San Antonio, Texas isn’t the only city that’s interested in the Oakland Raiders… After the Raiders were left out of the Los Angeles sweepstakes a couple of weeks ago, there has been plenty of speculation about their future. The NFL plans to give the Raiders $100 million to put towards a new stadium, but if they relocate they might not necessarily need that money. Aside from San Antonio, St. Louis has come up as a faint possibility -especially since the city has a new stadium proposal on the table- should the San Diego Chargers decide to share real estate with the Rams come 2019. But now a new city has come into play.
Enter Sin City. Earlier this week, some media reports stated that Raiders owner Mark Davis was headed to Las Vegas to meet with Sheldon Adelson this past Friday. Adelson is the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer for the Las Vegas Sands Casino and Resort. Adelson’s company plans to build a $1 billion dollar stadium capable of holding 65,000 people. While the stadium is initially intended for the football team at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, the Raiders could also be included in this new venue.
While Las Vegas sounds like a sweet deal there is just one small problem, the National Football League will block every attempt the Raiders make should they decide to move to Nevada. The NFL wants the Raiders to have a new stadium, they want the franchise to return to it’s past glory, and they want Mark Davis to make the team that his father created successful again. The problem that the league has is the city itself. While Vegas is fully capable of supporting a sports franchise, the NFL situation is a little more complicated than that.
The first problem that the NFL has with Vegas is the fact that it’s the gambling capital of the United States. The league has always taken issue with sports betting (even legalized sports books) as they feel that it interferes with the integrity of the game. The NFL isn’t even a fan of fantasy sports which is legal but some local municipalities have taken a closer look as to whether or not those fantasy sports websites violate gambling laws. Then there are the other temptations that Vegas has to offer with it’s many night clubs, adult entertainment venues, alcohol vendors, and in some cases legal prostitution, the last thing the NFL wants is it’s millionaire athletes finding themselves in trouble. When you consider the recent issues of some NFL players, having league games 10 weeks (if you count preseason) out of the year in Las Vegas is the last thing commissioner Roger Godell -and some owners- want to deal with.
Another issue is that Las Vegas doesn’t exactly have the greatest track record when it comes to pro football franchises. Since 1994, four teams have called Sin City home but with little to no success. The most notable team to setup shop was the XFL’s Las Vegas Outlaws (2001). You also had the United Football League’s Las Vegas Locomotives (2009-2012), and the Arena Football League struck out thrice in the city with the Las Vegas Sting (1994 and 1995), Las Vegas Gladiators (2003-2007), and their own version of the Outlaws (2015). The reasons for their failures raise red flags in the eyes of the NFL.
The XFL Outlaws folded when the league itself folded in early 2002. Despite being owned and backed by World Wrestling Entertainment owner Vince McMahon, the attempt to combine football with pro wrestling elements didn’t quite catch on. Essentially the idea was to get die hard wrestling fans interested in football, while in turn getting more football fans to tune into WWE’s programming which at the time was dominating cable television ratings and setting pay-per-view records. The XFL did give second chances to many players who failed in either the NFL or AFL -if not both- but ultimately it wasn’t a hit with fans.
The Locomotives were probably the most successful franchise to grace the Vegas strip. The UFL decided to directly compete with the NFL from 2009 to 2012 based on the fact that the league began it’s regular season games in October. The Locomotives won the first two UFL championships in 2009 and 2010 and played in the final UFL Championship Game in 2011. The league folded before the 2012 season could begin due to financial, logistic, and personnel problems, in addition to teams folding after 2011. The league was never heard from again.
The AFL has had a little more staying power in Vegas with the three franchises that have played there during the last two decades. The Sting moved to Anaheim, California in 1996 due to low attendance, but the team eventually folded in 1998. The Gladiators franchise started as the New Jersey Gladiators and made their home in East Rutherford, New Jersey where they shared the building that’s now known as the Izod Center with the New Jersey Devils and the New Jersey (now Brooklyn) Nets. When the New York Dragons came to The Big Apple in 2001, the Gladiators started losing fans to the Dragons. So ownership decided they’d rather move the team then struggle in a shared market.
So the Gladiators came to Las Vegas in 2003, but only made the playoffs once (2003) in five seasons. The franchise moved to Cleveland in 2008 where they’ve been ever since. And in that time span they’ve made four playoff appearances, won two division titles (2011 and 2014), a conference championship (2014), and played in Arena Bowl 27. The AFL’s version of the Outlaws only played during the 2015 season, but they were plagued by ownership problems all year long and folded at seasons end. Granted the Raiders have much more stable ownership, but the NFL has to wonder about stability in any case.
The last issue that the NFL will raise with the Raiders will be just as important as the gambling issue, and that will be about the stadium. Until the shiny new proposed venue can be built the Raiders will need a temporary home. And unless they plan on leasing the Oakland Coliseum until this new stadium can be built, their only alternative is Las Vegas’ Sam Boyd Stadium. The capacity at Sam Boyd can only reach 40,000 while most NFL stadiums hold a minimum of at least 60,000. This definitely won’t fly with the rest of the league.
Of course the Raiders will make their arguments for moving to Vegas -should they decide to go this route- and they have some pretty good ones. Aside from the new stadium, there is also a new arena being built to hopefully lure an NHL and/or NBA franchise. This new stadium has the potential to host a Super Bowl, a Pro Bowl, and a college bowl game among other events. Then there’s the desirable weather conditions, the many tourist attractions, and the fact that Vegas is one of the top travel destinations in the world.
If the Raiders decide to move forward with this idea, expect them to fight the NFL tooth and nail until a solution can be reached.