Last week, it became official: The Oakland Raiders are coming to Vegas. A 31-1 vote from NFL owners last Monday sealed the deal in a month’s long saga that has captivated the state since the waning days of 2016. Even so, it’s a deal that likely won’t work out in the long-term, and here’s why:
First and foremost, Nevada is funneling an obscene amount of public money — $750 million — into the proposed $1.9 billion stadium plan, and it’s money that’s really best spent elsewhere. Proponents of the new deal will note that the money isn’t coming from Nevada taxpayers, but instead from a new, higher hotel room tax. Theoretically, they say, it’s not Nevadans footing the bill, but tourists.
This misses the point.
When the Nevada legislature voted to approve that funding last October, they proved they were willing to raise taxes. If those tax increases were in the cards this whole time, why wasn’t that money spent on something that could better use the attention? The state’s K-12 system continues to languish near the bottom of education lists despite large-scale attempts at reform in 2015. That’s to say nothing of a proposed increase in higher education funding that evaporated after a budget hole hundreds-of-millions wide opened up just prior to this year’s legislative session.
More than that, this massive influx in public money is coming at a time when it’s less clear than ever that stadiums actually provide the economic benefits their proponent’s claim. In 2015, Stanford Professor Emeritus Roger Noll found no significant benefit to local economies who invested in stadium deals, and any large influx in jobs would be mostly temporary and construction-related.
And just because the state is ponying up three-quarters of a billion dollars to lure the Raiders to Nevada does not mean that the Raiders will be here to stay. They’re a team that’s already moved twice in the last 35 years, and if such a move were to happen again, it could easily leave Las Vegas with a shiny new stadium and no one to play in it.
This is to say nothing of the fact that when the Raiders finally arrive in either the 2018 or 2019 season (depending on how amenable the city of Oakland is to another two seasons in the Coliseum), they will arrive in the most bloated sports market Las Vegas — which is already only the 40th largest TV market in the nation — has ever seen. Not only will the Raiders have to peddle season tickets to stay afloat long-term, but so will the fledgeling Golden Knights hockey team and the University of Nevada, Las Vegas football team. What happens if and when the market becomes oversaturated?
And what happens if the Raiders success on the field dries up? For the first time in more than a decade, the Raiders have shown real competence as a football team, and this has no doubt driven at least some of the excitement around the move. But football is cyclical, and this success will eventually come to an end. What happens then, when there is no long-term fan base invested in the team willing to pay for season after season of disappointment?
This move can only end badly.