy in some of these areas and recognized the tolerance level for gambling and legalization may be around the corner. They want to be in front of that for the monetization angle if nothing else.”
Make no mistake. If the Raiders and the Golden Knights are successful, it will be a race between the NBA and Major League Baseball to be the third league to put a team here in Vegas. Expect them both to sit back and watch carefully.
So after 19 years of franchise stability, the NFL has approved three moves in less than 14 months. I really hope it quiets down, and that we do not have to see another team ripped from some other community where – like St. Louis and San Diego and now Oakland – fans have been jilted after investing not only their dollars but also their emotion.
But let us not forget that money talks – and B.S. walks – and that will never change.